TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Here’s one final look back at Alabama’s 48-43 win over Ole Miss in the Crimson Tide’s SEC opener.
It’s time to put some respect on Damien Harris’ name
Alabama sophomore Damien Harris ran the ball 16 times for 144 yards and a touchdown. In Alabama coach Nick Saban’s opinion, one of Harris’ most impressive carries went for 1 yard.
It was 3rd-and-1 with 1:08 left on the clock. Harris took the hand off from quarterback Jalen Hurts and plunged forward for the first down to end the game.
“Damien Harris played lights out today,” Saban said. “He made some real tough runs. That last yard he made to get a first down, that was nothing but tenacity.”
Harris made the “tough runs” and the big runs for Alabama’s offense. He averaged 9 yards per carry for the game. It was in the second half when Harris did the bulk of his work.
Harris racked up 115 yards and a touchdown in the second half. He averaged 11.5 yards per carry in the second half..
Through three games, Harris’ 9.08 yards per carry leads the SEC. He is fifth in the SEC with an average of 109 yards per game.
Harris is Alabama’s most complete running back. He needs to be a bigger part of Alabama’s offense going forward.
Jalen Hurts has “ice in his veins”
The hit couldn’t have been more direct. Alabama right tackle Jonah Williams slid the wrong way, according to Saban. That created a free path for Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes to unload on an unsuspecting Hurts. Hurts lost the ball, Ole Miss recovered and returned the gift 44 yards for the score to push their lead to 24-3. Things looked bad for Alabama.
Hurts never looked rattled after the hit. On Alabama’s ensuing drive, Hurts hit receiver Calvin Ridley for a 22-yard gain and ran for a 22-yard gain to move Alabama inside the 10. Ridley finished the drive off with a 6-yard rushing score.
But it was the poise and toughness Hurts showed after taking the hit that stood out. Hurts continued to run the ball as the game went out. He never shied away from contact.
“It’s like he’s been here for three or four years, man,” Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson said of Hurts poise and leadership. “I’ve seen it since last year when he came in and helped us get ready for Clemson. He got ice in his veins.”
Hurts finished the game with 146 rushing yards while averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Hurts is second in the SEC among quarterbacks and in the top 12 overall with 197 rushing yards.
Alabama’s passing game never really found a rhythm in large part because of the playcalling and the loss of ArDarius Stewart early on to a sprained knee. Hurts missed some open throws. The receivers dropped some passes. Those aspects should improve as Hurts gets more comfortable making his reads and making quicker decisions.
Hurts has the full support of his teammates as he continues to grow and mature in the offense.
“We got a young quarterback that can make plays, he’s tough and he doesn’t quit,” Anderson said. “We have to help him in every way that we can on defense and special teams. We got to make his job easy. We have to keep helping Jalen. He’s getting better every week, man, so it’s working.”
Defense gives up explosive plays
Saban defines an explosive play as a run of 12 yards or longer and a pass of 16 yards or longer. By those numbers, Alabama allowed 13 explosive plays on defense.
That’s a breakdown of three explosive runs and 10 explosive pass plays. Three of those plays were touchdowns.
There were busted coverages on a couple of Ole Miss’ long throws to tight end Evan Engram. Most of the other plays were just Ole Miss’ receivers making great plays on the ball to snag it before Alabama’s defensive backs could knock it away.
Saban attributed some of the big plays to mental errors by the players. That’ll be something the team looks to clean up in practice this week.
Alabama’s defense added two touchdowns to help balance things out. The good thing for Alabama’s defense is that they likely won’t face an offense as explosive as Ole Miss or a quarterback as talented as Chad Kelly all regular season.
Alabama’s pass rush picked up in the second half
Alabama’s pass rush didn’t put up a big sack total in large part due to how Ole Miss’ offense is set up. Ole Miss uses run-pass options to slow down opposing pass rushers.
The Crimson Tide did add both of its sacks in the second half at key moments of the game.
The first came on Ryan Anderson’s strip-sack on Chad Kelly. The play set up Da’Ron Payne’s scoop-and-score to tie the game at 24.
Alabama’s second sack came on the first play of Ole Miss’ possession following the strip-sack. Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton rushed the quarterback on a delayed blitz and stuck Kelly for a loss of 8 yards. The sack ultimately led to a three-and-out.
Alabama’s offense took the lead on the following possession and never let it go.
When Alabama’s pass rushers couldn’t get to Kelly, they collapsed the pocket and moved him off his spot.
Ryan Anderson strip sack, Payne recovery leads to a sad Ole Miss fan pic.twitter.com/dQnl7K2VTf
— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) September 17, 2016
Watch injuries going forward
Alabama’s secondary went from having one inexperienced player (Anthony Averett) to having three when cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick and safety Eddie Jackson (shin) left the game with injuries.
Freshman Shyheim Carter stepped in for Fitzpatrick. Laurence “Hootie” Jones and Deionte Thompson were the reserve safeties behind Jackson.
Rashaan Evans had to step in for Reuben Foster when Foster went out with cramps. Evans is an extremely talented player. But Foster is the leader of the defense. Evans also isn’t 100 percent.
ArDarius Stewart went out early with a knee sprain. Alabama’s offense wasn’t the same after his injury. Alabama’s passing attack becomes a bit more easy to defend when they don’t have Calvin Ridley and Stewart on the field at the same time.
All of the injured players should be fine going forward. Stewart is “questionable for next week,” but Saban doesn’t believe his injury is serious. Alabama is taking two days (Sunday and Monday) off to allow the players to rest after the physical game.
These next two weeks are going to be key for getting younger players reps in practice and potentially getting them reps in games. Injuries happen so the last thing Alabama wants to have again is a key player banged up, and an inexperienced player replacing them in a big moment.
Matchups against Kent State and Kentucky should give Alabama the opportunity to play younger players before the meat of the SEC schedule.