ORLANDO, Fla. — After just several days of practice in the Sunshine State as Alabama prepares for its Citrus Bowl matchup against Michigan, one thing has become clear.
The Crimson Tide feels it still has a lot to play for.
Junior defensive back Xavier McKinney let his thoughts be known on the upcoming game against the Wolverines (Wednesday, noon CT, ABC).
“[The statement is] just that we've got it, just that we can still compete, we can still play hard, you know, that we still have the Bama factor, something that we talk about a lot,” McKinney said. “So I know in a lot of the games that we play, we haven't really played our best, but we just want to come out here and show that we still can play and that we still can show that we are Bama and that we can go out and dominate.”
McKinney has been a dynamic player for Alabama this season, leading the team with 85 tackles.
He also tops the team in forced fumbles with four, has one fumble recovery and also has three interceptions on the season, with one being a pick-six.
His statement came right after similar declarations from both redshirt-sophomore quarterback Mac Jones and junior offensive lineman Jedrick Wills, Jr., on Saturday.
After two close losses against LSU and Auburn and a sharp drop in the rankings to No. 13, Alabama wants to make a final statement against the Wolverines and have taken this game to an almost personal level.
McKinney is one of the Alabama defenders leading that effort. Last week, senior defensive back Jared Mayden complimented McKinney and his approach to preparing for the Citrus Bowl.
“That's the kind of things that, when I look at him and when I play beside him, it makes me want to be better,” Mayden said. “I watch the way he blitzes, I try to imitate that when I come in on blitzes; how consistent a tackler he is, that's something I work on because it's not one of my biggest strengths. I look at him and watch the way he tackles and how he moves his head. He's a great player.”
McKinney’s preparation and determination in making sure his defense is prepared for its bowl on Jan. 1 demonstrates the focus that the team has retained despite suffering a consistent onslaught of criticism from both critics and fans alike.
One thing that McKinney has always zeroed in on is his consistency. During his three seasons, McKinney has established himself as one of the most consistent players on the defense.
Mayden said that McKinney’s consistency is one of the best parts of his game.
“What impresses me the most is the consistency he played with,” Mayden said. “Sophomore year he had a great year, and there wasn’t a drop-off. Even before the year, he was on watch lists, this and that, it’s easy for you to kind of coast through the year.
“But he still attacks every day like it's a new day. Has endless tackles, he had a lot of tackles, and he's consistent. He's a consistent tackler, consistently makes plays, doesn't make a lot of mental errors, blitzes well.”