For the first time in 13 games, Najee Harris didn’t reach the painted grass of the end zone. This was a streak that began last October against Tennessee and included 27 scores before going without one in Alabama’s 41-0 whipping of Mississippi State.
The senior’s impact was still felt in his third 100-yard game of the season.
And his damage was done mostly on first down.
Of Harris' 21 carries against Mississippi State, 15 came on first-down runs that netted 108 of his 119 yards. That averages to 7.2 yards a pop on first-and-10 (or 15) situations including five runs of 10-plus yards.
“It seemed like whenever we got the ball, he was running for 10 yards,” quarterback Mac Jones said. “The line definitely made big holes and we talked about how that set up play-action pass. But Najee is definitely going to get you five to 10 yards every time. That’s just something that sets up everything else.”
Two of the four Jones touchdown passes had a play-action element while Harris had six catches of his own for a second straight game.
A week ago at Tennessee, 11 of Harris' 20 runs came on first down just like 17 of 31 against Georgia.
For the season, 74 of Harris' 124 runs came on first down (60%) with an average gain of 5.7 yards per attempt. A year ago, that slice of the pie was 55% with a similar 5.8-yard average.
And on the touchdown front, Harris still leads the nation despite being held scoreless against Mississippi State. His 14 rushing scores leads the three tied for second by three touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman Trey Sanders had his best performance of the season Saturday after seeing first-half playing time for the first time. Like Harris, he arrived with five-star expectations and a full depth chart ahead of him. Sanders ran for 80 yards on 12 carries against Mississippi State.
“We have a lot of confidence in Trey,” Saban said while noting Brian Robinson wasn’t 100% Saturday. “We think he’s a really, really good player. I think it was good for him to get out there and have some real positive runs, make some really good cuts and have a really positive night, from my standpoint.”