TUSCALOOSA – Patrick Surtain II practically symbolized the Alabama defense on Saturday.
A true freshman making his first career start, Surtain made his share of mistakes. He also made two plays that almost certainly saved points in the Crimson Tide’s 45-23 victory over Texas A&M.
Surtain broke up a back-shoulder pass along the left sideline from Kellen Mond to Kendrick Rogers in the second quarter. The back-shoulder toss is a nightmare to defend for the most experienced defensive backs. Surtain played it nearly perfectly and got the deflection as Rogers reached for the football. Texas A&M had to settle for a field goal on that first-down play from the Alabama 18-yard line.
Later in the quarter, he had no safety help and the Aggies went after the freshman with a deep post. Surtain outran the receiver to the ball and picked it off around the Crimson Tide 20-yard line.
He returned the ball 20 yards along the Alabama sideline and took a late hit from Jared Hocker that put the Tide in business at the A&M 45 with 19 seconds left in the first half. That set up Joseph Bulovas’ 47-yard field goal as time expired that gave Alabama a commanding 31-13 halftime lead.
That play even impressed his coach – more for what happened before the ball was in the air than Surtain’s pure athletic display.
“That was a tough route that they ran. He ended up having single coverage over there,” Saban said. “They had all three receivers on one side, a tight end on the back side and they released all five guys. So he ended up single covered and the guy ran a post. He ends up by himself on the guy. He made a great play on the ball, no doubt. It was a great play.”
And, like each of his teammates, Surtain heard about the bad, too. Saban said Surtain’s size (6-2, 202) helped him match up against A&M’s tall receivers.
“He made some mental errors at the end of the game that he’ll need to correct and learn from, but I’ve been pleased with his progress, I’ve been pleased with his performance,” Saban said. “He’s a bright guy. He’s very athletic, he’s got good ball skills, he plays with toughness.
“He made a couple mistakes at the end of the game that need to get corrected, but I’m sure there’s a lot of players that did the same.”
Cornerback Trevon Diggs said Surtain’s interception was a big play.
“He played good technique, kept his eyes on the receivers,” Diggs said. “They ran, I think, a scissors route. He stayed high on the receiver and he made a great play on the ball.
“I really like him a lot. He’s a great player and I feel like he’s going to have a lot of success.”
Saban still winced when asked about his young secondary – which is completely rebuilt from last season.
“We had a lot of long yardage situations that, I felt like, if we’d executed a little bit better in the secondary, they wouldn’t have made some of those plays that they made,” Saban said. “We are going to have to do a much better job in the future. We are going to play against a lot of good teams.”
Mond, a mobile quarterback, hurt Alabama with several deep runs into the secondary. A&M quarterbacks were sacked seven times and he was hurried 12 times.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Saban said. “I think we played a little better in the second half, but we really didn’t finish the game like we would have liked.”