There’s a social media trend across college football showcasing a battle for bragging rights among position groups. Fans of schools like Florida and LSU (and even the programs themselves) go back and forth with stats, highlights, recruit rankings and NFL draft picks to strengthen their argument of which school should be crowned “DBU” (Defensive Back University). I’ve seen similar arguments between schools like Tennessee and Clemson for “WRU” (Wide Receiver University).
When it comes to running backs, though, schools like Georgia, Texas or Oklahoma may have some room to gloat, but there is no “RBU” like the one in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Tide’s lineage of elite backs under Nick Saban is not only royal with awards, All-American honors and Heisman trophies, but also deep in history. Players like Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy and Derrick Henry all have paved the way for a new crop of players to assume the throne in 2016.
This week we got a glimpse of a three-way crown that is taking shape in Title Town. True sophomores and former 5-star prospects Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough were already on the national radar, but true freshman Joshua Jacobs made sure the party didn’t go on too long without him as he broke through early in the game last week versus Arkansas.
Over the weekend, the three combined for 235 yards and averaged 10.2 yards per carry as a trio. Each player had at least one highlight reel run — a weekly occurrence. Those bursts remind us of how special each player is and how rare it is that they’re all on the same depth chart.
The 2016 season wasn’t even supposed to be Jacobs’ time to shine. As just a 3-star true freshman coming in behind two 5-stars, most figured his playing time would come during blowouts. On Saturday, not only was that not the case, he gave us the 56-yard run above in the Tide’s first offensive series.
What was most impressive about that run was how fluid Jacobs was in and out of his jukes. Notice how he turned a change-of-direction move into an acceleration — he never lost speed while trying to make defenders miss. From his first step through the trenches, Jacobs was running at top speed. The only reason he didn’t score is because Razorbacks DB Henre’ Toliver (who weighs nearly 20 fewer pounds than Jacobs) had the angle and was able to get his arms out to push him out of bounds.
Fans knew the 228-pound Scarbrough was going to be the “smash” of this running back unit. It looks like Jacobs has solidified himself as the dash to complement.
Despite the amount talent on the depth chart, Harris is the team’s feature back — and for good reason. Regardless of how well the other two do, Harris will get the majority of the carries because of plays like the one above.
Harris is the type of player who can put all of the skills a running back could have together in one run at any time. However, what justifies him getting the majority of carries is the vision he has to see open space before it’s even there. Harris does everything right in the run above. He was patient within the original plan of the blocking scheme, but once he noticed a greater potential for yards, he was quick to cut the other way and up the field.
Having a deep talent pool at one position is a blessing, but if an offensive coordinator mixes it up too much, it actually can be a hindrance to the offense as a whole (see Florida and its rotation of four running backs). Alabama is handling its talent pool correctly by making sure Harris is the go-to guy.
Most fans know Scarbrough from his Herculean photos that made their way around the Internet this offseason. Because of those pictures, people assumed he would be the lead back for the Tide, but once the season started and Damien Harris was getting the majority of the carries, people wondered if there was something wrong with Scarbrough.
Answer: there isn’t.
Scarbrough isn’t getting as many carries as Harris because he’s not as dynamic as a runner or receiver. The Tide are using Scarbrough in short-yardage situations (3 of his 4 TDs have come from 2 yards or 1 yard out). They are making sure they allow him to grow in his identity as a runner before they throw him out there without the patience or chemistry with the offensive line.
The play above reassures to you that Scarbrough is just fine. With the power back in the game, Arkansas stacked the middle of the trenches assuming the play would be between the tackles. Instead, Scarbrough bounced to the outside and even gave a cornerback a little stutter step to create separation. He then turned on the jets and walked in for an easy score.
Each of these three backs are incredibly talented. A case could be made for each to get the lion’s share of the carries, but part of what has made each so effective is that Alabama has a greater plan for the running game as a whole. It’s working, and it won’t be stopping any time soon.