A true freshman stole the show Saturday, just not the one No. 1 Alabama might have been expecting.
With the early departure of sophomore running back Damien Harris to a sprained ankle, Joshua Jacobs filled in with 97 yards on 11 carries to lead the Crimson Tide to a 48-0 win over Kent State.
“You never know when someone is going to go down, you just got to be ready to play,” said Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. “To see that from a true freshman is awesome. That means this guy’s matured, he’s buying into the program, and that’s what we need.”
Harris left the game after taking a helmet to his right knee, causing his leg to buckle. The Tide starter was helped to the sidelines before being carted to the field. He did not return.
After the game, Alabama head coach Nick Saban listed Harris as day-to-day.
Following a 20-yard touchdown run from quarterback Jalen Hurts on Alabama’s opening possession, Jacobs took over. The freshman from Tulsa, Okla., punched in a 1-yard touchdown on the Tide’s next possession, then he busted a 24-yard run to put Alabama up 21-0.
“We let Josh know, ‘Keep running the ball hard, just keep working,’” Howard said. “He knows what he’s doing, so we don’t have to keep talking to him. He knew what to do, and I think he did a great job with that.”
After starting slow in its first three games this season, Alabama (4-0) rolled past Kent State (1-3) early. The Tide scored on its first six drives, taking a 41-0 lead into the half. By the end of the game, Alabama out gained Kent State 502-166 and limited the Golden Flashes to just five first downs.
“The goal was to play a complete game, start fast, finish,” Saban said. “I think we probably did that as well as we’ve done all year.”
Another positive for Alabama was its lack of penalties. After racking up 21 penalties in its previous two games, the Tide was flagged for two penalties for 20 yards on Saturday. Only one of those was called on the offensive line, which has struggled with false starts at times this season.
“It’s always good to not have penalties,” said Alabama center Bradley Bozeman. “Any negative yards are a bad thing for us.”
Alabama scored on a non-offensive touchdown for the sixth straight game, as Xavian Marks returned a punt 75 yards for a score. The Tide later scored an unconventional touchdown in the third quarter, when Hurts found linebacker Mack Wilson on 1-yard touchdown pass.
Wilson, who plays fullback in Alabama’s goal-line formation, predicted the score before the game.
“He actually told me earlier this week. ‘Hey man I’m going to score a touchdown,”’ said Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. “I said, ‘What, are you going to get a pick-6 or something?’ He was like, ‘No I’m a fullback. I’m going to run a play and get a touchdown.”’
Facing a fourth-and-goal late in the fourth quarter, Kent State quarterback George Bollas appeared to put the Golden Flashes on the board, diving to the end zone on a run to his left. The play was originally called a touchdown but was later overturned as officials ruled Bollas was stopped just short of the goal line.
The stop allowed Alabama to record its first shutout of the season.
“Every game we go into, we want a shutout,” Fitzpatrick said. “That doesn’t happen if we don’t execute. Today we executed really well all around the board.”
Alabama will return to SEC play next week when it faces Kentucky in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 7 p.m. in its homecoming game.
BAMA—Hurts 20 run (Griffith kick), 12:24
BAMA—Jacobs 1 run (Griffith kick), 6:58
BAMA—Jacobs 24 run (Griffith kick), 3:48
BAMA—FG Griffith 28, 12:50
BAMA—FG Griffith 48, 11:40
BAMA—Howard 34 pass from Barnett (Griffith kick), 6:57
BAMA—X.Marks 75 punt return (Pappanastos kick), 2:35
BAMA—Wilson 1 pass from Hurts (Pappanastos kick), 6:24
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Kent St., Rankin 6-52, Bollas 3-26, Washington 6-15, Ni.Holley 2-5, Price 3-3, Matthews 3-3, Reardon 1-2, R.James 2-2, Mitchell 4-(minus 26). Alabama, Jacobs 11-97, Hurts 7-54, Emmons 8-51, Gore 6-45, Scarbrough 3-19, D.Harris 4-18, Ridley 1-7, Reid 2-4, (Team) 1-(minus 3), Barnett 3-(minus 7).
PASSING—Kent St., Bollas 4-8-0-71, Reardon 1-1-0-3, Mitchell 2-7-0-10. Alabama, Hurts 16-24-0-164, Barnett 4-7-0-55, Bateman 2-3-0-(minus 2).
RECEIVING—Kent St., Matthews 2-43, Ni.Holley 1-25, Price 1-7, Rankin 1-3, R.James 1-3, Washington 1-3. Alabama, Sims 4-54, Howard 3-60, Diggs 3-23, Kief 3-17, Jacobs 2-23, Emmons 1-17, Dieter 1-10, Scarbrough 1-6, Ridley 1-5, Wilson 1-1, Hentges 1-1, Gore 1-0.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Kent St., Hynes 38.
Tony Tsoukalas writes for the Anniston Star. You can write to him at email@example.com