Najee Harris steals the show, possibly Heisman consideration in Alabama football's SEC title win
ATLANTA — The SEC Championship Game was going to catapult its winner into the College Football Playoff, it was going to give Florida its ninth SEC championship or, as it turned out, Alabama its 28th. It was also going to settle a Heisman Trophy debate among Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith and the game’s two quarterbacks, Kyle Trask of Florida and Mac Jones of Alabama.
None of them stole Saturday’s show.
Najee Harris scored five touchdowns, the most in SEC Championship Game history, slicing the Gators on the ground and through the air in a 52-46 win over Florida. Harris ended with 31 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns on top of five catches for 67 yards and three touchdowns.
The game saw Harris break UA’s record for both career rushing yards and career rushing touchdowns, but his performance as a pass-catcher is what caught more eyes — although it should not have been a surprise after he set the school record for single-season receiving touchdowns by a running back last season.
“He always has been a really good receiver,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I think he's worked really hard to fine-tune his game as a receiver, learn how to run routes out of the backfield, option routes, different things to get open. I think he's gotten very, very good at that kind of stuff."
In this instance, Harris’ pass-catching exploits were not out of the backfield. Harris did a great deal of his damage split out as the perimeter wide receiver in empty formations. It’s one thing to use the positional leverage of the backfield to gain separation; it’s another to take on the job as a wide receiver does and do so as a running back.
“I've been catching the ball since birth,” Harris said. “People don't expect it because of the running back name. The slogan is, ‘Can he catch?’ I've been catching the ball since I was in the fetus position.”
In a game that likely had the attention of most Heisman Trophy voters, Harris was the MVP. He increased his already-significant national lead in rushing touchdowns and added to his yardage total, which entered Saturday ranked seventh in the nation.
If it’s enough to earn him more consideration for the Heisman Trophy, or possibly to win it, is not something he’s interested in.
“I feel like the two guys we got up there right now is good enough,” Harris said.
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