Young players impress, gain experience against Western Carolina


Redshirt freshman Christian Barmore celebrates after sacking Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams. (CW / Joe Will Field)

James Ogletree | @jameslogletree, Sports Editor

In Alabama’s more decisive wins, second- or third-teamers often enter as early as the second quarter, giving the starters some rest and helping the younger players gain experience.

During Alabama’s 66-3 win over Western Carolina on Saturday, some didn’t even need to wait that long. 

With arguably its top four defensive linemen out with injuries, the Crimson Tide’s starters up front were true freshman Byron Young and two players making their first career starts — senior Tevita Musika and redshirt freshman Christian Barmore.

Four other scholarship linemen were active for the game and all four played on at least two drives. Freshman Braylen Ingraham played in his second game of the season and freshman Ishmael Sopsher made his Alabama debut.

The experience will accelerate those players’ development, coach Nick Saban said, and they did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage.

“I thought, especially on the inside runs, we did a pretty good job for the most part,” Saban said. “Any plays that they made were on boots, edges, losing contain on the quarterback — not really something that the interior guys had a lot to do with. … I felt like we were controlling the line of scrimmage pretty well.”

The defense recorded four sacks, seven tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries. Three of the four sacks and 4.5 of the seven tackles for loss involved a first- or second-year D-lineman.

“I feel like they got after it,” senior safety Jared Mayden said. “I feel like they all gave the right amount of effort. Even on the runs, they were staying in their gaps. … You see them calm down and really just start playing sound-technique football.”

Barmore has been a part of the team’s dime defense for most of the year, but on Saturday he played the majority of the team’s snaps in the first half. 

In his first action as the starter, he recorded six total tackles — the second-most on the team — one quarterback hurry and half of a sack.

After the game Saban said coaches have always seen the potential in the 6-foot-5, 310-pound lineman, especially as an interior pass rusher, but he needed to have a better grasp of his assignments and what the coaches are asking of him.

“It’s just been a work in progress to get him to understand how we need him to play and what his assignments are,” Saban said. “… That’s what he’s really made a tremendous amount of progress in. He’s become a pretty consistent performer because of that and he’s made a lot of plays because of that.”

Young was right behind Barmore with five total tackles, four of which were solo, and his first career sack. Fellow freshman Justin Eboigbe nabbed his first career solo sack and added another tackle for loss.

Behind the line, young defensive backs and linebackers also got rare in-game snaps in the second half.

Mayden, one of three seniors in the starting secondary, said he offers an encouraging word when he senses their uneasiness on the sideline.

“I had to remind them, ‘We built for this. This is what we do. We’re not giving up no touchdowns. This is a three-and-out right here,’” Mayden said. “Really just trying to reassure them that you go against the best every day in practice.”

The young players’ contributions also weren’t limited to just the defense. 

Freshman wide receiver John Metchie entered the game with three catches for six yards this year but made a 17-yard catch on first-and-18 that kept the offense ahead of the sticks. 

Redshirt sophomore receiver Tyrell Shavers made his first career catch, using his 6-foot-6 frame to corral the ball for a 20-yard gain on third-and-9.

The pass was thrown by freshman quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who, by playing in his fifth game of the season, eliminated the possibility of redshirting. Tagovailoa finished the game 2 of 3 for 35 yards and threw his first career touchdown pass: a 15-yard catch-and-run by junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith.

Freshman quarterback Paul Tyson also made his Alabama debut but did not throw a pass.

Freshman running back Keilan Robinson put the Crimson Tide up 59-0 with a 46-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter, following freshman tight end Jahleel Billingsley leading the way and providing the key block.

“Yeah, that was awesome. I love seeing that,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Mac Jones said. “Seeing everyone get their feet wet is really cool.”