TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If there was ever a time not to make a bad decision, it was during the second half against Southern Miss, up three touchdowns with a big game against Florida on the horizon.
Alabama should have been focused on getting out of the game unscathed, but instead Nick Perry took matters into his own hands, making helmet-to-helmet contact with a defenseless receiver. The veteran safety was flagged on the play, ejected from the game, and, by rule, will have to sit out the first half of Saturday’s game against SEC rival Florida.
It was a tough break for an Alabama defense already missing Jarrick Williams, who fractured his foot against West Virginia. With Williams and Perry out, the secondary is missing its two most experienced defensive backs. The two have combined for 25 career starts, while their potential replacements, Geno Smith and Jabriel Washington, have combined for three starts since 2012.
“We just have to work everyone and see how we end up,” said coach Nick Saban. “Now that we lost Jarrick, who’s a safety, and Nick for half a game, we are getting a little thin there.”
Since Florida likes to spread the field with three and four receivers, the loss of Perry creates a domino effect. When Smith shifts back to safety, he vacates the nickel cornerback position. That means either Tony Brown or Maurice Smith have to come off the bench and fill in. Smith saw limited action as a freshman last season and Brown, a former five-star recruit, just arrived on campus in January.
Asked what they’ll miss most with Perry and Williams out, safety Landon Collins said, “Knowledge.”
“Other than that, we’ll have other guys step up,” he added.
Both Collins and junior cornerback Cyrus Jones were matter-of-fact about the sudden departure of their teammates.
Part of it was gamesmanship, to be sure, but part of it is the culture at Alabama. Last season there was never much settled in the secondary as Maurice Smith, Eddie Jackson, John Fulton and Jones all rotated at cornerback. At safety, Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix both missed chunks of time. Meanwhile, Perry was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
While Jones could admit that it “puts more pressure on the older guys to hold down the fort,” he wouldn’t concede much with Perry out for the first half and Williams not expected to play.
“You just have to go out there and play with a lot of confidence,” he said of Smith, Brown and Washington. “Those guys are just eager for their time and are ready to make plays when they’re called upon. We definitely don’t take a step down from when we have somebody go out.”
That’s the hope at least.
If there was any good news to come out of the aftermath of the game against Southern Miss, it was that starting cornerback Eddie Jackson isn’t seriously injured. The sophomore, who returned from a torn ACL last week, came up limping in the first half. Medical trainers tended to him on the sideline, but Saban said after the game that it wasn’t structural. A bruised quad, he said, “I don’t think it’s anything serious.”