By Michael Southern
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
With his quiet demeanor and knack for pointing the spotlight to his teammates, junior DeVonta Smith can sometimes become the overlooked member of the talented Alabama receiving corps.
Despite being an important part of the game-winning play in the national championship game two years ago, fans seem to remember the throw from Tua Tagovailoa more than the catch from Smith.
Saturday afternoon in a sweltering Bryant-Denny Stadium, Smith seized his moment to forge his name into the Alabama record books. Gridiron historians were rewriting history at halftime and continued the amendments far into the second half.
When the wild affair with the Ole Miss Rebels finally ended in a 59-31 victory for the second-ranked Crimson Tide, Smith stood alone on the school summit for most receiving yards and touchdowns in a single game.
Smith finished with 11 receptions for 274 yards and five touchdowns, which also tied the Southeastern Conference single-game mark. In an amazing hidden statistic, Tagovailoa targeted him 12 times, so the electric duo only failed to achieve passing nirvana one time.
“It’s great to have a quarterback like him that is great at reading things,” a humble Smith said. “It just makes everybody around him better. Hard work pays off. That guy comes in and he works hard every day. I mean it’s just paying off for him.”
Last season teammate Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s top receiver. This season teammate Henry Ruggs III has dazzled people with his explosive speed.
But against the Rebels, Smith stepped forward early to shoulder the receiving burden as Jeudy failed to score and Ruggs suffered a hip-pointer injury in the first half.
“It can be anybody at anytime, no matter who it is,” Smith said. “Today just happened to be me.”
Tagovailoa searched for Smith on Alabama’s first possession as they paired for a 74-yard touchdown.
After a sluggish first quarter ended with the Rebels leading 10-7, Smith exploded for three touchdowns in the second quarter.
With Tagovailoa looking for the hot hand, Smith hauled in touchdown passes of 25, 23 and 33 yards before halftime to give Alabama a 38-10 advantage.
“I wouldn’t call it in ‘the zone,’ I just call it coaches calling plays and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time,” Smith said. “Coach (Steve Sarkisian) must have seen something he liked. We just did what he wanted to do. We just executed.”
With four touchdowns and 221 yards receiving by halftime, Smith added one more touchdown in the third quarter with an acrobatic 27-yard catch and stretch into the end zone.
The historic performance spurred some postgame teasing from his teammates as they called him “Hollywood” while walking off the field.
“That’s just them having their jokes,” Smith said with a grin. “No matter who it was they would say that to anybody. No matter if it was Jerry, Ruggs or (Jaylen) Waddle. They were just having their jokes and everybody being happy for me.”