Welcome to the Najee Harris Show, Alabama fans ...
With all due respect to Michael McCorkle Jones, who went from clipboard to last-chance savior of the Alabama offense in a flash … there is a different player on the Crimson Tide roster who will be the difference-maker in the season’s final 2 games and beyond.
His name is Najee Harris. And he is an awakening beast fully prepared for his big moment.
Now that Tua Tagovailoa is out for the season with a dislocated hip, Alabama’s offense will become more balanced. Which really means that, even though they still have 4 healthy future NFL talents at wide receiver, the Tide will run the ball more than it has in 2019.
Again, this is no knock on Mac Jones. But rare is the offense that can plug-and-play stellar quarterbacks. The gulf between QB1 and QB2 is usually way wider than it was when Tagovailoa and current Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts went 15 rounds to decide who would start the 2018 season.
More often than not, the backup QB is the backup QB for a reason. And in Alabama’s case, the gulf between Tagovailoa’s talent and Jones’ talent speaks more to Tagovailoa’s once-in-a-generation skill-set.
Long story short, Jones under center means Alabama needs to run the rock more than it has all season.
Enter Harris, who has stockpiled 100-yard rushing games against Southern Miss (110 yards), Texas A&M (114 yards), Tennessee (105 yards) and LSU (146 yards) — and has 876 total rushing yards on 144 carries with 9 touchdowns.
Harris has also excelled catching passes out of the backfield, hauling in 22 receptions for 266 yards and 6 TDs — giving Alabama a dual-threat force that must be accounted for on every play.
In the immediate aftermath of Alabama’s 38-7 victory over Mississippi State, in which he recorded a 4-touchdown afternoon, Harris was in little mood to discuss his impending increased role in the offense.
“I’m just hurt about our quarterback, what happened to our quarterback,” Harris said. “I’m not in the mood for you to ask me any questions, to be honest. That’s why I’m giving short answers. Not to be rude to anybody. I’m just not in the mood right now.
“He means a lot to our team. It’s our guy. I came here at the same time he did. Been friends with him since my freshman season. For him to go down like that really hurts.”
Harris was enjoying one of his best games at Alabama before Tagovailoa’s injury. He became the first player in Alabama history to score 3 touchdowns in the first quarter, and his 4 first-half touchdowns matched teammate DeVonta Smith’s mark from a Sept. 28 victory against Ole Miss.
And even tough he didn’t touch the ball after the first possession of the second half, the junior led all Crimson Tide players with 139 yards from scrimmage. Harris has scored 11 touchdowns over the past 5 games — with WRs DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy next with 3 each.
Not only has Harris found the end zone early and often for the Tide, but he has led the offense with 701 yards from scrimmage since the victory at Texas A&M. Over that same span, Smith (489 yards), Jeudy (379) and Henry Ruggs (259) have seen their production go up and down in relation to Tagovailoa’s health.
“He has gained confidence all year long,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after Saturday’s win in Starkville. “The more he plays, the more success he has. He is running the plays very efficiently and effectively. He’s a hard guy to tackle. He’s a really good receiver.
“He’s done a really, really good job and I’m really pleased with the way he has played the last couple of weeks.”
That said, Saban said Monday that he doesn’t see just a great deal of change coming down the pike for Alabama’s offense with Jones at the helm instead of Tagovailoa.
“I don’t think the offense changes much at all,” Saban said. “Mac played in the Arkansas game and did a nice job. I think was 18-for-22 or whatever. He’s smart. He understands the offense. He’s made a lot of improvement throughout the course of the year.
“We have a lot of confidence in Mac and I think (offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) has done a really good job of helping him develop throughout the year. We’re not changing what we do. Mac is a very capable guy. He’s a smart guy, and we have a lot of confidence in what he can do and what he will do.”
That’s all fine and good. But again, Jones isn’t Tagovailoa. And while Jones will look perfectly capable under center against Western Carolina, Auburn looms large in 2 weeks — a must-win situation should Alabama want any hope of advancing yet again to the College Football Playoff.
That’s why the Crimson Tide will become the Najee Harris Show, likely starting Saturday against the Catamounts but going full-on against the Tigers in the Iron Bowl.