DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris become two-man show in Alabama football's offense
Najee Harris may not have scored, but in running for 119 yards, he ran for more than three of the four teams Mississippi State faced prior to Saturday.
DeVonta Smith’s 203 receiving yards was his highest mark over his last nine games; it was also more than MSU gained as a team.
Alabama became the Harris and Smith show in its 41-0 thrashing of the Bulldogs on Saturday. The two carried the load on 38 of UA’s 73 plays, a number that could have been higher if not for three possessions taken almost entirely by backup players trying to run out the final minutes.
“It seemed like every time he was getting the ball he was running for 10 yards and running it across the field,” quarterback Mac Jones said of Harris.
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Five of Harris’ 21 carries (23.8%) went for 10 yards or more, an increase from the season to date with 17 such carries on 103 attempts (16.5%). Harris also added six catches for 36 yards, second on the team in both categories to Smith.
Smith’s performance both put him in UA’s record book and elevated his place in it. It was the 10th 200-yard receiving performance in UA history and the third of his career, matching Amari Cooper’s total. Smith’s four touchdowns also helped him match Cooper’s career receiving touchdowns total of 31, which is both the school and SEC record.
His new career receiving yards total is 2,868, which moved him past Jerry Jeudy and Calvin Ridley for third in school history and now just 128 yards behind DJ Hall for second.
“Smitty’s always open, man. Even when he’s not,” Jones said. “If they’re going to put one guy on Smitty, you have to take advantage of it.”
It all came despite a slow start, as Alabama was forced to a 40-yard field goal try on its first possession and punted on its second. Jones, sporting a 78.8 completion percentage entering the game, starting 4-for-8.
“I’ve never really played against something like that,” Jones said of Mississippi State’s defense. “Obviously we prepared for it and they didn’t give us anything we didn’t see, but once you go out there and experience it, you kinda have to find a groove a little bit.”
The significance of the distribution of touches comes in this being UA’s first full week of preparation and ensuing game without wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who was leading the SEC in receiving yards when he suffered his season ending ankle injury.
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It may not be proper to assume this usage will repeat itself in perpetuity in Waddle’s absence: an individual receiver having a monster game compared to his teammates is common. Against Missouri, Waddle had 134 yards and two touchdowns while no other receiver scored or tallied more than 90 yards; two weeks later, against Ole Miss, Smith had 13 catches while no other UA receiver had more than six.
However, the first week of Waddle’s full absence featured mostly Smith and Harris with little of Waddle’s replacement, Slade Bolden (three catches for 20 yards) or tight ends (one catch by Miller Forristall for 14 yards). As UA goes into an open week — and looks forward to games against LSU, Kentucky’s stout defense, Auburn and Arkansas — it has set a precedent.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson