TUSCALOOSA — There isn’t that one split-second when Alabama’s Josh Jacobs makes his decision. Instead he plays mind games, beginning the moment he locks eyes with a defender who stands in his path, the decision whether to twitch his hips or exert brute strength weighing on his brain.
“He's the reason why you get cussed out a lot of times,” middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. “He can do it all. He can run you over. He can make you miss. He can do it all. He's the total package."
At long last healthy enough to make significant contributions within the Crimson Tide running game, Jacobs is the marrying of Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris’ best attributes. Tide coach Nick Saban calls him a “change of pace” back, a somewhat ambiguous position with a function that varies by team, situation and scheme.
“He has a lot of diversity as a player,” Saban said Monday. “He's a very good receiver. He's an inside runner. He's an outside runner. But I do think he's a little bit of a change of pace guy relative to the other two guys, Damien and Bo, when they play. We're glad that he's healthy and hope he can continue to stay healthy and play well.”
Saturday’s game against Arkansas was the “healthiest” Jacobs felt all season, he said, more than three months removed from a severe hamstring strain suffered in the preseason.
The 41-9 win against the Razorbacks was Jacobs’ most first-half involvement since his injury. Charting his game solidifies Saban’s explanation and reveals just how integral the Tide views its sophomore back.
Jacobs played 17 snaps against Arkansas off which he had 11 touches. Six of his 11 touches came on 10 first-half snaps, beginning with a 3-yard jet sweep. He followed with three inside runs that totaled 21 yards and two outside runs for 3 yards.
Alabama had 13 offensive drives. Jacobs was in on the first play during five of them. He got the ball on four of those five plays. The fifth was a jet sweep to Calvin Ridley where Jacobs was the lone running back in the backfield.
When Jacobs was part of a two-back alignment, it was always with Scarbrough. The two were together for the first play of the Tide’s second and third offensive drives. Jacobs received the carry in both instances — two inside runs that produced a total of 12 yards.
“I kind of bring my own style of running. So I kind of just try to do what I can,” Jacobs said Tuesday. “I really just try to execute whatever they call. Whatever I can do to help. Basically play, too. So I guess it all goes together.”
Jacobs played six snaps in a row late in the second quarter, mixing two outside runs with an inside run. When he was tired, Harris entered.
Harris gashed the Hogs for a 7-yard gain on his first play.
“It adds a different dynamic to the offense,” Harris said. “Having a guy with that kind of talent and ability to change the pace of the game, it gives our offense a better chance of being successful.”
Jacobs is an advanced receiver whom Tua Tagovailoa hit for a 33-yard screen pass in the second half. Jacobs was set in motion, took the screen and out-ran four defenders for the gain.
Such speed enables Jacobs to mix inside and outside runs with ease. His compact, 5-foot-10 frame to punish defenders on one play before sprinting sideline-to-sideline on the next.
In all, Jacobs had nine carries and two receptions that totaled 75 yards.
“He’s an easy guy to create roles for,” Saban said.