With starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receiver DeVonta Smith sidelined with injuries, Alabama turned to the ground game late in the third quarter of its 39-10 victory over Missouri.
Starting at its own 13-yard line, the Crimson Tide cobbled together an eight-play, 81-yard drive behind strong running from Najee Harris. His running set up a 44-yard pass by Jalen Hurts. Alabama’s offense was humming along, until the red zone. Going for it on fourth-and-one from Missouri’s 6-yard line, Damien Harris ran the ball up the middle. He was stuffed, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The drive encapsulated Alabama’s rushing performance. The Crimson Tide found success moving the ball on the ground, but failed to exert its dominance in important situations. Overall, Missouri limited Alabama to 184 yards on 45 carries, the Crimson Tide’s second-fewest rushing yards this season.
As usual, Alabama’s backfield was a time share. Damien Harris lead the way with 62 yards on 14 carries, with Najee Harris adding 57 yards on 13 rushes. Josh Jacobs also chipped in 52 yards on nine carries.
Leading up to its matchup with Missouri, Alabama understood the challenge it faced. The Tigers’ defense was ranked second in the SEC against the run, giving up an average of just 107.4 yards per contest.
“They had a good front seven, probably the best we’ve seen so far,” Alabama center Ross Pierschbacher said. “They did a lot of stuff that challenged us: stunts, movements, pressures. They brought a lot of stuff.”
The red zone was an especially difficult place for Alabama to run the ball. Besides Damien Harris’ 2-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide couldn’t use brute force to power its way over the goal line.
“If there was a disappointment it was probably the fact that we had the ball in the red zone three or four times that we didn’t score,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We had to kick field goals, went for it on fourth down once and didn’t make it. We need to do a better job in the red zone.”
Alabama’s struggle to run the ball once it passed the 20-yard line contributed to one of its least productive red-zone showings of the season. While the Crimson Tide converted 6 of 7 red-zone trips into scores, only three were touchdowns.
“Obviously we need to clean up that area and finish and scores touchdowns instead of field goals,” Pierschbacher said.
When going against such a physical front, Harris said that it’s important not to measure success solely by yards gained.
“We knew that going into this game they had a tough defensive front and it was going to be hard,” Harris said. “You got to live with the fact that sometimes a 2-yard run is a good run, or a 1-yard run is a good run. We had a lot of those tonight.”