COLUMBIA, S.C. — Terrell Lewis saw it and immediately remembered he had been on the wrong side of that move before.
Once before, he had flown under a hurdling Najee Harris. Harris flew over him unscathed and carried on for more yards, just as he did to South Carolina’s RJ Roderick for a 42-yard touchdown on Saturday.
“He brought out the triangle button,” Lewis said.
The hurdling touchdown catch and run — complete with a demolition of South Carolina’s D.J. Wonnum before the hurdle — was the highlight of a big day for the University of Alabama running back. Harris amassed 123 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns — 87 of those yards receiving, and both touchdowns — in UA’s 47-23 win over South Carolina. It was not a typical game for running backs, as they ended the first half with a combined six carries, but Harris made his impact elsewhere.
“We knew they have a really good run-stop defense, so we knew that we’re not going to have as much wide open runs like that,” Harris said. “(Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) said to make sure you do as much as you can in the passing game because you know we’re going to have a lot of one-on-one matchups.
“There was a lot of pass plays built in for us, (running backs) specifically.”
One of those designed concepts in the passing game created Harris’ first receiving touchdown, the one that punctuated Alabama’s opening drive just 99 seconds into the game. Tua Tagovailoa faked a handoff to Harris to the right of the formation with the rest of the play’s routes going to the left; as defenders flowed to that side, Harris fled the backfield on a wheel route down the right sideline, open for a 24-yard touchdown.
In most UA games, a touchdown like that would be the beginning of the end. But it was not for South Carolina (1-2, 0-1), which kept the game within one score well into the second quarter with an offense that proved tricky for a while. Alabama eventually reached a fourth-and-3, 42 yards away from a touchdown that would give the Crimson Tide a 14-point lead. UA already decided earlier in the series that it would go for it on this fourth down if needed, choosing to hand it off to Harris for a gain of one on third down.
“We needed a spark,” Harris said. “I just know it’s fourth-and-3 and I got to make a play for the team and get a spark.”
Harris provided that spark by turning a dump-off pass into an electrifying 42-yard touchdown. He started with a resounding one-on-one win of the physical sort, butting figurative heads with Wonnum and dispatching him with ease.
As he left Wonnum behind him, Harris saw Roderick coming from across the field. He knew he only had one choice.
“I saw him looking at my legs coming from a distance, so I didn’t want to lower my shoulder when it’s faster to hurdle,” Harris said. “I try not to hurdle, actually, but watching film we know what we’re going against and that was the time to do it, I guess.”
Harris tries not to hurdle for several reasons. Not least among them: UA coach Nick Saban tells him not to.
“Well I always tell him not to do that. I think it could be dangerous, but he’s got a good feel for it,” Saban said.
With that well-timed return to his old antics, Harris had the primary highlight from a day when he could do little to no wrong. That’s rarely the case for a running back ending a game with 36 yards on seven carries, but Harris wanted to be the spark. South Carolina forced him to find a different way to do it, so he did.
“I wanted a spark to be given,” Harris said. “All the running backs knew it wasn’t going to be a big game for the running game because teams stop the run first and have man-on-man outside.
“I didn’t know it was going to end up like that, but it is what it is.”
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