The University of Alabama has been the most consistent program in college football since Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007. Since 2008, Alabama has a top five recruiting class and been in the race for a national championship annually. Saban has a formula that works; an elite defense plus a power running game with a quintessential game manager at quarterback, but 2016 was different year for Alabama. Saban recruited quarterback Jalen Hurts out of Texas in 2015 and gave him the opportunity to compete for the starting job the following year as a true freshman. Hurts changed the offense for the better and opposing defensive coordinators should be petrified of Alabama in the upcoming years.
Jalen Hurts: Alabama’s True Freshman Sensation
Let’s start with who Jalen Hurts is. Hurts is from Channelview, Texas, and went to Channelview High School where he played quarterback. According to ESPN 300, he was a 4-star recruit and the 13th ranked dual-threat QB in 2016. When Hurts arrived at Tuscaloosa, he was in a position battle with Blake Barnett– who was an elite recruit in his own right – which he won early in the season.
What’s crazy about Hurts is that he is a true freshman and only eighteen years old. Nick Saban likes to start experienced quarterbacks, even if they are first year starters. Saban also has an affinity for pocket-passing quarterbacks; none of his former quarterbacks at Alabama were a dual threat the way Jalen is. Both Blake Sims and Jake Coker (last two quarterbacks under coach Saban) were seniors when they started for Alabama.
Jalen Hurts has been very productive for Alabama in 2016: 2,592 passing yards, 841 rushing yards, 22 total touchdowns (leads team with 12 rush touchdowns) and nine interceptions. Once Hurts earned the trust of the coaching staff, former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was able to utilize his mobility and open up the offense.
Something fans have not seen much during Saban’s tenure is the use of the read option. Normally, Alabama relies on their stable of running backs combined with their massive offensive line, and the quarterback is tasked with not turning over the ball and controlling the pace of the game. With Jalen at the helm, Kiffin is able to be uber-creative with his play-calling. It’s hard enough to stop any Alabama running back, but trying to stop a mobile quarterback as well, is a tough assignment for any defense.
Hurts’ mobility has come up big in key games throughout the season:
Arkansas: 8 attempts 20 yards 2 TD
Ole miss: 18 attempts 146 yards
Tennessee: 12 attempts 132 yards 3 TD
Texas A&M: 21 attempts 93 yards 1 TD
LSU: 20 attempts 114 yards 1 TD
The game against LSU proved that Hurts will be the long term answer at quarterback for Saban. Hurts had an abysmal first half- 5/13 & 1 INT, 5 rush & 42 rush yards- he also lost a fumble in the third quarter. Jalen’s resilience was on display throughout this game; Hurts kept taking shots downfield and moving the chains any way he could. He finally broke through early in the fourth quarter when he was able to score on an improvised run and put his team up 7-0. LSU is not an easy opponent, and Hurts showed that he belonged on that field.
Hurts also came up big for the coaches this year, his success at quarterback helped Lane Kiffin land the FAU head coach position. Hurts also earned a couple of awards in 2016; he won the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and the SEC Freshman of the Year awards. Furthermore, under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, fans should still see a dynamic offense lead by Hurts.
Leading Alabama to the College Football Playoffs is no easy task; they are undefeated after thirteen games. We’ll see how Hurts performs on New Year’s Eve versus Washington, but if this season is any indication, he will be just fine.
Stats from www.ESPN.com