If you blink, you might miss Alabama’s opener against Utah State being a competitive football game. The Tide are a 6-touchdown favorite against a Mountain West squad coming off an 11-point win at home against UConn. It’s more likely that we see Nick Saban start a TikTok account than we see a 60-minute football game.

So what’s worth watching? Like, besides the 2 best players on the planet (Bryce Young and Will Anderson)? The answer is obvious — it’s Jahmyr Gibbs.

The Georgia Tech transfer earned the “RB1” designation on the Alabama depth chart, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but it did confirm what many speculated all offseason. Gibbs didn’t come to Alabama to provide depth behind a trio of unproven returning backs who all had significant injuries in the past 2 years. The goal was for Gibbs to become the perfect versatile backfield weapon for Young, who figures to see plenty of drop-8 coverage after his Heisman Trophy season.

I’ll make a not-so-bold prediction and say that’s evident in the opener.

Yeah, part of that is because we just watched Utah State allow 200 scrimmage yards to UConn running back Nathan Carter. An Aggies’ defense that ranked No. 119 in FBS in percentage of returning defensive production might have some holes. Shocking, I know.

Don’t get it twisted. I’ll be stunned if Gibbs matches Carter’s 21 scrimmage touches. Game flow should prevent that.

But it would make plenty of sense if Alabama wanted to get Gibbs’ feet wet with his new surroundings. Surely the highly scrutinized Alabama offensive line wouldn’t mind a more run-heavy approach, and surely Alabama fans would prefer to not pray that the protection holds for 30 pass attempts.

Gibbs’ usage in Bill O’Brien’s offense is going to be a unique storyline to watch. There’s potential for him to be different than any back in the Saban era, and not just because all of the Tide’s All-SEC running backs in that stretch began their careers at Alabama.

Last year, Gibbs earned PFF’s highest receiving grade among running backs. For a 3-win Georgia Tech team, he got heavily involved in the passing game with 35 catches for 465 yards in 12 games. The last time Alabama had a running back finish with 465 receiving yards was … never. Najee Harris was the only other back in the 21st century to hit 400 receiving yards in a season, and he did so with 13 games.

Also, Harris and Gibbs are extremely different players from a physical standpoint. Both are game-changing weapons. Harris became a valuable asset in the passing game, but this was his only career catch that went for 30 yards:

That should probably count for 10 catches. Mercy.

Gibbs, on the other hand, had 5 such grabs last year alone — he has 8 through the first 2 years of his career — 2 of which went for 70 yards. The only Power 5 player with more 70-yard catches was Jameson Williams. The home-run threat is always there for Gibbs.

How proven is Gibbs as a pass-catcher you ask? Look at his numbers compared to his new teammate, preseason first-team All-SEC receiver Jermaine Burton:

Burton (at Georgia)
Gibbs (at Georgia Tech)
Receiving yards
Receiving yards/game
Catches of 30 yards
Catches of 50 yards

I get that Burton is the better downfield target, and he has a much deeper route tree than Gibbs, who only lined up on the outside 24 snaps in 2022. Dump-offs and screens are probably going to be a significant chunk of Gibbs’ passing game usage. That’s fine. Given those aforementioned questions about Alabama’s offensive line, that’s to be expected.

It’s why, health permitting, Gibbs should have such a high floor in O’Brien’s offense. Even with Brian Robinson, who had just 17 career catches entering 2021, O’Brien wanted to use him as a pass-catcher. He had more than double that total (35), which led to him finishing with 306 scrimmage touches. Tyler Badie was the only other Power 5 player who had more scrimmage touches than Robinson. History suggests that’s ideally how O’Brien prefers to operate. He had 3 different backs rack up at least 35 catches in a season during his time with the Houston Texans.

Does that mean we’ll see Gibbs get 10 catches in a likely blowout against Utah State? Nah. It does mean that a low-risk pass play to Young’s new weapon should become an immediate fixture of the offense.

And as great as Gibbs already showed he could be as a pass-catcher at the Power 5 level, it’s also going to be intriguing to watch him develop as a runner. Playing on a pair of 3-win teams at Georgia Tech, he hit 20 carries in a game once, and not because of a lack of ability (he had 81 more scrimmage touches than any other Yellow Jackets player in 2021). I expect that to change soon.

It shouldn’t necessarily be a high-volume game for Gibbs in Week 1. For all we know, O’Brien will wait until the Texas game in Week 2 to give the world the full experience in this Alabama offense. That’s fine. It’ll still be a unique experience watching Gibbs’ skill set on display in Saturday night’s opener.

If you haven’t boarded the hype train yet, consider this your last chance before it shifts into overdrive on Saturday night.