Alabama counting on bounce back from true freshman corner Patrick Surtain against Clemson

Josh Vitale
Montgomery Advertiser
View Comments

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Patrick Surtain II experienced something in last Saturday’s Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Florida, that he really hadn’t before in his young college career.

Playing at less than his best.

Oklahoma was in comeback mode throughout what ended up being a 45-34 loss in a playoff semifinal, which meant 37 pass attempts from quarterback Kyler Murray. Eleven of those were thrown toward wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who caught eight for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Surtain was in coverage on a lot of those receptions.

“I take it as a learning experience, knowing that, you know, one game — it wasn’t probably my best game — but I know I have a little chip on my shoulder,” the true freshman cornerback said Saturday at media day. “It motivates me to play better.”

Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (2) catches a pass against Alabama defensive back Patrick Surtain, II, (2) in first half action of the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Saturday December 29, 2018.

It also makes him a player to watch closely on Monday, when Alabama and Clemson meet at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., with the national championship on the line — potentially the Crimson Tide's sixth in the last 10 years (and second over Clemson).

The Tigers have two standout outside receiving threats in Tee Higgins (56 catches, 855 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Justyn Ross (40 catches, 874 yards, eight touchdowns), as well as prodigious true freshman quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, who is completing 65.5 percent of his passes and has thrown 27 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

Surtain will be one of the players at the center of what the Crimson Tide defense does to try to slow that passing attack.

MORE:Matchup between Alabama offensive line, Clemson defensive line could decide CFP

Even after last week, that’s something Alabama wants. Surtain has done little but excel as a rookie, recording 36 tackles, six pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble in 14 games. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging fewer than 6 yards per attempt on throws in the direction of the 6-foot-2, 202-pound former five-star recruit and have completed just 22.2 percent of passes of 10 or more yards against him, per CFB Film Room.

The Sooners, and specifically Lamb, just found ways to beat him at Hard Rock Stadium.

“If he was a scrub or a Roody-Poo, nobody would say anything,” Alabama defensive backs coach Karl Scott. “But that’s part of playing DB. You ask any DB in the country, if they played enough ball, it’s going to be once or twice where they’re going to have a matchup where somebody plays their best versus them. You appreciate that. You want that as a competitor, for somebody to bring that best out against you, and we’ve played great receivers throughout the year. He’s played great receivers. That guy that we played against Oklahoma is one of them.”

Alabama defensive back Patrick Surtain, II, (2) signs autographs for fans during the Alabama Media Day at the SAP Center in San Jose, Ca., on Saturday January 5, 2019.

At some point during that game, Scott said he ran into Dee Milliner, who was one of the former Alabama players watching from the sideline. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft told the first-year Crimson Tide assistant, “‘I’ve been through the same thing. I was a freshman here in his shoes and got roasted.’” Scott said Milliner, once a standout cornerback for the Tide, talked to Surtain about it, too.

“The same thing happened to Dre Kirkpatrick once or twice,” Scott said. “All those guys who have been here who you see the end product of these first-round draft picks have had a game that, fresh, everybody remembers it, but three-four years down the line, when Roger Goodell is announcing their name, no one is remembering those plays anyway. So it’s all about how you respond, and he’s been great.

“Pat, to tell you the type of kid he is — the frustration was more so him feeling like he let his teammates down more than anything else, because he knows the standard he can play. That’s just the life of a DB, man. Nobody cheers when he made a PBU in the game. Nobody cheered about that. Nobody remembers that. You just remember the catches. That’s just the life you live. But he’s cut out for the work, and I look forward for him to step up to the challenge this week.”

Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross (8) during the Clemson Media Day at the SAP Center in San Jose, Ca., on Saturday January 5, 2019.

Ross, also a true freshman, expects the challenge. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound former four-star recruit saw what Surtain put on film against Lamb last week, but he has also had to balance it with what the rookie corner did in his first 13 games of the season. “He could have just been off that game,” the wide receiver said.

Plus, he’s seen what Surtain is capable of firsthand. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Phenix City natives have never crossed paths with pads on, but the two went head to head more than a few times at different camps during the recruiting process.

“It’s been fun. It’s been real competitive,” said Ross, who set career-highs with six catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns in a semifinal win over Notre Dame last week. “He’s won some, I’ve won some. It’s going to be a real good matchup.”

Better than last week’s, Alabama hopes.

“I just let it go. It’s just a one-play mentality. Whatever happens, happens. You just got to keep on going out there, play and compete. That’s all I think about,” Surtain said. “This is what you come to Alabama for, to play in games like this.”

View Comments