Stuart McNair

Quarterback play is key in Saturday’s Alabama vs. Texas A&M GAME

Nick Saban discusses QBs, Hurts for Alabama, Knight for Texas A&M

Each week, Southeastern Conference football coaches participate in a teleconference with journalists. In this week’s conversation with Alabama Coach Nick Saban most of the talk centered on the quarterbacks for Bama (Jalen Hurts) and for Texas A&M (Trevor Knight).

No. 1 Alabama (7-0 overall, 4-0 SEC) will host sixth-ranked Texas A&M (6-0, 4-0) at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. CBS will televise the game.

Bama is coming off back-to-back SEC road wins against ranked teams, while the Aggies had an open date last Saturday.

Saban said, “This is one of those season-defining games for us. We’ve had a  pretty tough stretch here, and this is obviously one of the best teams in the country, I think, in terms of their skill players on offense. They’ve got some really dominant defensive players and the quarterback’s playing really well for them. They’ve got a great runner.  We’re full of challenges for this week in terms of what we have to do to have success against a very good team.

“Our disposition is we’re going to get everybody’s best shot and we’ve got to be prepared for it. It’s part of the process we do throughout the week  in trying to get ready to play our best in the game.”

Jalen Hurts, a 6-2, 209-pound freshman from Channelview, Texas (near Houston), has completed 113-178 passes (63.5 per cent) for 1,385 yards and 9 touchdowns with 3 interceptions, and has rushed 74 times for 428 yards (5.8 per carry) for 8 TDs. Trevor Knight, a 6-1, 215-pound senior transfer from Oklahoma and native of San Antonio, has completed 115-215 (53.5 per cent) for 1,500 yards and 9 TDs with 5 interceptions, and has run 65 times for 502 yards (7.2 per carry) for 9 touchdowns.

In answers to questions about Hurts, Saban said:

Regarding him being a dual threat quarterback, does that add value to Alabama defensive preparation:

“I think it’s always very helpful because when you play an outstanding quarterback like we’re going to play this week who certainly can make plays with his feet, is a good scrambler, I think it creates a tremendous amount of awareness for what the players have played against and practiced quite a bit. I think it does benefit you to have a mobile guy like that that you can get some work against throughout the course of the year.”

On how early Alabama began recruiting Hurts:

“I think we went through the same process with him as we go through with all quarterbacks that we look at. Most of the guys we end up seeing play as juniors, we see them work out sometime in the spring if they have spring practice. Some of them come to camp here, give us an opportunity to see them. In every one of those steps, Jalen really impressed us. We were impressed with him from the word go and we recruited him that way, and he’s certainly panned out to be very effective for us. We didn’t expect him to have to start as a freshman, but he’s handled that fairly well.”

What they saw in Hurts that made them think he would be a fit at Alabama:

“We thought he was a really good athlete, which we wanted to get more athletic at the position based on the things that we wanted to do. But we also wanted to get a guy that was a good passer, and we felt like Jalen was very good at that. Something that we need to improve on is our passing game overall, but it’s not just him. It’s the protection, it’s the route running, it’s the whole nine yards. He’s gotten better every week.”

On Hurts being the son of a coach:

“I think that Jalen’s got the right stuff when it comes to his disposition as a quarterback. I think he understands -- and maybe it’s from his father being his coach -- but I think he understands the importance of doing things correctly. He’s really pretty self-critical in terms of what he did and what he needs to improve on. He goes to work on all those things, and he doesn’t get bothered and affected much in the game when things don’t go the way he wants. He seems to play better as time goes on because of that disposition in the game. I don’t know how much of that is related to having your Dad be your coach. My Dad was my coach when I was in Pop Warner and American Legion baseball and all that stuff. I think that probably helped me a little bit.”

As for Trevor Knight, who led Oklahoma to a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama at the end of the 2013 season:

Does Saban take anything from that Sugar Bowl game in preparation:

“Me as a coach, I can’t. The respect I have, he played a great game against us and he’s played very well for them all year long. But I think our players see what he’s done in terms of their preparation and what they’ve done and have a tremendous amount of respect for the things that he can do. I’m not sure we need to go back to that to sort of figure anything out, because I think people see what he’s doing in this system and how effective he’s been.”

The difference in Knight since that Sugar Bowl game:

“I see a guy that’s very gifted. I don’t think there’s a comparison necessary. He’s very athletic. He’s very quick. He’s a good decision-maker. He makes quick decisions with the ball. He changes angles of throws and gets the ball out of his hands quick  on all the RPOs (run-pass options), and can extend plays in the passing game when they need him to. This guy’s a complete player at the position. I thought he was that when we played him before and I think he’s even better now.”

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