Damien Harris

Getty Images

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison join Alabama teammates in NFL draft pool

2 Comments

We already knew that wide receiver Calvin Ridley, running back Bo Scarbrough and defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne would be leaving Alabama early, while running back Damien Harris had opted to stay.  Thursday, we learned the fate of other draft-eligible Crimson Tide football players.

At what’s become an annual press conference, head coach Nick Saban confirmed that defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison will be leaving the Crimson Tide as well and declaring for the NFL draft.  Fitzpatrick is a first-round lock and could be one of the first five taken in the April draft, while Harrison was given a second-round grade.

Fitzpatrick was one of 14 unanimous All-Americans for the 2017 season, and won both the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik Awards.  The multi-talented junior became the third player to claim both awards in the same season, joining Michigan’s Charles Woodson and LSU’s Patrick Peterson.

He also missed the game-winning play in the national championship game because he was using the bathroom.

Harrison was a second-team All-SEC selection in his second season as a starter for the Crimson Tide.

Isaiah Buggs was not at the postseason press conference and Saban did not mention that the defensive lineman was part of the group exiting early.  That seemingly means that Buggs will join Harris as draft-eligible players who will return to Tuscaloosa.

It’s not expected that the Tide will lose any additional players, although the official deadline for declaring their intentions to the NFL is Jan. 15.

Damien Harris reportedly eschewing NFL, returning to Alabama

Getty Images
3 Comments

Just when it looked like it’d be two, it appears as though Alabama may lose just one running back to early-entry this year.

Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that running back Bo Scarbrough, along with teammate and wide receiver Calvin Ridley, had decided to leave Alabama for the NFL draft.  Now, al.com is reporting that Damien Harris has decided to bypass the NFL draft and instead return to the Crimson Tide for his senior season.

Harris’ decision to return comes as somewhat of a surprise, especially given the amount of returning and incoming talent in what’s a loaded backfield.  Najee Harris, who ran for 370 yards as a true freshman, is expected to grab a larger share of the running-game load in 2018.

The past two seasons, Harris has led the Tide in rushing, an even 1,000 during the run to the 2017 national championship and 1,040 in 2016.  His 11 rushing touchdowns were tops om the team this year as well.

No. 4 Alabama avenges loss to No. 1 Clemson in Sugar Bowl, sets up all SEC CFP final

Associated Press
34 Comments

The College Football Playoff was created in large part in response to an all SEC BCS National Championship. Four years into the new system, the CFP has its own all SEC final. No. 3 Georgia outlasted No. 2 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl earlier Monday, and in the Sugar Bowl No. 4 Alabama avenged its title game loss a year ago by flattening No. 1 Clemson in a 24-6 win that wasn’t as close as the final score.

The win pushes Alabama (12-1) into its sixth national championship game under Nick Saban and its third consecutive title game.

Leading 10-3 at the half, the Tide provided Clemson a window early in the third quarter to climb back in the game and even take the lead. It started when Alabama accepted the ball to open the second half and promptly fumbled the exchange on its first snap, which Clemson recovered at the Tide’s 20-yard line. The Tigers actually went five yards backwards on its possession, but a 42-yard Alex Spence field goal cut the deficit to 10-6.

Clemson (12-2) forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s next touch, then moved to a 2nd-and-2 at the Tide 35 before Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne single-handedly ended the game. First, he caught a deflected interception and returned the ball 21 yards to the Clemson 42, and a 15-yard horse collar flag staked the ball at the Clemson 27. The Tide moved the ball to the Clemson 1, leading Alabama to put in the jumbo package. Rather than run the ball, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called a pass, and Jalen Hurts hit Payne for the first touchdown catch of the 6-foot-2, 308-pound defender’s career.

If that wasn’t enough, Clemson’s own first-play disaster put the game out of reach. Another deflected Kelly Bryant pass landed in the arms of Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson, who raced the ball 18 yards to pay dirt to give Alabama a commanding 24-6 lead with 5:27 left in the third quarter.

Clemson could pull no closer, and an 18-play, 75-yard drive ended in a turnover on downs after Kelly Bryant threw incomplete out of the back of the end zone with 1:43 left in the game. Alabama harassed Bryant into the worst game of his career, completing 18-of-36 passes for just 124 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions while taking a season-high five sacks. Clemson managed just 64 yards on 33 carries.

