TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Alabama defense may have found its missing piece.
The defensive line and linebackers have been rock solid so far this year, but the secondary had been hit or miss and was especially porous against Texas A&M.
The unit had been hit with injuries and shuffled players in and out at the Nos. 2 and 3 cornerback positions. Deion Belue locked down his spot as the No. 1 option, but John Fulton struggled to get a firm grip on the job opposite Belue.
But the Crimson Tide may have their man now.
Freshman Eddie Jackson was the No. 2 starting corner for the second week in a row and left a good impression on his coaches and teammates, playing a key role in a defensive domination against one of the SEC's top offenses.
Jackson was primarily in coverage on Ole Miss veteran receiver Donte Moncrief, with Belue on freshman Laquon Treadwell. Moncrief finished the game with six catches for 60 yards, and Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace went 17-of-31 passing for just 159 yards.
Jackson also had a key interception on a trick play on fourth down late in the first quarter. Treadwell took a handoff on a reverse, then dropped back to throw. Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze, according to quotes released by Ole Miss, said Treadwell should have ran for the first down, but Jackson baited him into throwing.
Treadwell short-armed the throw, intended for Moncrief, and Jackson came down with the interception.
Belue said that as the night went on, he worried less and less about Alabama getting beat to the other side.
“We finally found a piece to our secondary so that we all can come together and mesh together and that was a big deal in that situation,” Belue said. “It came out to be a big deal when we added Eddie Jackson to our secondary.”
Belue is as steady as they come, but the need for a shutdown No. 2 option was still missing early in the season. Now Alabama has that piece, and while there will be growing pains, Jackson looks like he can grow into a star cornerback.
“Sometimes he played a little soft, sometimes he played a little deep, but he did a good job of jamming people,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “But all in all for a young player, I thought he did a good job.”
Alabama’s offense isn’t the dominant machine it was last year, in large part due to struggles on the offensive line. So the burden now falls on the defense to keep the Crimson Tide in games, which it has done so far this year.
That appeared to be a tall task at the beginning of the season, when there were obvious holes in the secondary and plenty of missed assignments.
But now, in Jackson, Alabama finally has a No. 2 corner it can lean on across from Belue.
“He came out and competed,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “He worked hard throughout the week. He made some mistakes, but he still played fast and that’s what I love about him.”