True freshman RB Joshua Jacobs could be Alabama's X-factor
On Saturday, when three of the teams currently ranked amongst the College Football Playoff contenders all lost, it was No. 1-ranked Alabama that laid down the gauntlet to their potentially challengers with a dominant conference win over Mississippi State. As impressive as the 51-3 win was on paper alone though, the play of true freshman running back Joshua Jacobs should have made the rest of the top teams in the nation stand up and take notice.
So how can a true freshman with just 68 carries in his college football career become a major part of Alabama’s national championship run? Let’s take a look.
With Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry heading to the NFL this past spring, there was an opening to replace his production in the ground game for Alabama. Bo Scarbrough was the man many expected to fill his shoes, especially considering his big, bruising running back style of play. However, what’s happened instead is we’ve seen a by-committee approach from the defending champions, with Scarborough, Jacobs and Damien Harris seeing most of the carries at running back, and quarterback Jalen Hurts leading the team in carries with 119 so far this year.
Jacobs saw just seven carries over the first three games of the year, but after a 25-yard run on one of those carries against Ole Miss, he saw an extended look against Kent State in the following game. Here he would rush for 97 yards on 11 carries, forcing four missed tackles and averaging 6.1 yards after contact per carry on his way to finding the end zone twice. He would follow that up by forcing five missed tackles on 16 carries the following week against Kentucky, and averaged 5.0 yards after contact per carry in the SEC encounter.
One of the toughest running backs in the nation to bring down
One of the signature stats that we collect and track here and PFF is known as the elusive rating. Tracking how many missed tackles a running back forces based on the number of rushes and receptions they have, and factoring in their yards after contact per carry average. It’s a better indication of a running backs’ production than yardage totals alone, and gives an insight into what a running back can do beyond the help of their offensive line.
Jacobs currently ranks ninth in the nation with an elusive rating of 134.1, and when you look at the numbers that contribute to that, the true freshman is having a pretty ridiculous season so far. He’s averaging 4.36 yards after contact per carry on the year, a mark that ranks 13th in the nation and is higher than the total yards per carry average of 41 running backs in the nation in 2016.
Even more impressive has been his ability to make defenders miss in space, with 14 missed tackles on 68 carries, giving him an average of one missed tackle forced every 4.9 carries. To put that in context, Derrick Henry forced a missed tackle once every 5.2 carries a year ago, admittedly on a much higher sample size. Jacobs has seen just 11 receptions so far this year, but has forced an impressive 10 missed tackles as a receiver.
With a game against Chattanooga on the schedule this coming Saturday, before the Iron Bowl showdown with Auburn, this is a good opportunity for Alabama to really feature Jacobs and see what he can do with a bigger workload. Based on what we’ve seen over this season so far, he’s capable of having a huge game this week, which would set up Alabama’s rushing attack very well for the end of the year.
With Scarborough able to give them the power running game, Jacobs has the ability to create some huge plays and leave defenders grasping at thin air in space. That combination isn’t just scary for Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but a very worrying prospect for whichever team they’ll face in the SEC Championship game, and those likely to deal with them in the College Football Playoff. Alabama’s defense gets all the plaudits, and rightly so, but their offense, and in particular their running game, has the production and variety to cause pretty much any team in the nation a problem on defense.