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Nick Saban talks Isaiah Buggs’ performance, states importance of rotating players

John David Mercer - USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.– Along with his trademark smile, acceleration in space and trio of children accompanying him during interviews, defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs was the other thing that former Alabama wide receiver Kenny Bell gave to the Crimson Tide’s program. 

The two Louisiana natives constantly trained together prior to this year’s National Signing Day, and despite coming from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Buggs is starting to make a name for himself.

As one of the nation’s elite junior college prospects, his previous career-high in tackles was four against Colorado State. In the absence of Da’Shawn Hand, the 293-pounder was exceptional versus Texas A&M – accounting for a team-best 10 tackles. 

He not only created havoc, but Buggs also anchored an Alabama defense that generated four sacks, seven tackles for loss and three turnovers. His ability to affect Aggies’ quarterback Kellen Mond prevented Christian Kirk from big numbers, as he brought in four passes for 52 yards. 

Kirk made a sound play working back to the pylon on his two-yard touchdown grab; however, it resulted due to Buggs and company flushing Mond out the pocket. For a school that averaged 448.2 yards offensively, it was to 308 yards against the Tide – a difference of 140.2 yards. 

He was not named among the seven players of the week, but Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Buggs has gotten better and better each week in Monday’s presser. 

“He probably played his best game in the last game,” Saban said. “I think he is a very instinctive player. He is strong. He’s got athletic abilities and can finish on the quarterback.” 

During his time at MGCC, Buggs recorded 134 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in both 2015 and 2016 combined. Last season, the biggest reason why the Tide weren’t able to defeat Clemson in the College Football National Championship was a lack of trust in rotating players. 

Regardless of having the talent, Saban and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt stuck with Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson because no one else had proven they could really contribute.

The emergence of Buggs, Raekwon Davis and Joshua Frazier among others has the coaching staff thinking differently about its chances this time. 

Since losing Hand against Mississippi to a strained medial collateral ligament, Alabama is more focused now on making sure players like Buggs are ready during critical situations.  

“When he (Buggs) gets a little tired, it affects him as a player,” Saban said.  

“Which is not all his fault, we need to keep guys in the game that are fresh and he’s getting better at it, but we need to help him by making sure we rotate enough so he can stay fresh.” 

Buggs enters this week’s matchup with 22 tackles; the eighth-most on the team. 

Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

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