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Alabama’s Heisman winner DeVonta Smith poses big threat to Ohio State in title game

Jacob Myers
Buckeye Xtra

The one guarantee in a season of week-to-week uncertainty has been Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith’s tormenting of opposing defenses. 

On Jan. 11 in the College Football Playoff championship game, Ohio State can either be the team that contains him well enough to topple the Crimson Tide and hoist a trophy, or simply be the next victim for the winner of the Heisman Trophy.

In the tradition-rich Alabama football program that has become a factory of NFL-caliber receivers under coach Nick Saban, Smith will statistically finish his college career as the best and stands as arguably the biggest challenge defensively for Ohio State in pursuit of a national title.

Heis:Alabama's DeVonta Smith ends wide receiver drought by winning Heisman Trophy

DeVonta Smith leads all receivers in college football this season in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

"I'm not really worried about the Heisman Trophy,” Smith said during a Monday conference call. “I'm just trying to come in with the team this weekend, just looking forward to getting onto the game plan for Ohio State.”

When he won the Heisman Trophy, Smith became the first receiver to claim college football's top individual award since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. 

The only other time Ohio State faced Alabama in the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes had to contain Amari Cooper, a Heisman finalist and eventual No. 4 overall pick in the NFL draft. At 6 feet 1, 175 pounds, Smith isn’t the physical specimen that Cooper was, but the senior wideout has proven to be impossible to contain with his electric acceleration and versatility in the passing attack. 

Contain is a more appropriate word than limit for how to defend Smith.

Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith (6) could become the first wideout since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the Heisman Trophy.

Smith has broken just about every receiving record there is to break at Alabama. He led all of college football in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,641) and touchdowns (20) and holds the Crimson Tide single-game record in all three categories.

He is six receptions away from breaking Cooper’s mark for career receptions. He already holds career school records in receiving yards and touchdowns.

Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II, widely regarded as the best corner in college football this year, credits Smith and the one of two other Heisman finalists from Alabama, quarterback Mac Jones, for his success this season.

"Going against guys like that, when you go on the field, it makes you a hundred times better on game day,” Surtain said. 

Ohio State’s secondary allowed 400 passing yards to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the Sugar Bowl, but didn’t allow him to take over a game. Clemson, however, doesn’t have a wide receiver that’s quite the caliber of Smith. 

Against Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl last week, Smith opened the scoring by blazing past the Irish secondary for the first of his three touchdowns on seven receptions and 130 yards.

While he was a significant part of the offense before wideout Jaylen Waddle suffered an ankle injury against Tennessee that has sidelined him since late October, Smith undoubtedly has answered the call with 17 touchdowns and averaging 155 yards in his past seven games without Waddle.

Alabama's DeVonta Smith (6) celebrates a first-quarter touchdown with teammate John Metchie III in the Rose Bowl semifinal victory over Notre Dame on Friday.

Matt Zenitz of AL.com reported that Waddle is expected to return to practice for Alabama on Tuesday.

"Just me being the competitor that I am, I want to just do whatever I can to help the team and that's what it came down to (when Waddle got injured),” Smith said. “Just everybody on offense felt like they could do more to help the team, and that's what we've all been trying to do.”

After Tuesday, Smith might have an extra trophy to carry into Hard Rock Stadium against the Buckeyes. But it’s a different trophy that Smith wants, one that he didn’t have in the 2018 season, the last time the Crimson Tide was in the title game (and lost to Clemson).

"The past is the past,” Smith said. “Nothing we can do about it now and we're just focusing on this week and how we prepare for this game and just make sure that it doesn't happen again."

jmyers@dispatch.com

@_jcmyers