TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s running game has continued to roll along with considerable help from a running quarterback and a couple of freshmen backs.
If starting tailback Damien Harris can’t return from a sprained right ankle, freshmen Joshua Jacobs and B.J. Emmons could play even bigger roles for the top-ranked Crimson Tide Saturday night against Kentucky.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday that Harris remains “day to day” after going down on the opening series against Kent State.
“It’s nice knowing that if somebody like that was to go down, we have guys back there that can execute and do a really good job for us,” Tide guard Ross Piersbacher said. “It makes it fun for us to see those guys step up and play on a big stage like this and have that success.”
Harris has been the clear leader in the backfield, averaging 8.6 yards per carry and breaking long runs against USC and Mississippi. More surprising has been the pecking order behind him.
Bo Scarbrough so far appears to have been passed up by Jacobs, the most lightly recruited of the group. Jacobs, not Scarbrough, was the guy who replaced Harris against Kent State and ran for 97 yards and his first two career touchdowns. Fellow freshman B.J. Emmons also has more rushing yards than Scarbrough, who sustained a bruised thigh against Kent State.
The Tide had to replace the Heisman Trophy-winning Derrick Henry, who gobbled up most of the carries. Backup Kenyan Drake and Henry are both in the NFL.
None of the returning backs had much experience but ‘Bama is still productive on the ground. Alabama ranks second in the Southeastern Conference in rushing, partly because Hurts is such a threat. The freshman quarterback is second on the team with 251 yards and has run for three touchdowns.
Experience not talent was the big question mark facing the Tide backfield.
Harris, Scarbrough and Emmons were each among the nation’s top running back prospects in their respective recruiting classes.
“I already knew once they got their chance or opportunity, they were going to play fast and hard,” Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley said. “We’ve got great backs, all of them.”
Jacobs has made the most surprising ascent up the depth chart.
The 5-foot-10, 204-pounder didn’t get much interest from major college programs initially despite averaging 15.1 yards per carry and racking up 2,704 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at McLain High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Alabama wanted to sign another running back to build depth after losing Henry and Drake.
“We found Josh a little late in recruiting but we were happy that we were able to get him,” Saban said. “We were very impressed with him. Typically a guy that shows great maturity and understanding and is very instinctive as a football player, I think it shows up in his play and how he plays, and it’s certainly showed up in how he’s developed to be able to play.”
NOTES: Defensive back Tony Brown is eligible again after serving an NCAA suspension for the first four games, and being held out of the final two last season. The former five-star recruit is a special teams standout. “In the secondary, he’s going to add a whole lot of depth that we need just in case somebody goes down or whatever,” cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick said. … Receivers ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster are both questionable with knee injuries, Saban said. Neither played against Kent State.
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