If there’s one talking point we should be discussing about this Alabama team, it’s that Damien Harris is the one of the most underappreciated players in the country.
I understand it’s heretical to suggest that any aspect of Alabama is underappreciated or not discussed enough, but when a team like Alabama plays the way they’ve been playing the last 9 1⁄2 seasons at a level of consistency that hasn’t been seen in a very long time, it becomes obnoxious to talk about them.
But Damien Harris, y’all.
The first damn play of the game, he takes the ball towards the right. The Arkansas defense does their assignment and flows with him, then Harris just makes a dastardly cut when he sees open field up the middle and does his thing.
75 yards later it’s a touchdown and with 14:45 left in the first quarter, it’s already 7-0 Alabama.
And this is what’s truly dangerous about this 2017 team. Neither side of the ball has what anyone would call a single “gamechanger” player. 2016 had Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster. 2015 had Derrick Henry. 2014 had Amari Cooper.
This team, though, has a committee of immensely talented gentlemen willing to share the load and that’s what they did this evening against Arkansas.
Alabama only attempted 13 passes against a fairly stingy Arkansas defense and the most caught by a single player was 4 by WR Calvin Ridley who’s a superior athlete in his own right.
They rushed the ball 43 times in the game with six different runners including Harris and quarterback Jalen Hurts sharing the duties.
(For a little perspective, Henry, alone, was handed off the ball 46 times in the 2015 Iron Bowl.)
It’s the best problem to have, figuring out how to distribute the ball to four really good running backs, three of whom were former 5-star players. Getting back to Harris, he rushed the ball only 9 times, but he got 125 yards out of it.
This gave room for guys like Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris to spell one another as the game wore on.
Honestly, who can consistently keep that kind of talent at bay for four quarters? The answer is no one, so far and if by some infinitesimal chance a team can do this, Hurts is only getting more confident as a drop-back passer.
And what about the defense?
Yes, Arkansas was playing without Austin Allen, but it’s not like back-up Cole Kelley is wanting for size or athleticism. And while Kelley was able to find a rhythm and ended the game with 200 passing yards, the Tide defensive front consistently made it difficult for him.
All told, the Razorbacks had three drives in the Tide’s red zone and came away with 9 points. 6 of those were gotten when Alabama’s first team had long since left the game.
This is a defense that has consistently dealt with injuries since the FSU game, yet they find a way to keep plugging in players that give them the best shot to win.
The game was probably over after Harris’ opening salvo, but it became truly out of reach at the end of the first half when the Hogs had a shot to put 7 on the board, but was turned away on the last play.
For Arkansas, it doesn’t get any easier from here as they host a distraught Auburn team, while Alabama should have a “gimme” with the hobbled Volunteers coming to town.
We’re about to get to the “stretch” of the season and it should only get more interesting.