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Big plays come from blocking of Stewart, Ridley

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Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) celebrates his touchdown with Alabama running back Damien Harris (34) and others during the second half of the Texas A&M-Alabama football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Laura Chramer | Special to The Tuscaloosa News

University of Alabama wide receivers ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley have been making plays downfield this season. They've helped freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts to some highlight plays and big touchdowns.

They're just not always catching the ball to do it.

Stewart and Ridley sprang Hurts on his 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of Alabama's 33-14 win over Texas A&M on Saturday. Hurts had already made a few Aggie defenders miss when they fell at his feet as he took off up the middle. He cut to the left, where Stewart and Ridley had broken off their routes. They knew what to do from there.

"I saw him scrambling and I didn't know which way he was going to go, so I was just trying to play off of him," Stewart said. "When I saw him make a move on the guy, I tried to get in the way so I could get a huge block for him (to) score."

They've done it at other times this season, too. Stewart and Ridley were the Crimson Tide's star receivers last year. They're still catching passes, but they're also helping Hurts and Alabama's running backs take chunks of yardage on the ground.

"That's always a big key in our running game," center Bradley Bozeman said. "When you have receivers blocking and us getting to the second level and getting our blocks in, you find success."

Stewart did have a big play earlier in the game, hauling in a 45-yard reception in the second quarter. But it didn't lead to anything, as Alabama missed a field goal at the end of the drive. Alabama made a handful of explosive plays, but Hurts' was the only one that ended up in the end zone.

The downfield passing game is still a work in progress. But Ridley and Stewart still factor in on offense when they become run blockers.

"It really shows their willingness to do whatever they need to do because, to be honest with you, we have some guys that are capable of making explosive plays," head coach Nick Saban said. "Sometimes we missed on them. We missed on them more than we'd like all year long but I think this is part of the process of the development of the quarterback. To see those guys be unselfish and go in there and block and do the things they need to make explosive runs and do what's best for the teams speaks volumes of them as team players and great competitors."

Texas A&M came into the game with a reputation for big plays as well, but was limited. Receiver Josh Reynolds, averaging almost 20 yards per reception before Saturday, caught two passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. Running back Trayveon Williams had just 30 yards on nine carries.

Quarterback Trevor Knight had a 27-yard scramble, but couldn't break through the Alabama defense consistently. Alabama's defense made some errors. The Aggies couldn't exploit them for scores.

"At least we made them make some tight throws, and they weren't able to do it," Saban said. "Especially with the pressure consistent enough to make a lot of explosive plays in the passing game. Which I think is a real key to these guys. They are a very good offensive team. Very difficult to defend this bunch with the skill players they have, the runner that they have, the quarterback that they have. Very difficult to defend all those guys."

Reach Ben Jones at ben@tidesports.com or 205-722-0196.