Receivers will have big roles in Alabama-Louisville matchup
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Success for the quarterbacks in the matchup between top-ranked Alabama and Louisville will likely depend on the receivers they’ll be throwing to.
The wide receivers could be the most closely watched players when the teams meet Sept. 1 in Orlando, Florida.
Louisville has the edge in experience with senior Jaylen Smith, junior Seth Dawkins and sophomore Dez Fitzpatrick having combined for 2,321 yards and 20 touchdowns last season on passes mostly from 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Whoever emerges as Alabama’s starter — Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa in the Tide’s much-publicized quarterback battle will be working with a younger receiving corps.
The Crimson Tide’s three starting receivers all departed, including star Calvin Ridley.
Sophomores Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III were all prized recruits but only had a few highlights last season.
The biggest catch of the season, however, was Smith’s 41-yard, game-winning touchdown catch in overtime of the national championship game. He said he has “moved on” from that game, but Smith has high hopes for himself and his fellow sophomore receivers.
“We’re all feeding off each other and helping each other get better and better each day,” Smith said. “We see one person do something the right way, and we just feed off of that. And anytime we’re doing something wrong, we correct each other. We just help each other.”
Cardinals’ receivers have tried to focus on the long term rather than this marquee opener against college football’s premier team. At the same time, they’re determined to help sophomore quarterback Jawon Pass get comfortable in the pocket as he succeeds the dynamic Jackson. Maybe even, establish their own identities as well.
“I don’t think there’s more pressure on them because at the receiver position you want the pressure, you want the ball,” said Lonnie Galloway, Louisville’s co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach. “The hardest thing is going to be, how many times can we get it to them?
“It’ll be great to see the running backs, my guys and the tight ends pick up the slack from Lamar because he accounted for a lot of the offense.”
Jackson certainly spread the ball around the past two-plus years, creating seasoned options for Pass to choose from as he inherits the offense.
The 6-foot-4, 223-pound Smith is Louisville’s top returning receiver after catching 60 passes for 980 yards and seven touchdowns last season. But he missed nearly three weeks after having an emergency appendectomy at the start of fall camp that could limit him against the Crimson Tide.
Fitzpatrick (699 yards, team-high nine TDs) and Dawkins (642, four TDs) are eager to handle the load for a deep unit in which Corey Reed and Josh Johnson contributed as freshmen.
“We’re playing faster and with a lot more confidence,” Dawkins said. “Last year, I just knew my position. Now I know what the guy inside of me is doing, so if I have to get (Fitzpatrick) open, I know what I’ve got to do to the defense to distract them. It’s really just learning the offense.”
Alabama has had a string of star receivers and eventual first-round NFL draft picks, from Julio Jones to Amari Cooper to Ridley. Ridley was the only Tide receiver with more than 14 catches last season.
If Tagovailoa wins the job, Alabama could tilt at least somewhat more toward the pass and spreading the ball around to the sophomore receivers and others like freshman Jaylen Waddle.
Jeudy has drawn buzz as ’Bama’s next star receiver but gives a team-oriented answer when asked what would be a successful season for him.
“A good season would be winning the national championship,” Jeudy said. “That’d be a good season for me.”
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.