TUSCALOOSA – Within minutes of leaving the Bryant-Denny Stadium media room Saturday evening, Mack Wilson took to social media to affirm he was, in fact, a “man of my word.”
It was a noticeably different tone from a week ago after Alabama’s junior middle linebacker typed his since-deleted displeasure with online criticism from fans following last weekend’s defensively-inept 65-31 win at Arkansas.
“It was like after the game, everybody (acted) like we lost, there wasn’t anybody happy basically, and I felt like that was one of my worst games of my life as far as communication and playing-wise,” Wilson said following a bounce-back defensive effort in Saturday’s 39-10 victory over Missouri. “So I took it upon myself to try to do my best to make sure the defense is doing the right things. That’s something I take pride in, so I had to do something about it.”
As the all-important Mike linebacker in Alabama’s defense, Wilson is responsible for disseminating the defensive play call from the sideline and making any necessary pre-play defensive adjustments or checks. He’s effectively the quarterback of the defense.
Which is why, after a frustrating personal performance in the Crimson Tide’s worst defensive showing of the season, the social media-savvy Wilson shouldered much of the responsibility for correcting the communication issues during a mid-week pledge to Alabama fans.
“I’ll take the blame on how this defense been performing even though we been winning,” Wilson posted on Instagram last Monday. “There’s a difference between winning and there’s a difference in making the other team quit, and that’s our goal every game! That’s just how we built at Alabama, its (sic) the BAMA STANDARD. But one thing I can say for sure…. you guys will definitely see a more DOMINANT Alabama defense. #ItsOnMe #Dirty3o™️ It’s never to (sic) late to improve! #OnTheClimbTo18”
For Wilson, that improvement began with a postgame suggestion from co-defensive coordinator and middle linebackers coach Pete Golding to make a dedication to additional film study.
So, each day last week, if there was any downtime between practice and tutoring, Wilson was either in the film room or on his team-issued iPad doing late-night film work.
“Me and coach Pete Golding, we talked and he was like, ‘we’re going to try this,’ and that’s the plan that we stuck to,” Wilson said. “And I feel like I played tremendously well. I was able to just make plays and call the defense very smoothly. I was also able to know what everybody else was doing, by just watching that extra film.”
And a week after finishing with a season-low two tackles against Arkansas, Wilson led all Alabama defenders with eight total tackles Saturday, including five solo and 1 ½ for loss, to go along with one of the Tide’s four sacks of Missouri senior quarterback Drew Lock.
The effort helped limit a Tigers offense that was averaging 530 total yards and nearly 40 points per game to a season-low 212 total yards and just 10 points Saturday. It was Missouri’s worst offensive performance since a 35-3 home loss to Purdue early last season. Lock, a preseason Heisman Trophy hopeful who was averaging 297.4 passing yards through the first five game, was limited to a season-low 142 passing yards and two interceptions – both to Alabama junior cornerback Saivion Smith – while equaling his season sack total in a single game Saturday.
“I was happy with the way we played. There are still a couple of things we could’ve done a little bit better, but overall we came out and held down to our goal and limited their points,” senior outside linebacker Christian Miller said Saturday. “They had a high-powered offense, and we got a chance to show what we can do against a first-round draft pick (in Lock). It was a good effort from our defense.”
But as much as it was a reaffirmation for Alabama’s once-dominant defense, it was also a statement game for Wilson individually as the commanding general of the entire unit, especially in the eyes of his defensive teammates.
“Mack Wilson is the middle linebacker and he gets everything (from the coaches), so we expect him to be the Reuben Foster, the dominant player (in the middle) to get everybody right,” sophomore nose guard Quinnen Williams said Saturday. “Everybody looks up to Mack Wilson and he did a great job today, an amazing job getting everybody from the defensive line set to the safeties set to the cornerbacks set. And that’s hard because you’re in the middle, so you have to scream 15 yards to make sure (everybody hears you), but he handled it well.
“Mack Wilson really did a good job today and stepped up. He put it out there on Twitter and he really backed it up today.”