Alabama's C.J. Mosley gives Heisman-worthy effort in win over LSU
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Since we're reshuffling the Heisman race after Stanford bottled up Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota for three and a half quarters on Thursday, why not add one more name to the list? In Saturday's 38-17 win over LSU, Alabama's best player managed the game brilliantly. He handed off with precision. He nearly always had his unit in the perfect alignment. He also knocked the mess out of some Tigers.
Oh, you thought we were discussing Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron? While McCarron is undeniably great, and while he doesn't get nearly enough credit because of the other future pros around him, Alabama's best player this year has been linebacker C.J. Mosley. And since the Heisman Trophy has become an award typically given to the best player on a national title contender -- Johnny Manziel was an exception last year because of a truly magical redshirt freshman season -- Mosley deserves consideration for leading a defense that has been truly dominant since a hairy meeting with Manziel and Texas A&M on Sept. 14.
On Saturday, the senior from Mobile, Ala., made 12 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He broke up three passes. (Two of them probably should have been interceptions, but he plays defense for a reason.) Mosley seamlessly translated the coaches' wishes to his teammates in the huddle before each snap. He visually confirmed LSU's vulnerability, made the correct call, took the snap and handed off to safety Jarrick Williams on a fake punt in the third quarter of a game that was tied at 17. Instead of giving the ball back to the Tigers, who to that point had been picking on Alabama's cornerbacks with lanky receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., the fake allowed the Crimson Tide to continue a touchdown drive. Alabama would score two more. LSU, because of the play of Mosley and the defense, wouldn't score again.
When safety Vinnie Sunseri was lost for the season with a knee injury, Alabama coach Nick Saban needed someone new to make the calls on the punt team. So he chose the guy who makes most of the calls on the defense. Saban trusts Mosley with those roles. If necessary, he'd trust him with far more responsibility.
"I trust C.J. to do anything," Saban said. "Watch my kids. Take care of my house."
A year ago, Saban and his staff didn't trust Mosley to play against power-run teams such as LSU. As the Crimson Tide celebrated a miracle drive engineered by McCarron that lifted them to a 21-17 win in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 3, Mosley stewed following a game in which he recorded only four tackles. He had played mostly in nickel and dime situations. On a team loaded with jumbo linebackers, the 6-foot-2, 232-pound Mosley was considered too small to play when an opposing offense loaded up with double tight ends and -- in LSU's case -- a 270-pound fullback. It wasn't until the BCS title game, after Mosley had announced his decision to return for his senior season, that he was upgraded to a full-time player. He responded by winning defensive MVP honors in a 42-14 rout of Notre Dame.
That's the amazing part about Mosley. Even as a part-timer, he led Alabama in tackles last year with 107. Fellow linebacker Trey DePriest finished second with 59. That's why Mosley probably would have gone in the first or second round of the 2013 NFL draft had he left Tuscaloosa after last season. This season, Mosley is running away with the tackling title again. He has 71. Sophomore safety Landon Collins is second on the Tide with 38.
Mosley is proud he has proven he can stay on the field every down. That was one of his goals when he decided to return. On Saturday, Mosley played every defensive down. "I paid my dues. I waited my turn," Mosley said. "People always said, 'He's too small. He's not that type of linebacker.' I played all four quarters, regular, nickel, dime, everything and we proved to be the best team out there tonight and one of the best teams in the country."
Saban needs Mosley on the field to provide leadership and a calming influence for a group that isn't as physically superior to its opponents as its predecessors. Receivers didn't lick their chops to take on Alabama's cornerbacks over the past few years. The good ones this year do. This group isn't perfect -- and that makes Mosley's steady guidance that much more important. "He's so conscientious about everything he does," Saban said. "You know he's going to execute exactly how you tell him to do it." In Saban's meticulously ordered world, that is essentially the highest compliment he can pay another human.
So why should Mosley be considered for the Heisman? We considered Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o last year, and Mosley is as important to his team as Te'o was to his. Plus, Mosley is probably the superior athlete. His speed got him on the field in all those nickel situations. His ability to shed much larger blockers has allowed him to continue to shine in his larger role.
Also, the Heisman has become mostly a quarterback competition. Mosley is a quarterback of sorts. Just ask his teammates.
"He's like the captain of the ship," defensive end Jeoffery Pagan said. "He comes out there. He gets the call. He relays it to everyone else. He controls everything." That sounds a lot like what a quarterback does. Let's ask someone else.
"He's our signal-caller," cornerback Deion Belue said. Well, that's a synonym for quarterback. How about one more? "That's our team leader," Collins said. "That's the backbone of our defense. That's our quarterback, basically."
There you go. So, fellow Heisman voters, those of you not comfortable enough with your knowledge of the game to consider someone other than a quarterback or running back can take heart. A vote for Mosley is basically a vote for a quarterback.
This one just happens to play linebacker.