Why Jerry Jeudy deserves a new kind of appreciation from all of us
ORLANDO — They knew it all week.
The play that they worked on in practice was at the top of Steve Sarkisian’s calls — 8-flip coverage, 4 receivers split out wide, motion the tight in and let Mac Jones hit Jerry Jeudy in stride streaking downfield so that he could score an 85-yard, walk-in touchdown.
It was a simple formula that Alabama had every intention of dialing up on the opening play in the Citrus Bowl. It was the type of play that when Jeudy announced he was playing in the bowl game, he probably salivated just thinking about. Attempting to cover the former Biletnikoff Award winner with a safety seemed, well, naive.
As it turned out, it was naive for anyone to question Jeudy’s intentions on Wednesday. It’s one thing for the highly-regarded NFL prospect — who has yet to announce his decision — to come out and say he’s going to play. It’s another thing to come out, catch passes deep, haul in balls over the middle and fire off the ball like a national championship is on the line.
Jeudy did all of those things en route to a lopsided Alabama victory against Michigan. The 85-yard touchdown on Alabama’s first play from scrimmage set the tone for his day in Orlando.
Mack Jones to Jerry Jeudy for 85 yards on the first play for Bama!
Too easy! pic.twitter.com/ie8JCQC1Xq
— Abdul Memon (@abdulamemon) January 1, 2020
How anyone can question Jeudy now is beyond me.
That’s everything — his next-level potential, his Alabama legacy, his selflessness, etc. Not everyone would’ve been willing to do what Jeudy did. Even Nick Saban, who rarely discusses next-level decisions that haven’t been made yet, shared his appreciation for Jeudy’s 204-yard, Citrus Bowl MVP performance.
“For Jerry to go out there and for him to have over 200 yards and play the way he did and be the MVP of the game, certainly he used this opportunity to showcase his abilities so it probably enhanced his opportunities at the next level,” Saban said.
He’s right. And who are we kidding. Every conversation that Saban has with an Alabama player thinking about whether to sit or play on a bowl game should turn to Jeudy. With another spotlight on him, Jeudy was the best player on the field, and there really wasn’t much doubt about it. One could argue that’s been the case for much of the last 2 years he’s been at Alabama.
It’ll be a surprise if the junior returns not based on anything he said, but for the simple notion that he’s considered the top receiver on draft boards everywhere. The guy is second all-time in touchdown catches, and there are more than enough instances of him showcasing his deadly speed or making a jaw-dropping cut in the open field.
So why did he play in the Crimson Tide’s first non-New Year’s 6 Bowl of the Playoff era?
“First of all, I play football all my life so I can’t just sit out and watch my teammates play,” Jeudy said. “I’ve been out there the whole season. I love playing football. I wanted to come out here and compete with my brothers.”
According to Alabama tight end Miller Forristall, there was never any debate as to whether Jeudy would suit up for Alabama.
“He said from the beginning, ‘Man, I’m gonna go to war with you guys,’” Forristall said.
Nobody would’ve faulted Jeudy for sitting. Well, at least they shouldn’t have.
Teammates Trevon Diggs and Terrell Lewis both elected to sit the bowl game. That wasn’t incredibly surprising considering their respective injury histories. Jeudy, who has been healthy throughout his career, wasn’t worried about that heading into Wednesday.
“We play football. Injuries happen,” Jeudy said before the Citrus Bowl. “So, if I didn’t get injured the whole season, why would I get injured in this game? I’m not really thinking about injuries or anything like that. I just go out there and play football like I have been doing this whole year.”
And to be clear, Alabama needed every bit of Jeudy’s performance to pull away from Michigan. Perhaps even more important than the 85-yard touchdown to start the day was the 2-play sequence in which Jeudy took over the game. The play that’ll show up more in the stat sheet was a catch in which Jones hit Jeudy in stride cutting downfield roughly 15 yards that he took for another 43 yards before being taken down at the Michigan 20-yard line.
But the play that stood out was the play before it. On 3rd and 11 from their own 11-yard line with Alabama clinging to a 21-16 lead early in the fourth quarter, Jeudy flashed that next-level ability with a catch along the sideline to move the chains. Those 2 plays helped set up a 20-yard touchdown to tight end Miller Forristall, which put the game on ice.
“Man, that third-down catch (Jeudy) had on the out route, that’s a really good player making a big-time play when we needed it,” Forristall said. “It’s awesome that all of these guys came back and played this game. There’s a bunch of guys who could’ve sat out and that attests to the kind of teammates they are and the kind of team we have. I’m proud to be teammates with them.”
Forristall is right. Jeudy could’ve sat out. Najee Harris could’ve sat out. DeVonta Smith could’ve sat out. Henry Ruggs III also could’ve bypassed the Citrus Bowl, but he played and he actually suffered a head injury while trying to make a catch downfield.
Despite speculation about availability for Wednesday’s game a few weeks ago, Alabama had its full arsenal of receivers. That group was one that Jim Harbaugh said was as good as any you’ll see at the college ranks.
What they do in 2020 remains to be seen. Saban certainly appreciated the dynamic that they built, especially after seeing them be the difference-maker against 1 more quality foe.
“I don’t mean to stereotype here, but usually those guys all want the ball, and they’re upset when they don’t get the ball,” Saban said. “This group has never been that way.”
Jeudy, in a group surrounded by talent galore, will go down as one of the best receivers not only in Alabama history, but in SEC history. His monster day put him over the 1,100 yard-mark in consecutive seasons. If Wednesday was his last game, he’ll finish tied for No. 11 in the SEC in career receiving touchdowns, and he’ll finish with more career receiving yards than Julio Jones.
But it’s a moment like Wednesday that should forever make Alabama fans appreciate Jeudy.
Fitting it was that before the Citrus Bowl, Jeudy and the Crimson Tide receivers wore shirts that read in red letters “Nobody safe” and under it in smaller letters, it read, “only the strong survive.”
Michigan wasn’t safe from Jeudy. Lord knows the Wolverines wouldn’t have minded him skipping Wednesday’s festivities.
That was their only chance to survive.