TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was over before the play even began.
When University of Alabama sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy lined up in his usual spot in the slot for the Crimson Tide’s second play from scrimmage against Missouri last Saturday, he saw the coverage and already knew the outcome. With teammate DeVonta Smith running the inside route and leaving a safety to try one-on-one coverage, he was thinking touchdown all the way.
Eighty-one yards later, Alabama led 7-0.
“They were playing like a bracket coverage, so when Smitty had motioned in they top-hatted it and the nickel jumped outside,” Jeudy explained. “When I saw he jumped outside, and I knew once Smitty made a cross that the safety would come down and he’d take Smitty and I’d be open over the top against the post.”
Jeudy and Tua Tagovailoa made it look even easier than the description, with the sophomore quarterback unloading over the top and the offensive line holding up long enough for the ball to be delivered in stride. For the third time in four games the Crimson Tide scored on one of its first two snaps, with the wide receiver notching his ninth touchdown of the season.
On average, Jeudy is scoring a touchdown every 2.9 receptions.
While the hype surrounding Tagovailoa has been nothing short of extreme, as he’s already being widely hailed as the player to beat for the Heisman Trophy, Jeudy has been putting together one of the finest receiving seasons in Alabama history.
That proud legacy at the position includes Don Hutson, who some call the greatest receiver to ever play in the NFL, Ozzie Newsome and David Palmer. During Nick Saban era you’re talking about Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley.
“Dude’s crazy,” junior running back Josh Jacobs said about Jeudy. “You see him run, he looks exactly like Calvin. His route-running looks identical, except I’d say he’s probably a little more shifty. Dude, I guess his film kind of speaks for itself. He’s an amazing player.”
Even though he’s made just 26 catches, for 705 yards, Jeudy’s 27.1 yards per catch average tops the nation. To put that into perspective, the Crimson Tide season record with a minimum of 50 receptions is Keith Brown at 17.0 in 2006.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jeudy also leads the nation in yards per route run at 4.85.
He tops Alabama in explosive plays (Saban defines them as a 17-yard gain or more on a reception), and yards after the catch with an unofficial 259. He’s become the top target of both quarterbacks on third downs: With 11 passes thrown his way, resulting in eight receptions for 240 yards and four touchdowns.
Jeudy’s caught two touchdown passes in the red zone, but has proven he can score from anywhere. The average length of his touchdowns is 42.7 yards.
“When I get a ball, I actually feel slow,” Jeudy said.
He doesn’t look it. If anything Jeudy appears to get faster as he pulls away from defenders.
“Just more want-to,” was his explanation. “I just want to get there faster than my opponent I guess.”
Maybe defenders aren’t respecting his speed because Henry Ruggs III is considered the fastest player the Crimson Tide, with freshman Jaylen Waddle a close second and Smith a strong candidate for third.
Jeudy gives Ruggs the benefit of doubt because Alabama’s Catapult GPS system once measured him as going 24 mph.
Ruggs wasn’t in a car, either.
“I haven’t clocked 24 yet,” Jeudy said.
Yet he’s lighting up the scoreboard in a way Crimson Tide fans haven’t seen before. The nine touchdowns, in just seven games, are already tied for the fourth most in an Alabama season, and he’s quickly closing on Amari Cooper’s 16 in 2014.
Barring an injury, there’s no reason to think that he won’t get the record, along with a few others.
Defenses can’t afford to double-team him due to the Crimson Tide’s impressive collection of receivers, including tight end Irv Smith Jr. Alabama’s had five different receivers with 100-yard games, and they’re all ranked in the top 40 nationally in yards per catch.
Jeudy is coming off back back-to-back 100-yard games, with 135 at Arkansas and 147 against Missouri, while the Crimson Tide has had three consecutive games with multiple 100-yard receivers.
Playing in the slot works to his advantage because most teams have their best protection players at the corners and are reluctant to move them.
Then they have the no-win choice of backing off in coverage, which opens the door for Jeudy to turn a slant route into six points, or continually try and jam him at the line of scrimmage. He gets by that man and it’s over.
Jeudy reminded everyone of such with a recent tweet that only said: “Come press.” He told reporters that it was just a caption to fit the photo on social media, yet it still came across as a challenge — the kind that can get in every defender’s head.
“I feel like I do well against all pressures,” said Jeudy, “it doesn’t matter.”