Harris grabs early edge in No. 1 Bama’s backfield battle
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Damien Harris was the answer to the second-biggest question facing Alabama’s backfield on opening week: Who’s the starting tailback?
While most of the focus was on the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s quarterback competition, Harris grabbed the early edge in the battle of former five-star runners vying to replace Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.
He won the starting job for the first game and delivered bigtime in the 52-6 victory over Southern California. Harris had runs of 73 and 46 yards among his nine carries for 138 yards after beating out fellow sophomore Bo Scarbrough.
That followed a strong camp and a spring game when Harris topped 100 yards.
“So we thought he was the guy that would be the most productive at the position,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “We have a lot of faith, trust and confidence in Bo. We’re hopeful that Bo will continue to improve and respond because we would like to be able to play two backs.”
The pecking order might be subject to change as the season goes on, starting with Saturday’s game against Western Kentucky. Harris clearly has the early edge, though.
Neither Scarbrough nor Harris got much experience last season with Henry getting so many carries.
Harris arrived from Berea, Kentucky, rated by several recruiting services as the nation’s top-ranked running back.
The 5-foot-11, 214-pounder is built more from the mold of past Tide star runners like Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy and Trent Richardson than the mammoth Henry.
The 6-2, 230-pound Scarbrough, who’s from Tuscaloosa, seemed to get most of the preseason attention from fans and media. Harris insists he didn’t notice.
“I didn’t think about that at all to be honest with you,” Harris said. “I just worked on getting better every single day.”
Other than Henry’s 2015 season, Alabama has typically used a tailback tandem. Last season was the first time since Saban arrived in 2007 that Alabama’s backup hadn’t run for at least 545 yards. Both T.J. Yeldon and Lacy — eventual second-round NFL draft picks — topped 1,000 yards each in 2012.
The divvy remains to be seen this season.
Scarbrough actually had two more carries than Harris against USC, gaining 36 yards and scoring a touchdown on 11 runs. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts rushed for a pair of touchdowns against USC so if he wins the starting job, the two also have some competition for runs.
Being a local product, Scarbrough shoulders some high expectations. He played his senior season for IMG Academy in Florida.
Saban preaches ignoring “external factors” like those kind of expectations. He said Scarbrough has progressed as a player but has some more work to do.
“We’d like for him to continue to make a significant contribution for us,” Saban said. “This was basically Bo’s first game where he played much, and I think that we weren’t disappointed at all with the way he played. I think attention to detail in some things would probably help him have more success, and that’s why we practice.”
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org