Irv Smith Jr. could run a tightwire.
This past weekend, the Alabama tight end caught the very first pass quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw against Arkansas. It was a short throw that turned into a 76-yard score because Smith made a beeline to the right sideline and then all the way to the end zone.
“I was pretty confident that if I got past, got in the open field that I would be able to make some guys miss and outrun some people,” Smith said. “So, it went great.”
He came very close to stepping out of bounds, just never actually did.
“It would surprise me if I did that and ran down the field,” fellow tight end Hale Hentges said. “But for Irv? No, that’s not surprising.”
Another thing that doesn’t surprise Hentges: Smith’s speed. It’s the reason he was able to get past multiple defenders.
“He runs like a 4.5 (40-yard dash),” Hentges said. “He might as well be a wide receiver.”
Smith basically is at this point. He’s the Crimson Tide’s second-leading receiver with 332 yards and three touchdowns on 16 receptions. The 6-foot-4, 241-pound offensive threat is averaging 20.75 yards per reception and 55.3 receiving yards per game.
Hentges is the only other tight end who has been successfully targeted in the passing game, but he’s further down the list with three receptions for 33 yards and two touchdowns.
Looking back, Smith has already topped or matched all of his stats from last season. He had 14 catches for 128 yards and three scores as a sophomore.
“We knew Irv was a really good athlete when we recruited him, and he was a good blocker in high school and he was a good receiver,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I think he’s gotten better and better and better since he’s been here and obviously been very productive for us this year.”
Smith’s two other touchdowns this season were against Arkansas State (a 10-yard reception) and Ole Miss (a 12-yard reception). He had a chance at a second against Arkansas, but things didn’t necessarily go as planned, even though Alabama still scored on the play.
After catching a pass up the middle and taking it 47 yards, Smith fumbled.
“It was crazy,” Smith said. “I caught the ball and broke a bunch of tackles. I tried to stiff-arm one guy and I should have just kept my hands on both ends of the ball.”
Thankfully for Smith, UA wide receiver Henry Ruggs III recovered it and took it the rest of the way.
“I am still upset at myself,” Smith said. “But we scored, so I can’t be too mad.”
That was his only other reception against the Razorbacks. He was targeted one other time but did not hold onto the pass.
Smith catches an average of 2.7 passes per game. His 16 receptions are third-most on the team, only behind wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith. He has the same amount as Ruggs and one more than wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
“I always try to make the most of my opportunities,” Smith said. “It’s going great so far.”
Reach Terrin Waack at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.