No one in the Alabama camp could be disappointed in the play of quarterback Jalen Hurts. The freshman has made an obvious impact for the Crimson Tide and is a major reason Bama is 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
As recently as the Crimson Tide’s 10-0 win at LSU last Saturday night, Hurts was the offensive difference, scoring the only touchdown of the game on a 21-yard fourth quarter run.
Hurts finished with 20 carries for 114 yards – more than the combined total rushing of all the Bama tailbacks in the game. Damien Harris (53), Bo Scarbrough (52), and Josh Jacobs (3) combined for 108.
Hurts was also satisfactory as a passer if one looks just at the final statistics line – 10-19 for 107 yards with 1 interception and 1 sack. Beyond that, though, was a different story. The interception led to LSU’s best chance at an early score. The sack resulted in a fumble that gave the Tigers the ball in Bama territory. And the 107 yards included 52 on one play – a completion to ArDarius Stewart on Bama’s first play of the third quarter.
That completion put Alabama at LSU’s 8-yard line, first-and-goal. Four runs later, the ball went back to the Tigers.
As for Alabama’s receiving playmakers against LSU, Stewart had two more receptions, but for only three more total yards. Calvin Ridley had two catches, one for 21 yards, one for two yards. O.J. Howard had one catch for a loss of three yards.
Credit Hurts, though, for getting Alabama out of bad field position with a 22-yard completion to freshman tight end Miller Forristall.
As for strides in the passing game, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said it wasn’t noticeable in the LSU game. He gave some credit to the Tigers for a good secondary and good scheme, but said, “We were out of sorts a little bit in the passing game.”
For the year, Hurts ranks ninth in the Southeastern Conference in passing as he has completed 139 of 223 passes (62.3 per cent) for 1,685 yards and 12 touchdowns against 6 interceptions. He is fourth in the league in passing efficiency. Hurts also ranks fifth in the conference in total offense with his 635 yards rushing giving him 2,320 yards, an average of 257.8 per game.
The Hurts passing statistics are bolstered by Bama’s frequent use of jet sweeps, a wide receiver coming across the field in front of the quarterback and taking a short pitch, a play that is technically a pass – a pass of a foot or so that naturally has a high percentage of completion.
Following last week’s game, Saban and Hurts watched videotape of some of the quarterback’s plays. Saban said it was to show Hurts “the simplicity of ‘This is what you’re supposed to look at, this is what you’re supposed to do, and this is what you should have done.’ It’s really not that complicated and we can’t make it more complicated than it is.”
The Tide coach also said “Jalen’s had a really good week this week. I think he’s really worked harder this week in preparation in terms of trying to understand.”
Saban also pointed to an interesting reason why Hurts might be lagging in the passing game.
The coach said, “I think sometimes guys that have success running as quarterback, it's a little more difficult for them to get the mindset that they want to be a complete player because they know they have the ability to take off running all the time, because that's when they have success and that's when they get a lot of positive self-gratification from.
“But to be a complete player and for our team to be a complete offensive team, we talked about the fact that we have to get 3 (Ridley), 13 (Stewart), 88 (Howard) involved and we have to do a good job of executing as an offensive team to get them the ball.
“It's pass protection. It's quarterback reads. It's good route-running. It's timing. It's a lot of things. I think he's very, very dedicated to trying to make progress in those areas. I think he's had a really good week this week."
In Bama’s nine games this year, Hurts has had more passing yardage than rushing yardage against all but one – last week against LSU when he had 107 passing and 114 on the ground. The other games: USC (118-32), Western Kentucky (287-19), Ole Miss (158-146), Kent State (164-54), Kentucky (262-25), Arkansas (253-20), Tennessee (172-132), and Texas A&M (164-93).
The Hurts interception last week was only his sixth of the year, but after having one in his first-ever college football game in the season-opening win over Southern Cal, he has had five in the last four games.
Saban said, “We're just not making the progress in the passing game and making decisions and getting our feet and doing things with accuracy like we need to. We just need to develop a little more consistency in that regard."
Alabama is back in action Saturday against Mississippi State, hosting the Bulldogs in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 11 a.m. with ESPN televising.