As cornerback John Fulton sat out of the Western Carolina game with turf toe, true freshman Geno Smith took over in his place and helped the defense shut out the Catamounts.
Smith accounted for one tackle and one pass break-up while predominately playing solid man coverage to hold Western Carolina to 93 passing yards.
“He’s come a long way. He’s continued to progress,” Lester said. “He’s one of the guys I’ve mentioned before that takes it upon himself to prepare for the games, learn the defense, which is such a complicated defense, go out there and execute the way the coaches and the players expect him to.”
Smith’s performance could be attributed to a breakthrough of sorts for the freshman.
“Geno has made nice progress this year, and to be honest with you I wish we could have played him more,” Saban said on Wednesday before the WCU game. “Sometimes with young guys they kind of all a sudden the light goes on and they got it, and they get it, and they start to play with confidence again and feel like they know what they’re doing, and they quick making a bunch of mistakes. That happened with Geno in the last couple of weeks.
“Maybe he sees a better opportunity to play, maybe that’s been a motivating factor for him, but I’ve been really pleased with his progress.”
Smith’s teammates saw his epiphany, as well.
“Being a freshman and not starting and not being one of the guys who everybody is depending on to play, he’s just kind of sitting back and taking everything in,” Lester said. “I think he realized, ‘I’m this close to playing.’ That light came on.”