TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was the play that made NFL scouts go, "Wow," and not just because of the throw by Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa against then-No. 3 LSU at Tiger Stadium.
The Crimson Tide had first down at the LSU 25, when it sent Irv Smith Jr. into the end zone. The Tigers had man coverage, which is usually sufficient against a tight end, but the junior got a step on his man and the safety never had a chance to get over in time.
With Smith, Alabama's offense has incredible depth in the passing game, which in this case doesn't mean quality backups but numerous passing options. While making a strong bid to be first-team All-SEC, if not more, he's made 26 catches for 448 yards (17.2 average) and six touchdowns, plus with no dropped passes.
That has him around 10th in the nation for his position group, but just about everyone ahead of him is his team's primary receiver. Smith's third among Alabama players in catches, and fourth in receptions.
“Irv can block," Tagovailoa said. "Irv is really, really dynamic with how he runs his routes. He’s very fast and he’s very strong. He’s a very good catcher, as well. And if he was a lot skinnier than what he is now, he’d probably play receiver or something. He’s really that good."
Here are 15 questions with Alabama's "other" receiver, heading into Saturday's Mississippi State game at Bryant-Denny Stadium (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS).
So how much did the LSU game mean to you?
“It was awesome. Being from Louisiana and just having the opportunity to go out there and play well. It was a lot of fun. It was a great team win.”
We keep hearing that this was a statement game. What did this team have to say?
"They said we haven’t played anybody and that our offense and defense were very suspect. We wanted to go our there and show everybody what we were capable of doing."
Do you feel like you made that statement?
"It’s pretty stamped. Offensively and defensively I feel like nobody can stop us in the country."
What did you see on that touchdown catch?
"They were pressing me a lot and they had man-to-man coverage, so I knew if I beat them over the top and got them off the line I’d have a chance to make a play. Tua [Tagovailoa] threw a great ball, and I went up and made the play."
You were penalized afterward though.
"It was something that I shouldn’t have done. I was just trying to have fun, and I should have celebrated more with my teammates, but it’s over with now. We’re focused on next week."
Do you get emotional during games?
"It was a pretty personal game. I feel like coming in we wanted to just make a statement, and I played against a lot of those guys growing up. It was a lot of fun, honestly."
Tua hit you in coverage. How much fun is it to have a quarterback like that?
"You run every route to win and I feel like we do a great job of that. And Tua, he does an awesome job of finding the open receiver, and he trusts us to make a play."
How does Tua compare to some of the other quarterbacks you've caught passes from?
"Every ball we have an opportunity to catch, and he has a lot of trust in us. So if he feels like he has a good matchup or if we’re open he’s going to throw the ball. It’s awesome having that trust with him and being able to make plays off of him."
Saban talks about defending the seams defensively. How much has he helped you understand how to leverage yourself in that part of the field?
"The defense, they try to focus on the receivers and stuff a lot, so the tight ends, we kind of come open a lot of times, especially in the middle of the field. With all the different stuff we do on offense, it’s tough to stop all those different aspects."
Does it ever feel like you’re not open when Tua throws you the ball?
"I feel like he does a great job of finding us, but I usually try to win every route. I feel like I do a good job of doing that."
When you were a recruit did you ever imagine Alabama having an offense that looked like this?
"I mean I’ve never seen an offense at Alabama like this. What we’re doing is really special, and it’s awesome being a part of it."
What does it say about this team that even when the offense isn’t perfect you still grind out blowout wins?
"We only scored 29 points but the defense stopped them. They didn’t even score. It’s a team sport, and both aspects of the game we need to come to play. The defense did a great job last week."
What went into the running game playing well?
“We wanted to establish our identity running the football and just show that we’re a physical team. If we want to run the ball, we can run the ball, and if they’re going to load the box, then we can throw the ball. It’s tough for the other team to stop, and we did a good job last week.”
How have you seen the offensive line come together?
“Every week and every practice, we try to focus on different things. We’ve been getting together a lot and just trying to focus on different types of runs that we want to do throughout the week, and I feel like last week we did a good job of just putting everything together and going out and executing.”
What do you attribute the consistent level of success against division opponents to?
“I feel like just going out and not being complacent and staying humble and hungry. Every week is a new week, and we want to get better each and every week.”