Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne knew the feeling all too well.
Watching running back Josh Jacobs cut past Mississippi State defenders while breaking through arm tackles last week, Payne was just happy to be observing his teammate from the sideline. He’s had his fill of trying to wrap up Jacobs on the practice field.
“Coach Saban always gets on to us about, like, tackling real hard because he wants us to thud up,” Payne said. “But you can’t thud that dude up.”
The only thuds last week came from the sounds of Bulldogs defenders bouncing back off the 5-foot-10, 204-pound back after initial contact. They were lucky to have caught Jacobs at all, as the true freshman juked his way to 89 yards on nine carries while adding 34 yards on three receptions.
Whether it’s catching him or bringing him down, Jacobs has required several defenders to stop him when he has the ball. His two biggest plays last week came in a similar fashion.
The freshman first put his elusiveness on display early in the second quarter on a check-down pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts. After receiving the pass, Jacobs cut to his right 10 yards downfield, slipping past two Mississippi State defenders before eventually making another one miss as part of a 26-yard play to set up a touchdown.
Later in the game, he busted a 43-yard run, cutting through the hole out of the shotgun before breaking and arm tackle and eventually drawing a face mask penalty while being pushed out of bounds.
“To be honest with you, it’s that type of mentality. You have to have the want-to type of mentality,” Alabama linebacker Raashan Evans said of Jacobs. “When he runs the ball, he wants to score. He doesn’t want to run 10 yards and go out of bounds and be done. When he gets the ball, he’s going to try to score each and every time.”
Through 10 games this season, Jacobs is third on the team in rushing with 467 yards and three touchdowns on 67 carries, an average of 6.97 yards per attempt. However, it’s how Jacobs has racked up his yardage that has opened eyes.
According to Gordon McGuinness of ProFootballFocus.com, Jacobs is 13th in the nation averaging 4.36 yards after contact per carry this season. That average is higher than the total yards per carry of 41 other running backs. McGuinness also writes that Jacobs ranks ninth in the nation with a 134.1 elusive rating and has caused 14 missed tackles on runs. He has been even more impressive in the passing game, forcing 10 missed tackles on 11 receptions.
The freshman back’s ability to slip past and break through defenders isn’t lost on his blockers, who commend him for making their job that much easier.
“It gives you great confidence,” Alabama tight end Hale Hentges said. “Just to see that its not so much that I have to pancake a guy, I just have to get in the way so he can make a cut or he can run past the guy because he is such an elusive, shifty back.”
Jacobs saw increased playing time last week, as fellow running back Bo Scarbrough was sidelined with a twisted knee. Last week’s performance was the third time Jacobs has rushed for 85 yards or more in a game. He also recorded 97 yards and 100 yards in back-to-back weeks against Kent State and Kentucky while filling in for a banged-up Damien Harris.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Scarbrough has a sprained knee but believes he is medically OK to play this weekend against FCS opponent Chattanooga. However, with Scarbrough still wearing a brace on his right knee during practice, it could allow for more carries from Jacobs on Saturday.
“We’ve talked about Josh this whole season and how he’s stepped up for us,” Alabama center Bradley Bozeman said. “I think he’s done a very good job and he continues to do a good job, and progress week-to-week.”
UT-Chattanooga at Alabama
- When: 7 p.m., Saturday
- TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.
- Radio: WIOL-FM 95.7, 4 p.m.