Hurts hit 16-of-24 passes for 120 yards with two touchdowns and no picks while rushing 11 times for 40 yards. Damien Harris led all runners with 19 carries for 77 yards.

Looking ahead to next week, the only issue for Alabama moving forward were injuries to offensive lineman Lester Cotton and linebacker Anfernee Jennings. Both left the game with apparent leg injuries.

Alabama dominated the game from the start. After the teams exchanged three three-and-outs to open the game, the Tide opened the scoring with a 10-play, 47-yard drive capped by a 24-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal. Alabama forced another Clemson three-and-out on the Tigers’ next possession — Clemson’s third of the first quarter — Alabama started at the Clemson 46-yard line and leaned on its running game, with seven plays covering 34 yards, all of them in the hands of Hurts, Harris or Bo Scarborough before Hurts found Calvin Ridley wide open on a scramble for a 12-yard touchdown grab, putting the Tide up 10-0 to close the first quarter.

Sensing a now-or-never moment, Clemson turned to Bryant. After a 7-yard sack to open the drive, Bryant converted with runs of five and 20 yards and accounted for 53 of the Tigers’ 54 yards, setting up a 44-yard Alex Spence field goal to get the defending champions on the board at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter.

Alabama didn’t answer with points, but the Tide did chew more than four minutes off the clock and pin Clemson at its own 10 to start its next possession. It was the fourth time in five chances that Clemson started inside its own 17 (and the fifth began at the 24). Clemson moved out of the shadow of its own goal post but punted the ball back to Alabama, allowing the Tide to start a drive with the ball outside its own 40 for the fourth time in five tries. This drive covered 39 yards in 10 plays at 3:44, but Pappanastos’s 38-yard field goal doinked off the right upright with 17 seconds left in the half. 

Alabama leading Clemson halfway through Sugar Bowl

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The first half of Tide-Tigers III hasn’t lived up to the first two installments that saw Alabama and Clemson trade national championship victories with a composite score of 76-75 Alabama. Instead, it’s been a Nick Saban kind of football game, as the Crimson Tide leads 10-3 at the break in the Sugar Bowl.

Alabama completely dominated the first quarter. After the teams exchanged three three-and-outs to open the game, the Tide opened the scoring with a 10-play, 47-yard drive capped by a 24-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal. Alabama forced another Clemson three-and-out on the Tigers’ next possession — Clemson’s third of the first quarter — Alabama started at the Clemson 46-yard line and leaned on its running game, with seven plays covering 34 yards, all of them in the hands of Jalen HurtsDamien Harris or Bo Scarborough before Hurts found Calvin Ridley wide open on a scramble for a 12-yard touchdown grab, putting the Tide up 10-0 to close the first quarter.

Sensing a now-or-never moment, Clemson turned to Kelly Bryant. After a 7-yard sack to open the drive, Bryant converted with runs of five and 20 yards and accounted for 53 of the Tigers’ 54 yards, setting up a 44-yard Alex Spence field goal to get the defending champions on the board at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter.

Alabama didn’t answer with points, but the Tide did chew more than four minutes off the clock and pin Clemson at its own 10 to start its next possession. It was the fourth time in five chances that Clemson started inside its own 17 (and the fifth began at the 24). Clemson moved out of the shadow of its own goal post but punted the ball back to Alabama, allowing the Tide to start a drive with the ball outside its own 40 for the fourth time in five tries. This drive covered 39 yards in 10 plays at 3:44, but Pappanastos’s 38-yard field goal doinked off the right upright with 17 seconds left. 

Alabama out-gained Clemson 182-73 and held an 11-4 edge in first downs, but produced just 10 points in three red zone trips and, thus, leads by just seven. Hurts hit 10-of-13 passes for 87 yards and the game’s only touchdown and rushed five times for 32 yards. Harris carried a game-high 12 times for 55 yards.

Bryant completed 6-of-12 passes for 43 yards and led Clemson with eight carries for 21 yards. Running backs Tavien FosterTravis Feaster and Adam Choice combined to rush five times for 10 yards.

Alabama will receive to open the second half.

