College Sports

Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley ‘ready to dominate’ in Peach Bowl

Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) rushes past Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) in the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sat., Dec. 3, 2016.
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) rushes past Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) in the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sat., Dec. 3, 2016. TNS

The turf field inside the Georgia Dome is hard and smooth.

The friction is limited.

Receivers’ feet glide along the green blades of artificial grass as they run their routes, effortlessly taking each step in their progression as they go through practice.

It’s just how Calvin Ridley likes it.

The smooth surface, he said, allows him to run faster.

And with no wind to deal with inside the roofed structure on top of the fact that he’s played on this turf twice already in his college career, the Alabama sophomore and former standout at Monarch High in Coconut Creek said he feels more than ready for the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s Peach Bowl matchup against No. 4 Washington on Saturday.

“We’re ready to dominate on it,” Ridley said.

It would just be another day for Ridley, who has dominated since stepping foot on Alabama’s campus two years ago and has been an integral part of the Crimson Tide’s offense in its bid for back-to-back national titles.

Last season, the former consensus five-star recruit led Alabama receivers en route to setting freshman records for catches (89) and receiving yards (1,045) while also hauling in seven touchdown catches.

He’s leading the team in catches again this year with 66 and has seven touchdown catches heading into the Peach Bowl. However, he only has 727 yards through 13 games, second on the team to junior ArDarius Stewart.

But even though his receiving numbers have dipped this year, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said that has to do more with the style of offense Alabama has run this year with dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts running the show.

The Crimson Tide’s offense adapted this year to benefit the mobile true freshman quarterback, with sets of designed quarterback runs included and less reliance on the downfield pass.

“If anything,” Stewart said, “he’s gotten better.”

Alabama receivers coach Billy Napier added: “He’s a pro. He’s looking to make improvements every day. … He wants to be one of the best that’s ever played.”

That’s a tall order when looking even at the receivers who have come through Alabama’s program in the past five years alone — a list highlighted by former first-round draft picks and NFL Pro Bowlers Amari Cooper and Julio Jones.

But instead of focusing on what the Alabama greats have done before him, Ridley said his priority is on making his game better and finding ways to make an impact on his teammates.

He’s done that by assisting the run game by improving his downfield blocking, an element of his game Alabama coach Nick Saban has praised this season.

He’s done that by helping Stewart with his route running and learning from Stewart how to be more physical when going up against bigger cornerbacks.

And he’s done that by showing up to practice every day like it’s the first one he’s ever been to, which Ridley’s teammates said has upped his game even more.

“He’s one of those receivers that does it all,” senior tight end O.J. Howard said, “and that’s what you have to like about the guy.”

He’ll look to do it all again on Saturday against Washington with a spot in a second consecutive national championship game on the line.

Ridley said being back in the College Football Playoffs for a third consecutive year is a culmination of what the team has accomplished.

They don’t plan on stopping yet.

“We just work so hard,” Ridley said. “I feel like we deserve everything we do. We don’t cut corners. We don’t cheat. Everything we do, we deserve. We’ve worked really hard.”

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