Sometimes a player just needs an opportunity.
Receiver Ja’Corey Brooks certainly had one a year ago when Jameson Williams was forced out of the Iron Bowl after being called out to aim at a special team game. That left Alabama football without its home run threat and someone else had to step up.
Enter Brooks, who only saw 88 snaps before last year’s Iron Bowl, per Pro Football Focus. Then Brooks was on the field for 66 against Auburn. He made the most of those late-game snaps.
With Alabama having to drive 97 yards to force overtime, Brooks caught not one, but two difficult passes. The second is the catch Brooks clipped over his shoulder for the touchdown that forced overtime. It transformed Brooks from an unknown freshman into an Iron Bowl hero.
Depending on how the game goes this Saturday, another newcomer could also have a chance to be a surprise hero. This is particularly the case for the recipient.
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No. 8 Alabama (9-2, 5-2 SEC) is favored over Auburn (5-6, 2-5) at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CBS), but Crimson Tide was also favored in the Game 2021. Still, it took the Crimson Tide four hours of overtime to get the job done.
If this game gets close, Alabama might need another freshman to step up. Brooks and corner Kool-Aid McKinstry, who made a key pass deflection on a two-point conversion attempt, showed that it’s possible to make an impact even as an Iron Bowl rookie.
“Anytime you have a young player who makes outstanding plays, I think it sets a good example for everyone else on the team that they have the opportunity, the ability and the opportunity to do the same,” said coach Nick Saban on Monday. but they have to do things right for that to happen. We have some young recipients so hopefully they will step up.
These freshman recipients are the best candidates for making a big play if needed.
Maybe it’s Kendrick Law. He pulled a hamstring earlier this season and was out for a while in October, but he’s back at full strength now. Law, Saban said after the Ole Miss game, is a player the staff has been trying to get into the lineup for some time. Law had three receptions for 26 yards in the Ole Miss win and proved a consistent option for quarterback Bryce Young in that game.
“Kendrick Law has really evolved,” Saban said in Oxford. “He’s a guy that we really hoped would contribute.”
Other freshmen who could play for Alabama in the Iron Bowl include Kobe Prentice and Isaiah Bond. They all had flashes of potential in small doses this season. Bond caught a pass for 53 yards against Arkansas and finished with two catches for 76 yards. He has 12 receptions for 178 yards this season.
As for Prentice, he was in the starting XI in three games earlier in the season before JoJo Earle returned from injury. Prentice caught 30 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown. He completed nine passes for 66 yards against Tennessee.
A freshman hero could also show up on defense. Perhaps if Alabama needs a fourth stop late in the game, the big Jaheim Oatis could get the game-saving tackle at center defense.
This game could be a cracker for the Crimson Tide, but if it comes close, a young player might need to be a hero for Alabama again.
“Always be ready when your number is called,” linebacker Will Anderson Jr. said Monday. “I think that’s one thing that coach (Saban) was trying to emphasize and I think it’s one thing that the leadership was trying to emphasize. You never know when someone will go down, whether it’s a big game or a small game or something. Just always be ready when your number is called.”