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Alabama Football Film Room: O.J. Howard

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The much-hyped but under-utilized Howard finally came alive in the Playoffs for Alabama, hauling in 8 catches for a gaudy 267 yards. All 8 receptions were for touchdowns or first downs. Spurning the NFL, Howard returned for his senior year.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

A five star recruit who played at Autauga Academy in Prattville, Alabama, O.J. Howard arrived with a lot of fanfare in 2013 as the #2 player in the state and #19 overall. He began contributing immediately, but he really set Crimson hearts aflutter when he outraced LSU’s secondary to take a crossing route to the house.

Howard remained inconsistent and lightly-used, though, in 2014 and much of 2015 before really coming alive in the postseason, primarily in the national championship. His 208 yards against Clemson were the most by an Alabama player in a bowl game and the fifth most in Alabama history.

Ole Miss

2nd and 8: Readers of the Cooper Bateman and Robert Foster breakdowns will recognize this play. Alabama is in the pistol, with O.J. Howard lined up to the left as the H-back. Bateman reads the edge man, who crashes on Derrick Henry; so he pulls it and flicks it to Howard as both are rolling right. Howard takes it and, thanks to a crucial block by Foster, gets the edge and scampers down for a 30 yard gain.

2nd and 6: Howard is on the left side, off the line of scrimmage. Bateman tosses it to ArDarius Stewart, who’s running to the left. Howard is tasked with blocking safety Tony Conner. Conner almost gets through Howard, who ends up holding to save the block. He’s caught and flagged; but since the play was blown up for no gain anyway, Ole Miss declines.

3rd and 6: Alabama has trips right, and Howard is the #3 receiver (3rd from the outside, the closest to the line). Howard runs a short out route, getting right to the line to gain instead of going past it. Bateman hits him, but the safety closed quickly and tackles him short of the first down. A penalty on the punt would give Bama a first down, however.

3rd and 4: It’s Jake Coker’s first drive, and Alabama faces another 3rd down. Howard is to the right, close to the line. The defender gives him plenty of cushion, so Howard is open for a moment as he breaks to the outside about 10 yards downfield. Coker threads a pass in between the safety and the corner, and Howard hangs on despite taking a pop. First down.

3rd and 10: Alabama is in desperate need of another first down. Howard is in tight on the left side of the line next to Cam Robinson. He just streaks down the seam, and Coker rifles the pass in between defenders. Howard takes a hit from DeMarquis Gates but holds on and even gains a couple more yards. Of Howard’s four receptions, three of them went for first downs.

Tennessee

2nd and 9: Howard motions to the right of the line before the snap. He flows back to the left on the snap, and Coker fakes the handoff to Henry before rolling left where Howard is open in the flat. Howard catches the easy toss, but he doesn’t have a ton of running room with the safety closing fast. Still, he gains 4 yards.

2nd and 15: Howard is in the bunch on the right. He runs an in route right around the line to gain. Coker has good protection and is able to wait for Howard to get open. Howard does have to come back a little for the catch. He shrugs off the safety’s attempted tackle and almost makes it back to the first down line. A gain of 14 will have to suffice.

2nd and 6: Howard is on the line next to Dominick Jackson. It’s a playaction with Henry going to the right, but Coker keeps it and rolls left. Howard crosses that way, too; and he’s wide open. Howard hauls in the pass and turns upfield for some extra yards.

2nd and 6: Howard is again on the line next to Jackson. He releases into the flat, and Coker goes that way. The corner reacts quickly, and Howard barely has time to make a move after he catches it. He gets hit several yards shy of the first, but he props himself up and manages to jump forward past the first down marker.

Michigan State

1st and 10: Howard is to the right next to Jackson. He stays in to block and is matched up against a defensive end one-on-one. Howard holds his own for a second and forces the defender to go to the outside. He gets beat fairly quickly, but he doesn’t give up and lunges at the end as the defender is trying to turn to Coker, forcing him even farther away. It’s not the prettiest, but he does what he needs to do.

1st and 10: Howard is to the left. ArDarius Stewart motions right to left, and some of the defenders bite on the jet sweep. Howard just runs an out route about 14 or so yards downfield and is wide open. Coker hits him for an easy completion.

2nd and 16: Howard is on the line next to Cam Robinson. He just runs a vertical down the seam, and the corner is a second late to react. With Howard’s speed, that’s all he needs. Coker lofts it to him, and he catches over his shoulder in stride and gets Alabama down near the redzone.

3rd and 4: Howard starts on the right side before motioning to the left. He’s lined up as at H-back, in between Michael Nysewander and the offensive line. Howard cuts back to the weakside as the play fake goes to the left. Alabama has run out of this play several times during the game, and the playaction catches the defense here. Coker keeps the ball and rolls back to the right as Howard spills out into the flat with no one around. The pass is a little high, but Howard reaches up and has no trouble with it. It’s his final catch of the game, and all three receptions went for first downs. Not too shabby.

Clemson

3rd and 1: Howard is on the right side of the line. He goes up and gets on the inside shoulder of the defender, allowing him to pivot and wall him off. Henry gets the handoff, makes his cut, and hits the hole that Howard is helping hold up for the first touchdown of the game.

3rd and 3: Howard motions left to right and is lined up at H-back. Clemson blitzes, and he spills out into the flat with acres of running room. He starts streaking down the field with Richard Mullaney blocking ahead of him, but he turns back toward the middle of the field instead of trying for the sideline.

1st and 10: Howard is wide right, stacked with ArDarius Stewart; and there’s only one defender for the both of them. Stewart drops back for the screen, and the corner jumps on this. Howard makes as if he’s going to block but then runs a go route down the sideline. The safety (T.J. Green, a 2nd round draft pick by the Colts) gets frozen by the brief fake to Henry and reacts way too late. Coker can’t step into his throw since both Dominick Jackson and Ryan Kelly are getting beat, and Howard has to slow down to wait for the ball. He hauls it in and turns on the jets, winning the footrace to the endzone.

2nd and 7: Howard is on the right next to Jackson. It’s a playaction to the left, and Howard initially moves left like he’s going to block with the line. He turns and just runs a little out route as Coker bootlegs right. The linebacker bit hard, and Howard is wide open. It’s pitch and catch, and Howard turns upfield for a 16 yard gain. This is actually the shortest reception of the game for Howard.

2nd and 11: Howard is on the line to the left. He releases down the seam, and the linebacker gives him a little bump. Howard adjusts and continues the vertical route. Poor play by the secondary leaves him barrelling towards the endzone with no one near him. Coker hits him for another easy touchdown.

2nd and 13: Alabama is trying to hold on to a 5 point lead in the waning minutes of the game. Howard is initially wide right, stacked with Stewart, before motioning into the backfield at H-back. Coker fakes the handoff to Henry as Howard slips behind the line to the left. Coker tosses it to Howard, who has to take a couple steps deeper behind the line after catching it. This play should go nowhere, and it should be 3rd down. Mullaney and Ridley block, but there are three defenders. Mullaney maintains his block well, but Ridley whiffs on his and falls to the ground. Howard eludes the cornerback who got past Ridley, though, and gets to the edge; and, by pure luck, the safety crashes into Ridley while he’s on the ground and gets held up long enough for Howard to race on by. He jets by most of the defenders, though T.J. Green takes a good angle and gets to Howard around the 20 yard line. Still, Alabama is in the redzone and is able to eat up some clock before scoring the game-winning touchdown.