With most eyes on Alabama’s passing game skipping no beats in the peaceful transition from Mac Jones to Bryce Jones, the Crimson Tide ground game could’ve been overlooked in the 44-13 win over Miami.
The final numbers were fairly pedestrian with 38 attempts and 147 yards without a run longer than 20 yards, so it didn’t get the same postgame shine as Bryce Young’s four-touchdown debut.
A closer look at the ground game shows how Alabama patched the hole left by Najee Harris after two years as the primary option in the backfield.
First, the stats through three quarters paint a more accurate portrait of the performance. Alabama ran it on 16 of the 21 plays in the final period when it was clear the plan was to drain the clock on the ground. Those 16 carries netted just 17 yards for an average of 1.1 yards a pop as Alabama controlled possession for 13:07 of the final 15.
In the three previous quarters, the 22 carries averaged 5.9 yards a carry for 130 yards.
Brian Robinson was clearly the No. 1 but Jase McClellan saw action as early as the second possession. Robinson’s 12 carries and 60 yards were both team highs as McClellan’s nine attempts were next with 36 yards.
While Roydell Williams was the third back to enter, Trey Sanders’ 41 yards and eight carries were the Tide’s second-highest yield. Sanders also scored the only rushing touchdown on that lone 20-yard carry midway through the third quarter.
Playing behind a rebuilt offensive line, Saban saw the positive and negative in Alabama’s ground game.
“Well, I think we had some good runs, where we actually got a hat-on-a-hat, finished blocks and did a good job,” Saban said Monday. “We put the ball on the ground, you know, three times which we need to clean up, two by the runners, one by the quarterback.”
Saban also added, like he did Saturday, that the sack-fumble that Young lost “really wasn’t his fault.” Williams also fumbled in the second quarter on a play that’ll be remembered for Miami presenting, then revoking the turnover chain after video review showed the Alabama RB recovered the loose ball.
Up front, Darrian Dalcourt was one of seven players of the week named Monday by Alabama coaches for his first start at center. Next to him, Javion Cohen was also making his first start at left guard while Chris Owens was at right tackle after playing center late last season.
“You know, didn’t really give anything up in pass (protection), made some mental errors,” Saban said. “People think that when the quarterback gets pressure that it’s always the offensive line. Sometimes it’s relative to the protection that we’re in, sometimes we didn’t change the protection correctly. So, you know, we brought pressure on ourselves.”
The sack that resulted in a lost fumble in the third quarter was the only time a passer was taken down in the backfield. It was also the second and final play that went down as a rushing attempt for Young, categorized as a dual-threat passer but not in the traditional sense.
The sophomore making his first start had several opportunities to take off when rolling out or escaping pressure but he only tucked and ran it just once. He gained eight yards for a first down late in the first quarter. On the previous drive, he had daylight twice but instead of taking off, he used his feet to buy time and locate receivers.
John Metchie, who caught a touchdown pass on the opening drive on a play Young extended with his feet, explained the mindset of a receiver at that moment.
“It’s just kind of the same thing: get open,” Metchie said. “Luckily, we have a quarterback that’s good with his feet and can make plays happen and extend a lot of plays. So kind of just get open and continue to keep the play alive.”
His patience isn’t new.
Young’s scouting report in his 247Sports evaluation written by Greg Biggins in November of his junior year holds true today.
“Will scramble to make a play with his arm more than taking off and running,” Biggins wrote nearly three years ago, “although he does have the ability to run for plus yards.”