Why Alabama football running back Najee Harris could have a big game against Arkansas

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Alabama football's offense has run through DeVonta Smith in its last four games. Smith’s receiving yards alone account for 35.6% of UA’s offense in that stretch — 749 of 2,103.

Saturday’s game against Arkansas (11 a.m, ESPN) grants UA a convenient chance to show a different side of the offense.

The Razorbacks enter the game against No. 1 Alabama having allowed 100-yard rushers in back-to-back games — LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price had 104 and Missouri’s Larry Rountree III had 185. Neither has been as productive as Alabama running back Najee Harris, giving him an opportunity to play a bigger role in the offense this week.

More:What SEC Network's Chris Doering said about DeVonta Smith's breakout season, breaking his record

“They're so explosive on offense. Big, physical, powerful offensive line is as good as I've ever seen in college football,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said.

Smith’s surge in production began in the first full game UA played without Jaylen Waddle, after his ankle injury on the opening kickoff of the Tennessee game that likely ended his season. It has come partially at Harris’ expense. In the four games before Waddle’s injury, Harris averaged 20.75 carries. In the four games since, he has averaged 16.5.

After running for over 100 yards in five of eight games, dating back to last season, the last three games have seen Harris cross that threshold once.

More:Comparing Alabama's Mac Jones to Kyle Trask, Trevor Lawrence and other Heisman Trophy hopeful QBs

Davis-Price was averaging 49 yards before running for 104 against Arkansas. In his two games since, he’s run for 42.

The performance by Rountree gave Arkansas an uncomfortably close comparison to the worst run defense in the SEC — Vanderbilt. One week before facing Arkansas, Rountree ran 21 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns. Against the Razorbacks, it was 27 carries for 185 yards and three touchdowns.

Arkansas  allowed eight runs of 10 yards or more against Missouri, with four of those going for at least 25 yards and two of them going for more than 45. For the season, Arkansas is 10th in the SEC having allowed 46 runs of 10 yards or more and 11 runs of 20 yards or more.

Now it has the task of facing Harris, the SEC leader with 34 carries of 10 yards or more.

“Blocking for Najee is a reward in and of itself,” UA center Landon Dickerson said. “He finds holes and cuts and he isn’t afraid to put his head down and run downhill. He is an amazing player. This team is full of amazing guys, amazing athletes that do  — you call them crazy things  — spectacular things all the time.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson