The Best Kind of Mistake
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Few football players experience being involved in a signature play, something that happens in a game that they’ll always be known for.
Stefan Diggs made one two years ago for the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL playoffs, with his younger brother watching from the stands.
Now Trevon has his own. Saturday night, the Alabama cornerback had the 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Tennessee to help secure the Crimson Tide’s 35-13 victory.
His teammates say it was the loudest they’re ever heard Bryant-Denny Stadium, and having it occur during a rivalry game has only elevated its popularity.
Nevertheless, Trevon Diggs doesn’t feel he has bragging rights over his older brother regarding who made the bigger play.
“I’d probably say his touchdown,” the senior said this week.
After all, the 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown with no time remaining did send Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game.
While the younger brother has been downplaying his fumble recovery, saying he needs to keep looking forward, Trevon has talked to his brother about it — sort of. Their regular post-weekend conversation actually focused on other things.
“We kind of like talk about the things we do wrong,” Trevon Diggs said. “So we didn’t really talk about the play, it was a good play, but I feel like I left plays on the field. That’s the kind of things we talk about. We look at each other’s games and say he drops a pass or something. We talk about things like that, we try and not talk about good things.”
The same thing has been going on at the Alabama football complex this week.
Although teammates are still raving about the touchdown, including redshirt junior linebacker Terrell Lewis saying, "He was running like he was trying to show people his 40 time or something,” a big focus during team meetings has been on mistakes and penalties.
For example, Alabama had four pass-interference calls against Tennessee. Two were by sophomore cornerback Patrick Surtain II, with one each by Diggs and safety Xavier McKinney.
That’s a lot of yards to give up against any opponent.
“What we try to do is get our guys to play the ball,” Nick Saban said. “There’s a lot of speculation in the NFL, college football, how do you call pass interference? What is pass interference? Everybody calls it a little bit different.
“I know I’ve read somewhere that in the NFL that’s the most-challenged call now or something because it’s probably the greatest judgment call in football. So, we want to see the players do what we coach them to do — to keep [the receivers] cut off. They get in good position, they become the receiver and play the ball, I think they’ll have less penalties. But all the penalties that we got, we had really close, good coverage. We just need to play the ball better.”
Added Trevon Diggs: “We don’t need to hold them. Guys are good enough not to hold them. It’s just little things like that that we’re going to work on and get better.”
So far this season, Alabama has picked off seven passes, but the expectation moving forward is for more by the veteran secondary, especially with the pass rush showing improvement during the last two games.
Heading into Texas A&M on Oct. 12, the Crimson Tide had 13 pass breakups, yet that number has rocketed up to 27.
“I feel like now really the point of emphasis is getting the ball and making turnovers,” said senior safety Jared Mayden, who like Diggs has two interceptions. “I don’t want to say at the beginning of the season we weren’t thinking that. But usually when Coach makes something a point of emphasis, like, ‘Let’s get a turnover. We need to get balls out and get the ball back in the hands of our playmakers on offense,’ those are the types of things you start focusing on.
“Then, when we go through the film, you’re noticing how people are carrying the ball and things like that or when receivers catch it they try to make it look pretty. When you start seeing those little things, that can totally help you to getting balls out and making plays on the ball.”
Alabama is tough enough to play as is, but when it starts scoring non-offensive touchdowns the Crimson Tide is almost unbeatable. Diggs’ score was the 71 during the Saban era, and the third this season. The first two came on a blocked punt by sophomore linebacker Ale Kaho, who recovered the first in the end zone against Ole Miss, with wide receiver Tyrell Shavers scoring off the second at Texas A&M.
It’s not a coincidence that they often happen in bunches.
Yet Diggs’ play never should have happened. Analyst Jordan Rodgers broke down Tennessee football’s goal-line fumble that bounced to the cornerback for a scoop-and-score, and showed on the SEC Network how Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano ad-libbed on the play (causing Coach Jeremy Pruitt to go ballistic on the sideline).
Trevon Diggs saw the segment and admitted that had Tennessee run the fourth-down play called it probably would have worked.
“I was like wow,” he said. “You’ve got to be disciplined. If there’s something you’re supposed to do, you have to do it, execute. If you don’t execute something, you don’t try and do something, and bad things happen. Coaches harp on that all the time. So you just have to lock and focus on what you’re supposed to do.”
The revelation didn’t take the points off the board, or diminish what Diggs did on the play. If anything, it, along with his brother and what’s at stake the rest of the season, should only fuel his motivation. More opportunities are on the horizon, and maybe even another signature play.
“I feel like more guys are getting to the ball,” Trevon Diggs said. “More guys are playing fast, getting comfortable, and starting to feel things out, are able to play fast and know what to do.
“If you know what to do you can run around. If you don’t know what to do you’re hesitant. So I feel more guys are starting to get more comfortable. The more comfortable you are in the defense the more you can fly around.”
Or down a sideline.