Nick Saban seeks offensive balance to help Alabama's defense

Alabama photo by Kent Gidley / Alabama running back Najee Harris had two receiving touchdowns in Saturday's 47-23 win at South Carolina.

South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp admitted after Saturday's 47-23 home loss to No. 2 Alabama that he hoped his Gamecocks could make the Crimson Tide one-dimensional.

Just not in the traditional sense.

"We wanted to force them to run the football at the end of the day, and that's something we were not able to do," Muschamp said in a news conference. "We were not able to take the ball out of number 13's hands and some of their skill-position guys."

No. 13, of course, is Alabama junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who threw for a career-high 444 yards. Tagovailoa completed 28 of 36 passes and matched the program's single-game record with five touchdown tosses.

Alabama's offense overall amassed 571 yards.

"Things worked out as planned offensively," Tagovailoa said. "We got stopped sometimes, but we kept playing and did a good job of finishing."

The triumph was Alabama's 85th in a row against unranked teams, and it gave coach Nick Saban his 17th win in 17 tries against his former assistants. Saban did not complain about Saturday's offensive output, but he was quick to point out that an inability to run the ball better resulted in Alabama's defense being on the field for 86 plays.

Alabama had 76 rushing yards on 25 carries.

"We need to have more balance on offense," Saban said. "It's great that we're a great passing team, and I'm happy with that, but from a team standpoint, we need to run the ball effectively as well. We don't have enough players to get through the season if we have to play 86 plays on defense every week."

Saban added that South Carolina's defense helped dictate Alabama's imbalance Saturday, which would seem to contradict Muschamp's desire for the Tide to run the ball more.

"A lot of the plays we ran today are RPOs (run/pass options), and we ended up passing because they were playing six guys in the box," Saban said.

One notable offensive difference between Alabama's win Saturday compared to the previous thumpings of Duke, 42-3, and New Mexico State, 62-10, was that Jerry Jeudy wasn't the star of the receiving show. Jeudy still had a respectable six catches for 68 yards, but that ranked third among the Tide's talented contingent.

DeVonta Smith led with 136 yards on eight receptions, while Henry Ruggs III added 122 on six.

"They were double-teaming Jerry and grabbing him," Tagovailoa said, "but you can see how he gets everyone else open."

Junior running back Najee Harris got into the aerial act with two touchdown catches, including a 42-yarder on fourth-and-2 midway through the second quarter that put Alabama up 24-10. His play became an instant highlight that was on football wrapup shows throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning.

"He did a good job," Saban said. "He made one guy miss and broke another tackle. He jumped over another guy. He's pretty good."

Saban admitted that hurdling a defender can be dangerous but said Harris has "a good feel for it."

Tagovailoa is on track for another invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, having completed 70 of 91 passes (76.9%) through three games for 1,007 yards with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. His 213.4 passer rating is ahead of last season's clip that led the nation, but he is currently third behind Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts - his former Tide teammate - and LSU's Joe Burrow.

Tide tidbits

Alabama opened Sunday as a 39-point favorite over Southern Miss. The Tide's top four receivers all have more than 1,000 career yards - Jeudy (1,887), Ruggs (1,172), Smith (1,090) and Jaylen Waddle (1,002). Freshman defensive end Antonio Alfano, a top-five national prospect in the 2019 class, has entered the transfer portal.

Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.