Alabama WR ArDarius Stewart looks set for a big game versus Texas A&M
Saturday afternoon features the biggest game of the college football season so far, and what could end up as the most important game this season, with the exception of Michigan-Ohio State, in the College Football Playoff picture. Texas A&M heads on the road to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa to take on No. 1 Alabama, knowing that several key matchups need to go the Aggies’ way if they are to pull off the upset.
One thing they’ll have to do is limit the Alabama passing game, which is why cornerback Nick Harvey will have to step up his game against talented Crimson Tide wide receiver ArDarius Stewart. Let’s take a look at what makes Stewart such a tough cover, whether Harvey can elevate his game to defend him and what it means for the outcome of this crucial matchup:
Stewart is a serious threat after the catch
After averaging 12.4 and 10.9 yards per catch in 2014 and 2015, Stewart is averaging 14.6 yards per catch so far in 2016, which includes an average of 11.1 yards after the catch. Calvin Ridley might be Alabama’s top receiving option, but Stewart has shown himself capable of big plays, too. He forced 23 missed tackles on 64 receptions a year ago, and has already forced eight missed tackles on 26 receptions. One key area he has shown improvement in this year so far is dropped passes. He dropped seven of the 71 catchable passes thrown his way in 2015, but has yet to drop a single pass from the 26 passes thrown his way this season so far.
Stewart has done damage across a variety of routes, with his 110 yards on go routes his best route in terms of yardage gained, while he has also picked up 80 yards on in routes, and 63 yards on comeback routes. He picked up 71 yards on screens, backfield routes and jet sweeps. His versatility has helped him average 3.38 yards per route run, tied for the ninth-best mark in the nation, and the second-best mark in the SEC, behind only Arkansas’ Jared Cornelius.
Harvey is good at making plays on the ball, but will have to tackle well in this one
For Harvey to win, he’s going to have to avoid playing like he has in the three poor games we’ve seen from him so far this year. Harvey has given up 450 yards through the air this year, with 330 of those yards coming in just three games. He has allowed an average of 16.1 per catch this year, after giving up 14.5 yards per catch last year, so he has been prone to giving up the big play.
One positive for Harvey has been his ability to make plays on the ball, with his five pass breakups tied for 17th in the nation, and second in the SEC so far this year. However, he is also tied for sixth in the conference among cornerbacks in terms of missed tackles, missing five through six games. Missed tackles have been a huge problem for Texas A&M, particularly in the secondary, and that’s something that they simply won’t get away with against a player like Stewart.
In his three best games this year, Harvey has given up just 11 receptions for 120 yards, but he’s going to have to be at his best if he doesn’t want to give up over 100 yards in this matchup. Stewart is incredibly tough to bring down after the catch, and if Harvey isn’t careful, Alabama will find at least one big play when these two are matched up against each other.
While Stewart has a solid overall grade, coming in at 75.4, it towers over Harvey’s 40.3 2016 season grade, and makes this a potentially huge mismatch that Texas A&M need to be very careful of. So much has been made about the Alabama defense this year, and for good reason when you consider how good they have been, but this Alabama offense also has the players to make defenses pay if they make mistakes.
The Alabama offense, and Stewart in particular, is a tough matchup for the Texas A&M defense because what the Tide are good at (putting the ball in the hands of their playmakers early and often on quick passes and designed runs), not only exploits the Aggies’ poor tackling, but also limits how much of an impact defensive end Myles Garrett can make in terms of disrupting things for true freshman QB Jalen Hurts.
If Texas A&M is to have a shot at winning this game, players like Harvey are going to have to step up and avoid mistakes, because Stewart is a missed tackle away from taking a screen pass 80 yards for a touchdown.