Could the Coronavirus Crisis Cost Najee Harris a Shot at the Alabama Rushing Record?
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Will he have the chance to hurdle into history?
University of Alabama running back Najee Harris is probably wondering himself.
Last season, Harris led the Crimson Tide in rushing yards with 1,224 on 209 carries averaging 5.9 per attempt. He also ran in 13 touchdowns, plus caught 27 passes for 304 yards and seven more scores.
He basically finished with half of the team’s rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns (436, 2,191 and 27).
Since then the only scholarship running back to have departed was Jerome Ford, who had just 24 carries for 114 yards and three touchdowns. However, the Crimson Tide has added prize prospects Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, who both enrolled early, plus Kyle Edwards is due to arrive over the summer. Redshirt freshman Trey Saunders is also looking to make his first contributions after missing last season with a torn ACL.
For his career, Harris has 2,377 rushing yards. Should he match his numbers from last year, when Alabama played in 13 games, he would have 3,501 career yards.
That’s just 90 shy of becoming Alabama’s all-time leader.
One has to think if Harris can stay healthy he’ll have the opportunity.
At least, that’s what everyone would think during a normal offseason. This has been anything but.
Spring football hasn’t been officially been cancelled, yet the chances of it being held are extremely thin. The Tuscaloosa campus is closed, classes are on-line only and the student body is scattered all over the nation as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
So what happens if the 2020 college football season isn’t played, or with a reduced schedule?
Or how about some teams are able to play their full schedules while other can’t.
The realms of possibilities are almost endless, especially since we have no idea how long the sports shutdown will last and what sort of options might exist down the road.
It could snuff out some impressive record chases, and heavily impact legacies.
Among them are aging stars who are running out of opportunities. From Tom Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to tennis stars like Roger Federer and Serena Williams, they can't afford to sit too long. Has Vince Carter played his last game? What about Tiger Woods still three majors short of Jack Nicklaus's record 18?
Some athletes simply won’t came back after the shutdown. Many won’t be the same after the layoff. The NHL could re-start tomorrow and go straight to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it would be a total crapshoot.
Records and legacies matter. One of the greatest things about Michael Jordan was that he walked away from basketball for a while to try his hand at baseball, and was still able to come back and win three more NBA titles.
Having a shot at becoming Alabama’s rushing king was probably in the back of Harris’ mind when he decided to hold off on the NFL for another year and return to Alabama.
Everything appeared to be in place:
- A dominating, physical veteran line.
- A quarterback who won’t be expected to carry the load like Tua Tagovailoa.
- A defense that should be able to get off the field more with the key return of linebacker Dylan Moses.
- A tougher schedule that could lead to some grinding game plans and a bigger emphasis on ball control.
Moreover, the game is changing, with more teams opting to split the carries between backs, making it tougher for records to be challenged.
Since 2014, only three Alabama running backs have topped the 1,000-yard season benchmark, Derrick Henry when he won the Heisman Trophy in 2015, Harris and the other Harris, Damien. He did so twice, with 1,037 in 2016 and 1,000 the following year, but missed out on becoming the first running back in Crimson Tide history to do it three straight seasons.
Also, remember, the year before Henry had an incredible 2,219 rushing yards he finished with 990. His offensive coordinator was Lane Kiffin, who had a reputation of going with something that works until the other team takes it away and in 2014 had Amari Cooper.
Kiffin spent years honing that at Southern California along with Alabama’s current offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian.
“When you look at Najee from a physical stature standpoint, he’s a big physical runner,” Steve Sarkisian said. “Very traditional in the types of runners who have been here at Alabama.
“There may be games in which he is that total bell-cow and we have to go the way we need to go to do what we need to do to win the game. There may be other games in which it’s not as many. Maybe we do find ways to get him the ball in the passing game and different things.”
Led by Harris, Alabama’s running game could be poised for a huge year. He should be considered a preseason contender for the Heisman Trophy as Alabama will likely, as they say, feed the beast.
“I think all running backs really need to get in a rhythm,” Harris said last season. “Every running back needs a certain amount. Not even a lot, maybe three carries or so. Just to see how they’re playing it, how the secondary is playing it, how the D-line is slanting. Are they pressing or just holding their blocks, or just moving off. It’s really just learning [that] more into the game you learn how certain plays are being blocked, it’s gathering of information.”
Harris has compiled a lot of data. He knows the teams, the fields, the players and for the most part the coaches. He more than knows what to expect this season.
But right now no one knows if there will be a season, or a complete schedule played.
Alabama All-Time Rushing Leaders
291 Shaun Alexander at LSU, 1996
284 Bobby Humphrey at Mississippi State, 1986
271 Derrick Henry at Auburn, 2015
246 Mark Ingram vs. South Carolina, 2009
236 Derrick Henry at Texas A&M, 2015
233 Bobby Marlow vs. Auburn, 1951
221 Johnny Musso vs. Auburn, 1970
220 Bobby Humphrey at Penn State, 1987
218 Glen Coffee vs. Kentucky, 2008
217 Bobby Humphrey at Tennessee, 1986
2,219 Derrick Henry, 2015
1,679 Trent Richardson, 2011
1,658 Mark Ingram, 2009
1,471 Bobby Humphrey, 1986
1,383 Glen Coffee, 2008
1,383 Shaun Alexander, 1999
1,367 Shaun Alexander, 2003
1,341 Sherman Williams, 1994
1,322 Eddie Lacy, 2012
1,279 T.J. Yeldon, 2013
3,591 Derrick Henry (2013-15)
3,565 Shaun Alexander (1996-99)
3,420 Bobby Humphrey (1985-88)
3,329 Kennedy Darby (2003-06)
3,322 T.J. Yeldon (2012-14)
3,261 Mark Ingram Jr. (2008-10)
3,130 Trent Richardson (2009-11)
3,070 Damien Harris (2015-18)
2,741 Johnny Musso (1969-71)
2,645 Dennis Riddle (1994-97)
This is the first story in the 2020 Stat Pack series that will examine the Crimson Tide in a variety of ways through numbers.