DeVonta Smith isn’t the biggest receiver on Alabama’s roster. At 6-1, he does have some of the length you look for at the position. His 165-pound frame, however, doesn’t fit the major college prototype.
And yet Smith finds a way to make big plays in big moments.
The 4-star recruit out of Louisiana had only 7 receptions during his freshman season, but they went for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns — two of them of the season-changing variety. His 22.29 yards per catch actually led the team.
In other words, Smith’s focus as a freshman was on quality, not quantity.
The first touchdown of his career came in the second half against Vanderbilt in Week 4. The game was already well in hand with the Tide leading 45-0 midway through the third quarter, but that didn’t mean the play wasn’t spectacular.
Granted, a lot of the magic came from Tua Tagovailoa doing his best impression of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Still, Smith played his role in the 27-yard touchdown to perfection.
Here, check it out for yourself:
#ArmyBowl alum Tua Tagovailoa.
This is what’s going down in Vandy 🙃 pic.twitter.com/ARX2rQBdAB
— All-American Bowl (@ArmyAllAmerican) September 23, 2017
It was an excellent job of helping out the quarterback. It wasn’t Smith’s only time doing so, either.
Over the next five games, Smith wasn’t given a lot of opportunities to make an impact. He only managed to record 2 receptions for a total of 26 yards during that span.
It should be noted, however, that he came close to connecting with Hurts for a big gain (35-plus yards) against Texas A&M. A missed defensive holding call on the opposing cornerback kept that from happening.
I think if the CB doesn’t grab jersey, DeVonta Smith brings in this catch. His usage was limited, but he was phenomenal this season. pic.twitter.com/1zciqu940g
— Clint Lamb (@ClintRLamb) January 12, 2018
It wasn’t until Week 11 that Smith was called upon to make a truly key play for the Alabama offense. He responded by being on the receiving end of a pass that kept the Tide’s season alive.
Jalen Hurts : 10/19 for 242 yards & the game-winning 26-yard TD pass to Devonta Smith; 19 carries, 40 yards & 1 TD (Sacked 5 times) pic.twitter.com/4YbDFIKc0G
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) November 12, 2017
Following a third-down, 31-yard completion to Calvin Ridley to keep the final drive going against Mississippi State, Jalen Hurts connected with Smith on a quick slant that ended up being the game-winning play. The 26-yard catch sealed the 31-24 win for the Tide — building Smith’s status as a clutch performer in the process.
Similarly to how things played out after his first touchdown of the season, the freshman deep threat was rarely utilized following that game-winner against the Bulldogs — only pulling in 1 reception for 10 yards over his next three games.
That was until the Crimson Tide met another group of Bulldogs — this time on a much bigger stage.
Heading into overtime of the National Championship Game, Smith still didn’t have a reception. In fact, he had only seen one target up to that point.
That all changed in the game’s biggest moment …
Yet again, Smith provided fans, coaches and teammates with a game-winning touchdown reception — this one being a walk-off.
AN EPIC NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME!!!!!
ON 2ND AND 26, TRUE FRESHMAN QB TUA TAGOVAILOA THROWS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNING 41 YARD TOUCHDOWN STRIKE TO DEVONTA SMITH!!!!! IT’S EVEN BETTER WITH TITANIC MUSIC!!! @ALABAMAFTBL ARE CHAMPS AGAIN!!!! NICK SABAN DOES IT AGAIN!!!
— 🏈🚢🎶TITANIC TD🏈🚢🎶 (@TitanicTD) January 9, 2018
The play had both short-term and long-term implications.
The immediate impact was a national championship and all the glory, reward and feeling of achievement that comes with it. In the long term, the play may have solidified Smith’s place as a guy you can go to in the most pivotal moments of the game — well, for the next 2-3 years, at least.
For a team that’s losing three of its top receivers — Ridley, Robert Foster and Cam Sims — having a guy like Smith on the roster should not be undervalued. Opposing teams better make sure they know where No. 6 is. And if they lose track, the first place to look is the end zone.