Years ago legendary Southern Cal Coach John McKay was asked about giving so many carries to his star tailback, a fellow named O.J. Simpson (now known at No. 1027820 in the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada). McKay pointed out that “the football isn’t very heavy,” and added that even when a running back is not carrying the football he has assignments to carry out.
Alabama sophomore tailback Damien Harris is the Crimson Tide’s leading rusher this year, but no one would suggest he has been overburdened. In 11 games Harris has 115 carries for 850 yards, a nice 7.4 yards per carry.
It was a little bit of a surprise when Harris was asked if he gets worn down when he has to run the ball a lot. “For the most part, that’s what you train for,” Harris said. “As a running back, you expect to get the ball every play. I know that’s not realistic, but you kind of train yourself and condition yourself to be able to handle the situation where you can get the ball every play.”
No one gets it every play, but Harris could look back on what he called “one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen.”
It came last year in Alabama’s 29-13 win over Auburn in Auburn. Derrick Henry, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, pounded the Auburn defense 46 times for 271 yards and a touchdown.
Harris said it’s the kind of game that he’s likely to go back and watch “to see if you can pick up some things.”
It would be difficult to have anything like that kind of game against this year’s Auburn defense. The Tigers are giving up less than half of what Henry put on them last year, allowing just 134.1 yards per game.
Harris and his Alabama teammates will test the Auburn defense this Saturday when No.1 ranked Alabama hosts No. 16 Auburn in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CST with CBS televising the game.
Harris gets his weekly training against a defense that has been even tougher against the run — the Alabama defense, which is allowing only 74.1 yards per game and 2.2 yards per rush this year.
The 5-11, 214-pound Harris had 18 carries for 125 yards against Texas A&M and 16 carries for 144 yards against Ole Miss. He had 9 carries for 138 yards in the season-opener against O.J.’s former team, USC.
Harris says the Alabama offense scores on the Bama defense “a lot” in practice, but said he didn’t know what he would be able to do against the Tide defense. “I don’t know,” he said. “Those guys are good at all positions. We have a great defense and it would be hard for anybody to score against us.”
(As for that “a lot” comment, he admitted, “I was just trying to boost our offense a little bit.”
The Tide defense, he said, is “obviously tough. Their work speaks for itself.
They really help us a lot as far as practice. You’re practicing against the best defense in the country.”
Alabama is 11-0 overall and has clinched the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship with a 7-0 SEC record. Auburn is 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the conference, Bama clinching the West title when the Tigers fell at Georgia, 13-7, two Saturdays ago.
Had Auburn won that game, Saturday’s game would have been for the SEC title.
Although always a big rivalry game, with no title (other than state championship) on the line, the game may have lost some of it’s hype.
“We don’t really worry about hype too much,” Harris said. “We just worry about doing what we we have to do to be the better team.
“It’s one of those games, one of those rivalry games, one of the biggest in the country. There’s not much more you can say about it than it’s one of the biggest games that is played at this level. If you’re a fan of college football you pretty much know about it.
“It’s a tough game and we’re playing a really good opponent and we’ve got to be ready to play.”