While it might not have been a direct challenge to their manhood, the Alabama offensive line and running backs knew their performance last week against South Carolina left critics wondering if the Crimson Tide had lost the ability to impose its will at the line of scrimmage.
A lengthy streak of 69 games with at least 100 yards rushing ended in the heat and humidity of Columbia, South Carolina, as the Crimson Tide generated a meager 76 yards on the ground.
Saturday morning with Southern Miss paying its first visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium since 2014, second-ranked Alabama made sure the Golden Eagle defense had even more to worry about besides an accurate quarterback and speedy receivers.
“Being in that meeting room (this week), we all acknowledged that we haven’t run the ball as well as we’ve wanted to,” Alabama junior center Chris Owens admitted. “We all know our flaws, and we know what we need to get better at, and just like everybody else sees it, we see it, too.
“It was an emphasis this week, and it will continue to be an emphasis for the rest of the season.”
Led by the running and leaping acrobatics of junior Najee Harris, the Alabama rushing attack piled up 176 yards and two touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s 49-7 victory.
Harris finished with a game-high 110 yards on 14 carries for a 7.9-yard average. It was the first time in nine games an Alabama player rushed for more than 100 yards and only the second time in Harris’ career.
“We always had a run game,” a smiling Harris said in the postgame interview. “Teams always stack the box. It was good to see our holes open up today.”
Harris scored a touchdown in the second quarter, but it occurred on a 5-yard pass from Tua Tagovailoa.
However, Harris crossed the 100-yard rushing barrier in the third quarter on a 17-yard run around right end to the Southern Miss 21-yard line.
The only other time he had eclipsed the century mark in his career was a 135-yard performance against Arkansas State last season.
“It was good,” Harris said. “Hopefully we’ll do it again next week. The offensive line did a really good job. They keep that level of play; we’re going to be straight. A ‘shout out’ to the offensive line.
“The offensive line, they took the challenge and they did a wonderful job, that’s why the offensive line really should be here in the interview right now and not me.”
Brian Robinson Jr. and Jerome Ford, who started in the season-opener against Duke, scored the two rushing touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.
Robinson scored on a 6-yard run with 5:43 remaining in the third quarter, while Ford followed late in the game with a 5-yard run.
“Still a long way to go, we’re not necessarily where we want to be yet, but as long as we continue to improve every game we’ll be just fine,” Owens said.
“Once we hit a big run, we just want to keep pounding them and keep pounding them. We just want to keep improving. We’re just going to run the play that’s called and just execute it.”