Rushing attack comes alive in win over Southern Miss

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Rushing attack comes alive in win over Southern Miss

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

Last week Alabama insisted it didn’t need to run the ball better; it just needed to run it more. On Saturday in a 49-7 win against Southern Miss, it proved it still has the ability to move the chains in the ground game.

Junior running back Najee Harris had 14 carries for 110 yards, his second career 100-yard game, and the team had 35 carries for 176 yards.

“We had a lot of positive runs. We had a few negative runs,” head coach Nick Saban said. “But they did a lot of stunting inside; I felt like the offensive line did a really good job of getting a hat on a hat.

“I thought Najee really rolled it up in there, ran with a lot of toughness, and [junior running back Brian Robinson Jr.] did as well.”

Harris had a 5-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, his third in the last two games.

He and Robinson each had multiple pile-pushing plays, burrowing through a “wad” of defenders, as Saban called it last week, to sustain drives.

The running game hit its stride in the third quarter with gains of 11, 12, 13 and 17 yards, followed by a 6-yard touchdown run by Robinson, which was the team’s first of two rushing touchdowns.

Despite Alabama’s big wins over Duke and South Carolina, it averaged just 3.3 yards per carry over those two games. Against New Mexico State, a 9.9 average was skewed by runs of 74 and 75 yards.

“Being in that meeting room, we all acknowledged that we hadn’t run the ball as well as we wanted to,” redshirt junior center Chris Owens said. “… Just like everybody else sees it, we see it too. It was an emphasis this week and it’ll continue to be an emphasis for the rest of the season.”

Other than Robinson’s score and a late touchdown run by redshirt freshman Jerome Ford, the Crimson Tide’s other five touchdowns were all passes from junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whose 293-yard day elevated him from eighth to fifth on Alabama’s all-time passing yards list.

It was also the third time he has tied the school’s record of five touchdown passes in a game.

The first touchdown was on Alabama’s third play. Junior receiver Henry Ruggs III ran five yards, cut inside and caught Tagovailoa’s pass, then sprinted past a Southern Miss defender.

Five seconds later he was in the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown.

After a Southern Miss punt, it took three plays for the Crimson Tide to score again, and it was again a throw from Tagovailoa to Ruggs, who had raced past a flat-footed defensive back.

“There was no way [the DB] would be able to turn around and run with someone like that,” Tagovailoa said. “So I just gave him a shot, an opportunity, and he did the rest.”

Ruggs finished with a career-high 148 yards and two touchdowns on four catches. Those two scores bring his career total to 21, which briefly was the second-most in school history until fellow junior Jerry Jeudy caught two of his own to reclaim second place with 22. Ruggs also recorded the most receiving yards by an Alabama player since Calvin Ridley in November 2017.

Alabama finished with 11 passes of 15-plus yards, which were caught by five different receivers. 

Freshman quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother, completed his first career pass, a 20-yarder to redshirt freshman Slade Bolden on fourth-and-5.

Next week Alabama hosts Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide has scored 48, 48, 66 and 62 points in its last four meetings against the Rebels.