How Steve Sarkisian has helped accelerate emergence of Alabama football's DeVonta Smith
In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that Alabama football would lean on DeVonta Smith in its post-Jaylen Waddle ankle injury era. The Crimson Tide has plenty of offensive options to fill his production, but none as good as Smith.
The resulting workload kept Alabama’s offense humming and could steer Smith to the Heisman Trophy. In the four games before Waddle’s injury, Smith was averaging 120.75 yards and one touchdown. In the six games after it, he averaged 159.16 yards and an astounding 2.1 touchdowns per game.
The finer details of Smith’s rise to that production show more than sheer opportunity. In executing new schematic elements Alabama has presented in recent games, Smith has played a big role in keeping Alabama’s offense churning at a record pace going into Friday’s College Football Playoff Semifinal against Notre Dame.
“I think what Smitty brings to the table, he's a very smart football player,” Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “He's a guy that understands the game big picture, not just in one position or another.
"He recognizes coverages really well, so it's allowed us to move him all over the field, whether it's in the slot, isolation-type plays, in bunches, and the reality of it is he knows why we're calling what we're calling and what we're calling those things for.”
Over recent weeks, Sarkisian has been slowly rolling out new double-move combinations or new motions and formations to give Smith the ever-so-slight advantage needed on defenses. In the Iron Bowl, Smith scored a touchdown after feigning as a lead blocker on a wide receiver screen.
Smith attributes his success to executing those elements with the standard of perfection in mind, more than just understanding them.
“Just my attention to detail, how precise I want to be with everything,” Smith said. “Just wanting to do everything perfect, just getting it as perfect as I can with everything I do.”
Even if Smith’s season does not end with a Heisman Trophy, it is undeniably historic. He has already broken the UA and SEC record for career receiving touchdowns and the school record for single-season receiving touchdowns, in addition to the school record for career receiving yards and drawing within striking range of the SEC record.
All in a season that reasonably could not have happened.
Last year’s draft class was loaded at wide receiver — 11 of the top 50 picks — and Smith’s standing in that class will never be known. If it were high enough, however, Smith could have been a first-round pick.
Instead, his return put him in a position to dominate college football.
“I'm so proud of him because I know it was a tough decision for him at the end of last season to come back, but clearly him coming back has been worth his while, and I'm sure it's been very gratifying for him,” Sarkisian said.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson