DeVonta Smith Sets SEC Record; Tide Offense Not Its Usual Self
The rail-thin receiver from a tiny Louisiana town, often overlooked throughout his career in favor of his faster, flashier counterparts, was once known for one touchdown that he didn’t even get most of the credit for.
But now, DeVonta Smith is known as the most prolific catcher of touchdowns in the history of Alabama football and the SEC, having caught his record-setting 32nd (and later his 33rd) in Saturday’s win over Kentucky.
Smith surpassed the tied wide receivers Chris Doering (University of Florida) and Alabama alumnus Amari Cooper, who currently plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Doering and Cooper held the No. 1 spot with 31 touchdown catches since 1995 and 2014, respectively.
"It's certainly a blessing just to have my name along with the greats that have came through the SEC and this school," Smith said.
Already the team’s first permanent captain to return for another season since Mark Barron and Dont’a Hightower in 2010, Smith, by virtue of his 9-catch, 144-yard and 2-touchdown performance against Kentucky on Saturday, once again underscored what he means to Alabama.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who holds up the core values of the program and reinforces those core values to other players on the team any better than Smitty does,” coach Nick Saban said. “He sets a great example [and] he’s got great work ethic, but he’s not afraid to take a guy one-on-one and talk to him about what he can do to improve or why we do some of the things that we do.”
On the record-setting play, quarterback Mac Jones held the ball for more than 6 seconds as he scanned the field for an open receiver. After running his route, Smith saw that his quarterback needed help, so he ran with him and provided a window — albeit a tight one — that Jones could fit the ball into.
It was a standout play for Jones, too, and a response to those who critique his game by saying he is a product of his surroundings and elite receivers and protection. On that touchdown, he showed the patience, poise, ability to extend the play, arm talent and accuracy that NFL scouts crave.
Other than that play, though, Saturday was one of Jones’ less spectacular outings of the season. His 16-for-24 stat line included his lowest completion percentage (66.7%), fewest passing yards (230) and lowest passing efficiency of this season (166.3).
He also threw his third interception of the season and the first that reached its intended receiver cleanly. The previous two were either tipped by a defender or thrown while Jones’ arm was being hit.
The throw, a deep go route to Smith down the sideline, is the kind Jones has completed regularly throughout the season, but it was a rare poor decision for the Heisman contender.
“No disrespect to Mac, but we’re getting a little greedy. The [defensive back] had Smitty cut off,” Saban said. “I call them ‘hope throws,’ where the guy’s got him covered so we’re gonna throw it up anyway and hope he catches it.”
Senior running back Najee Harris had an underwhelming game as well, except for a 42-yard touchdown in the second quarter that set a new career long. That run accounted for more than half of his 83 rushing yards.
Sophomore tight end Jahleel Billingsley had the best game of his young career, catching 3 passes for 78 yards after entering the game with just 3 career catches.
Standout freshman quarterback Bryce Young also threw the first touchdown pass of his career in the fourth quarter, throwing across his body to Smith after rolling to his right.
Saban, though, might have been most pleased by the way his offense ended the game: The final 20 plays of the game were runs by freshman running backs Roydell Williams and Jase McClellan, who both scored their first career touchdowns.
The two drives lasted 5:36 and 6:44, respectively, and Alabama held the ball for more than 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, a valuable asset to pair with an offense that can score at a moment’s notice.
“We see this in practice every day, the amount of work they put it,” sophomore linebacker Christian Harris said. “So that’s why you might’ve seen us get a little excited when they scored. They deserve it.”