Henry Ruggs III never broke his stride as he watched Tua Tagovailoa run the mesh point with Najee Harris. He knew the first play of Saturday’s game could come to him if Tagovailoa chose such, and with this play solidly in the script, he knew for days he could be in this situation.
Tagovailoa chose Ruggs III. He pulled and fired to Ruggs III, running to the wide side of the field. Ruggs III looked forward and saw nothing but grass.
Immediately, he feared the reaction of his fellow wide receivers should something go wrong.
“I knew when I saw green grass, I was like, ‘Yeah I got to outrun everybody now.’ I felt somebody tip the back of my foot and the first thing in my mind was, ‘If I get caught they’re going to mess with me.’”
Seventy-five yards later, Ruggs III was far from the subject of ridicule. He was scoring one of his two touchdowns in the University of Alabama football team’s 62-10 route of New Mexico State. Ruggs III ultimately accounted for 141 yards, 66 of them from four catches and 75 of them later counted as a rush on that touchdown. After further review, the pass was deemed to be lateral, thus counted as a run and not a completed pass.
“It just shows that I’m more versatile that I’ve got a 75-yard rush,” Ruggs III said through a smile. He did play a couple of games of running back in high school: his days of playing that position are clearly over, but for a day, his stats beg to differ.
Ruggs III was still plenty effective at his primary discipline, catching four passes in the game after getting just two against Duke last week. He recognizes opportunities are not easy to come by in UA’s receiving corps, where the talent is deeper and more prolific than nearly anywhere else in college football, and he adjusts his approach accordingly.
“I’m big on opportunities: when you get your opportunity, you got to make the most of it,” Ruggs III said. “With the guys we have in our room, the whole room can get the ball at any time and anybody can have their day and make plays. We’re happy for one another when we make plays and when it’s your turn, you got to do what you got to do.”
When it came to Ruggs III’s biggest play of the game, he got help from the rest of the crew.
“All credit goes to the other receivers: (Jerry) Jeudy got a good block so he pretty much had the inside sealed, and I was reading (DeVonta Smith’s) block,” Ruggs III said.
As much as the receivers may take away from one another at times, there is more than one case to be made that they help each other. The first play of a blowout win, one that made Ruggs III the hero, is evidence, but New Mexico State coach Doug Martin saw more of it throughout as UA (2-0) racked up 603 yards of offense, 9.3 yards per play.
“What makes them so dangerous is they’re so balanced,” Martin said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons. And (Tagovailoa)’s just so accurate throwing the ball, and that’s what makes the receivers so deadly is because when it’s man coverage or something like that, he’s so accurate with the football that they don’t have to slow down to catch it. They get it on a dead run, and they’re hard to get down.”