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It was just a simple pass to the flat.
The Rose Bowl wasn’t yet five minutes old, when DeVonta Smith went in motion. Quickly, he broke back towards the sideline — as Mac Jones took the snap — catching a harmless-looking swing pass.
Cornerback Clarence Lewis approached. Smith juked, streaking up the sideline. Two more Irish defenders chased him. Another two closed in. Smith cut back, absorbing and ignoring no more than five fingers of contact, before finishing the 26-yard touchdown.
The Rose Bowl wasn’t yet five minutes old, when Notre Dame realized it wasn’t any different. It couldn’t stop the country’s best player.
“He does everything exactly right,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He has a great understanding of what he needs to do to be able to make plays and he makes them every chance he gets.”
Even with Notre Dame intent on preventing Smith from sparking the nation’s best offense, the All-American completed his latest masterpiece, earning Rose Bowl Offensive MVP honors after making seven catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s 31-14 playoff win Friday at AT&T Stadium. Smith, whose three receiving touchdowns tied a Rose Bowl record, now has five touchdowns in five career playoff games.
On Tuesday, Smith — who recently became the first-ever wide receiver to be named the Associated Press Player of the Year — could become the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since 1991 (Desmond Howard).
“Smitty has done as much for our team as any player could do for any team,” Saban said. “Smitty has done as much for our team as any other player who did win the Heisman Trophy.”
With Alabama leading 14-7 early in the second quarter, Smith struck again. Catching a short slant route, Smith sprinted past two defenders, before flipping into the end zone for a 34-yard score. His third touchdown buried Notre Dame’s final, faint hopes, securing the 7-yard catch, as he deftly tapped his toes inbounds and gave Alabama a 28-7 lead with 4:58 left in the third quarter.
It was Smith’s third game with at least three touchdowns this season, tying him for the SEC record with 20 receiving touchdowns. Smith is also Alabama’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns and receiving yards, and on pace to take the record in receptions, too.
“I just come into practice every day, working hard,” Smith said. “I truly believe if you work hard, you’re going to get the results that you want.”
It has been three years since Smith’s overtime touchdown catch gave Alabama a national title. Somehow, this season could end even sweeter.
“It means a lot,” Smith said of the win. “But we’re not done yet.”