As No. 1 falls, No. 2 Alabama claims 31st straight regular season win in gut check at No. 16 Mississippi State

Associated Press
2 Comments

The top three teams in college football all went on the road Saturday, all against top-16 teams. No. 1 Georgia already lost, and No. 3 Notre Dame is in the process of going down. No. 2 Alabama went to No. 16 Mississippi State and trailed much of the night, was nearly doubled up on time of possession, and it didn’t matter. A late touchdown pushed Alabama over Mississippi State for a 31-24 win, the program’s 31st consecutive regular season win.

Alabama nearly found itself down 28-17 in the fourth quarter and missed a would-be game-winning field goal with two minutes remaining, but absorbed and survived those blows to take over at its own 32 with 1:01 remaining and a full holster of timeouts. The drive appeared in danger in facing a 3rd-and-15 at its own 43 with 31 seconds remaining, but Jalen Hurts found Calvin Ridley for his third long catch-and-run of the night, this time for 31 yards. That set up a game-winning 26-yard snatch-and-dash to Devonta Smith with 25 ticks left.

The win pushed Alabama to 10-0 overall, 7-0 in the SEC and an unquestioned No. 1 in every poll that matters with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 SEC) utterly controlled the first quarter, but found itself locked in a 7-7 tie. The Bulldogs accepted the ball to open the game and clicked off 11 plays, moved the ball to the Alabama 41, killed the first half of the frame and then punted, pinning Alabama at its own 5.

The Bulldog defense forced a three-and-out, and its offense pushed its way down the field on a 6-play, 57-yard touchdown drive punctuated by an 11-yard Aeris Williams run.

On the ensuing possession, Mississippi State forced a 3rd-and-5, where a conversion would have given Mississippi State the ball with a 7-0 lead while Alabama’s offense ran a total of six plays over the first quarter. Instead, Hurts found Ridley for a 63-yard catch-and-run, and Hurts rushed in a 1-yard score two plays later.

The next two drives played out the same. Mississippi State strung together an 11-play, 73-yard drive again capped by a Williams run. And again Hurts and Ridley connected, this time for 61 yards. Ridley finished the game with five grabs for 171 yards, and Hurts hit 10-of-19 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. Josh Jacobs rushed in from a yard out two plays later, tying the game at 14-14 with 9:26 left in the second quarter.

Alabama grabbed its first lead to open the second half, moving 63 yards in seven plays to set up a 30-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal. Mississippi State, however, picked up where it left off, reclaiming the lead on a 13-play, 69-yard drive that consumed more than 6:30 off the clock and concluded with a 2-yard Nick Fitzgerald rush. Fitzgerald completed 13-of-24 passes for 158 yards, and Mississippi State pounded out 49 rushing attempts, which gave the Bulldogs a near 18-minute edge in time of possession. 

The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s next possession and had a chance to seize complete control of the game after moving to a 1st-and-10 at the Tide 11, but Fitzgerald’s 3rd-and-7 pass sailed incomplete. Jace Christmann knocked in a 25-yard field goal to give Mississippi State its third touchdown lead of the night, a 24-17 edge with 14:13 to play.

And for the third time of the night, Alabama erased Mississippi State’s touchdown lead with an immediate touchdown of its own. The Crimson Tide rumbled 82 yards in 10 plays, in the process converting a 4th-and-4 at the MSU 34 with a 13-yard Hurts rush. Damien Harris tied the game two plays after that with a 14-yard rush.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood helped Mississippi State begin its next drive at its own 40 and the Bulldogs eventually penetrated to the Alabama 42, but Dan Mullen elected to punt on 4th-and-3 with 6:30 to play. Logan Cooke‘s punt sailed into the end zone, and Alabama had the crease it needed to grab control of the game.

Three straight Bo Scarborough rushes pushed the ball to midfield, and a Harris run placed it at the Mississippi State 33. Mississippi State forced a 3rd-and-8, but a pass from Hurts to Ridley drew a pass interference flag, staking Alabama to a 1st-and-10 at the MSU 16 with 4:05 to go. However, three straight Hurts run lost yardage, and a 41-yard Pappanastos field goal clanged off the left upright. 

Mississippi State moved into Hail Mary territory on its last gasp drive. Fitzgerald’s first heave from the Alabama 49 was fell incomplete, but he was given another chance after a pass interference flag. His second chance, from the 34, sailed out of the end zone, sealing the win for Alabama.