Passing game explodes in Alabama’s 47-23 victory


CW / Hannah Saad

COLUMBIA, S.C. – After a week of a consistent barrage of questions about Alabama’s loss to South Carolina nine years ago, it seemed like the play-calling for the offense looked to leave no doubt about the team’s intentions.

With 571 yards of total offense and 495 yards through the air, the offensive game plan looked to score and score in bunches in the Crimson Tide’s 47-23 drubbing of the Gamecocks.

“We knew it was going to be a tough place to play and we knew we were going to have to play through the assault, sort of just keep on keeping on,” coach Nick Saban said.

As Alabama took the field for its first play of the first drive in the game, Williams-Brice Stadium was literally shaking to the sounds of the screaming Gamecock fan base and Darude’s “Sandstorm” blaring over the speakers. However, it took Alabama 1:39 to quiet the crowd as the offense marched 65 yards down the field in just five plays for a Najee Harris touchdown. Harris’ touchdown was his first of two receiving touchdowns on the day.

Despite Harris’ production as a receiver, the team struggled to get any sort of running game going. Alabama rushed for 88 yards excluding sacks and ran the ball 25 times, the lowest for both totals so far this season.

“We need to have more balance on offense,” Saban said. “It’s great that we’re a great passing team and I’m happy with that, and I think we are doing a great job featuring some of our best talent on our team by what we are doing but, I also think from a team standpoint we need to be able to run the ball effectively as well.”

Saban said another reason for the team’s low amount of rushes was because of South Carolina’s defensive sets. The Gamecocks’ defensive game plan was to stack the box by bringing some defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage. With the run-pass option, or RPO, that Alabama elects to run, junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has the option to hand off or pass depending on the defensive alignment.

Since South Carolina’s defense was absorbed with stopping the run, Tagovailoa had an explosive game as he finished with a career-high 444 yards through the air and five passing touchdowns, tying the school record he set in last season’s Iron Bowl win over Auburn.

“I think it really starts with our coaching and our guys up front,” Tagovailoa said. “Everyone I’m surrounded with. Those are the guys that make plays. Those are the guys that make me look good. If we just stick to what Coach tells us, I feel like things like this can happen.”

One of the players who benefited the most from the quarterback’s big night was junior receiver Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs finished with six catches for 122 yards receiving, a new career high for receiving yards in a single game. Fellow junior DeVonta Smith also had a big night as he racked up 136 yards receiving and two touchdowns on eight catches.

With so many Gamecocks focused in on Harris, Smith and Ruggs were able to break free from their matchups and get open in the middle of the field on multiple occasions. On one occasion, Ruggs broke off an 81-yard touchdown off of a simple five-yard slant route.

“We just prepared well,” Ruggs said. “We knew going into this game what we had to do as an offense. We just went in with the game plan knowing we needed to start fast. We didn’t start as fast as we wanted to but eventually we came together as an offense.”