Three is the Magic Number for Alabama Regarding the Heisman Trophy
When Alabama decided to flex its muscle on Saturday, Kentucky didn't have much of an answer.
That became clear late in the second quarter when the Crimson Tide scored its third touchdown during its 63-3 dismantling of the Wildcats.
Senior running back Najee Harris hadn't done much up to that point — if you can count "only" one touchdown as not much yet (he had 14 during the first six games of the season). A 14-yard carry got the Wildcats on their heels when offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian dialed up something different, and went with unbalanced line by moving right tackle Evan Neal over to the left side.
You kind of have to wonder if he did the mental equivalent of putting his feet up along the sideline, looking to enjoy what was coming. Harris turned it into a 42-yard touchdown, the longest of his career.
"When I saw the seam, I knew that I might not see that seam again and had to take advantage of it," Harris said.
Those who didn't watch the game will simply look at the final score and believe Alabama played a great game against shorthanded Kentucky.
It didn't, especially early on.
That Alabama still won 66-3 should concern the opposition even more.
"We played better, and better, and better as the game went on," Nick Saban said. "I'm pleased with the way we responded."
The other takeaway from Saturday was that Alabama doesn't have one bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate.
It has three, and they're all more than legit.
The two rushing scores highlighted Harris' day, as he otherwise had 110 total yards (83 rushing, 27 receiving).
"I'm a rydeout, by the way" Harris said about his receiving skills without being able to keep a straight face. "I might not have as many receiving yards, but I'm a rydeout.
"Make sure you that out there, too. Najee Harris is a rydeout."
Devonta Smith, who is a senior wideout, had nine catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns, setting both a school and SEC record for career receiving scores.
Jones was 16-for-24 for 230 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception that was a rare obvious mistake on a deep ball. His 166.3 rating was his lowest of the season, yet still better than what all but 19 quarterbacks are averaging for the season.
"We're getting a little greedy," Saban said of the pick, calling it a "hope throw" that the receiver would be able to make the play. "We don't want to be throwing those kind of balls."
Nevertheless, if that's Jones at his worst this season, and after a two-week break, Alabama's looking really good down the stretch.
Coming in, Jones was third in the nation in passer efficiency, which is how the NCAA decides its passing champion, and first among those who had played more than three games.
Harris was second in rushing touchdowns (with the player ahead of him having the benefit of two more games), and 12th in rushing.
Smith was sixth in receiving yards per game, and tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns.
Each has to be considered as possibly being the best in college football at his respective position. One has to think they all have as good a shot as anyone at the prestigious Doak Walker, Davey O'Brien and Biletnikoff awards, respectively.
Moreover, each has already done something that puts him in exclusive company.
For example, Harris recently went 12 straight games with a rushing touchdown, a string that went from the 2019 Tennessee game to this year's rematch.
It was the second-longest streak in Alabama history and ranked third in the conference, with the only players ahead of him both Heisman winners: Derrick Henry, 2014-15, 20; Tim Tebow, 2006-7, 14.
Jones has played his best against the toughest teams he's faced. Against Georgia and Texas A&M, which have both been ranked in the top five, he threw for a combined 852 yards and eight touchdowns while completing 74.5 percent of his passes. The redshirt junior had a combined passer efficiency rating of 233.84.
Against the Bulldogs alone he had the most passing yards (417), most yards per attempt (13.0), highest completion percentage (75.0) and best overall passer rating (219.5) of any opposing quarterback in over a decade. That includes Tua Tagovailoa, Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow in last year's SEC Championship Game.
Burrow, of course, won last year's Heisman. Statistically, Jones has put up some comparable numbers despite facing SEC-only competition.
Smith may have the easiest path to a position award, but the toughest road to the Heisman since it rarely goes to a "rydeout." Desmond Howard and Tim Brown were among the exceptions, and it's mostly considered a quarterback award these days (the only two non-quarterbacks to win recently were both Alabama running backs).
While setting records, Smith passed former Alabama wideout Amari Cooper (2012-14) and Florida's Chris Doering, who both had 31.
He still has a couple of regular-season games to go, plus the all-but-certain SEC Championship Game, when Smith and his teammates will have a chance to make a final statement.
So three games (unless Alabama at LSU gets rescheduled), and three candidates, each making the others look even better — as did junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle prior to his ankle injury.
"Without Najee, there's no passing game," Smith said. "Without the O-line, without Mac, there's no passing game."
Regardless, the more they do for each other the better Alabama's chances are at winning the national championship.