TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban doesn’t have to worry about the Alabama football team not having enough adversity to deal with any more.
On the heels of the Crimson Tide giving up 31 points and more than 400 yards of total offense at Arkansas, the coach announced Monday that starting cornerback Trevon Diggs will be out indefinitely after an MRI revealed a fractured foot.
Alabama is two games away from its bye so the timing could be a lot worse, but even so it’s arguably the Crimson Tide’s biggest injury setback since linebacker Terrell Lewis suffered a knee injury in July.
“It's a really big loss,” sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses said.
Filling Diggs’ spot isn’t as simple as just plugging someone into the lineup.
Inserting junior Saivion Smith is the logical decision, but he’s primarily been working at the other cornerback spot now occupied by Patrick Surtain II.
So Alabama will likely look at making two moves, with Surtain switching to the other side — which is a lot to ask of a true freshman.
The other option is Josh Jobe, but the coaches would like to avoid having true freshmen at both cornerback spots unless absolutely necessary.
Consequently, the real concern is with Alabama’s depth.
It was already an issue before freshman cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis (knee) and sophomore safety Daniel Wright (shoulder) suffered season-ending injuries. Alabama came into the season with no returning starters in the secondary, and no one having made more than two career starts.
At least now there’s a bunch of players with at least six games experience.
“We're obviously very thin,” Saban said.
Sophomore Nigel Knott will likely back up Smith, with Jobe working behind Surtain. Junior Shyheim Carter, who has been the unit’s Jack-of-all-trades player can also play cornerback, but Alabama’s already using walk-on D.J. Lewis with the second-team defense in the nickel package.
"Everybody has to step up," junior safety Dieonte Thompson said
Smith started for the first three games this season only to be replaced by Surtain after giving up a 75-yard touchdown on the first play at Ole Miss. At the time, Saban said that Surtain was a better matchup against bigger receivers.
In six games, Smith has been credited with 14 tackles, one interception and one pass breakup. He had a pick-six against Arkansas State, when he correctly read a screen pass and returned it 38 yards into the end zone.
Overall, Alabama’s defense has made 10 interceptions, with leads the SEC and is tied for fourth nationally.
Next up, though, is Missouri for homecoming (6 p.m., ESPN). Led by quarterback Drew Lock, the preseason choice for All-SEC, the Tigers are in the top four of the league in scoring offense (39.0 points), total offense (530.0) and passing offense (318.4).
Missouri boasts senior receivers Nate Brown and Emanuel Hall, with Jonathan Johnson in the slot, yet both missed last week’s bizarre 37-35 loss to South Carolina due to groin injuries. Richaud Floyd, who is also the Tigers’ primary punt returner, is practicing again after suffering a broken bone in fall camp.
Without them Lock hasn’t been as effective. He completed 17 of 36 passes for a season-low 204 yards, including two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, against the Gamecocks.He also had to deal with rain, two lightning delays and a dropped touchdownat Williams-Brice Stadium.
Lock is still second in the SEC in both passing yards (297.4 average), and total offense (313.8). However, his passer-efficiency rating of 137.7 doesn’t rank in the top 10 in the SEC and is 65thnationally.
“Missouri has a really, really good team,” Saban said, before adding about one of his former assistant coaches: “Derek Dooley’s done a great job with this offense. They were always explosive but now they have great balance on offense.
“They’re running the ball for over 200 yards a game and are one of the leading passing teams in the country. Dre Lock is an outstanding quarterback.”
Only now Alabama has to face him without its most proven cornerback.