MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith entered Hard Rock Stadium wearing a black mask emblazoned with the logo of the Heisman Trophy, a one-of-a-kind face covering for one of the most accomplished wide receivers in college football history.
One week after he became the first receiver to win the Heisman since 1991, it became clear by halftime that Smith's final performance would rank among the best in postseason history.
Unfortunately, it may just be one half. His second half was interrupted after two plays due to injury.
Smith jammed his right hand against Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner during a tackle on the Crimson Tide's first possession of the second half. Smith was flexing his right hand and index finger before a trainer helped him into the sideline medical tent. He stayed in the tent for several minutes and eventually went to the locker room.
Alabama said his return was questionable.
Alabama's offensive game plan used Smith in a variety of ways out of several different looks and formations: as a traditional receiver split out toward the sideline, running in motion or even coming out of the backfield. The range of options wobbled Ohio State's defense, which struggled devoting resources to the senior while accounting for the Crimson Tide's balanced scheme.
"He's done a great job of making plays for us. The whole offense is really playing well," said coach Nick Saban, before heading to the locker room up 35-17 at halftime.
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DeVonta Smith catches a touchdown pass from Mac Jones with Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland (32) defending. (Photo: Gary Cosby, USA TODAY Sports)
From the start against the Buckeyes, Smith was the most dependable skill player on an offense loaded with options.
He was responsible for Alabama's first catch, a 22-yard haul on the Tide's opening series that gave Smith the SEC's career record for receiving yards. On the ensuing possession, Smith had catches of 32, 12, 3 and 5 yards, the last for a touchdown to give Alabama a 14-7 lead. After OSU tied the score at 14, Smith had 29 receiving yards to key the Tide's third touchdown in as many drives.
Continuing that trend, Smith pulled in a 44-yard grab down the right sideline on the next possession, blowing past Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade, and then scored on another 5-yard catch to push Alabama's lead to 28-17 with 3:19 left in the first half.
To close out a memorable first half, Smith burned past the Buckeyes' defense — taking advantage of a ridiculous mismatch against linebacker Tuf Borland — for a 42-yard touchdown pass, bumping the lead to 35-17 and raising an unanswerable question: What can Ohio State do, if anything?
By the end of the first half, Smith had 12 receptions for 215 yards and three touchdowns while Alabama's offense as a whole accounted for 389 yards and 19 first downs on 9.0 yards per play.
In addition to setting the career receiving mark in the SEC, Smith set a new conference record for receiving touchdowns in a single season (23) and the Alabama record for single-season receiving yardage (1,856).
He also set new College Football Playoff records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in a single game — setting the latter two marks by halftime.
Contributing: Nick Gray, Tuscaloosa News
Follow USA TODAY Sports colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
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