Stuart McNair

Know Your Foe - Alabama Quarterbacks

From an Alabama standpoint, the best way to start discussion of the Crimson Tide quarterback situation is the good news: Freshman Jalen Hurts has led Bama to a 13-0 season and the Southeastern Conference championship and Hurts was voted by league coaches as the All-SEC quarterback and the Offensive MVP in the SEC.

And that’s about it for the good news as Coach Nick Saban’s Alabama team prepares to play Washington on Dec. 31 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in the Peach Bowl, a semifinal game of the College Football Playoff.

It’s not that Saban and his staff don’t recruit good quarterbacks. The problem is the difficulty in keeping a four- or five-star quarterback when he can’t get on the field.

That may be a little cruel. Blake Barnett was a five-star quarterback, MVP of the 2014 Elite 11 and winning quarterback in the Under Armour game, and ranked the No. 3 quarterback in the nation when Alabama signed him prior to the 2015 season. Barnett, 6-5, 198, was good enough to start the first game of this season against Southern Cal in Dallas. Unfortunately, he wasn’t good enough to finish that game.

Hurts entered the game and…fumbled on the first play. But Hurts got another chance and responded well, delivering two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in Alabama’s 52-6 win.

The 6-2, 209-pound freshman from Channelview, Texas, had earned a battlefield promotion and never looked back.

Barnett, meanwhile, looked elsewhere. He quit after four games in which he completed 11 of 19 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. This week he announced he’ll be signing with Arizona State.

The little-used back-up the rest of the year was Cooper Bateman, a four-star who was ranked No. 5 in the nation when he signed in 2013. Bateman is on track to be the holder for more extra points (181) and field goal (80) tries than any player in Alabama history after having had that job the past three years. As a quarterback over three years, he has completed 49 of 66 passes for 410 yards with 2 TDs and 2 interceptions, including 12-14 for 119 yards and a touchdown this season.

Now we learn that Bateman, 6-3, 224, has received his release and could leave Alabama before the Tide meets Washington. He is a fourth-year junior who could earn his degree and join the ranks of the graduate transfers with instant eligibility.

Then David Cornwell, a 6-5, 234-pound third-year sophomore who saw action this season in taking the mop-up snaps in wins over Kent State and Mississippi State, announced that he, too, would be transferring. He is to be graduated Saturday, thus having that graduate transfer option.

Unconfirmed reports have said that Bateman will stay with the Tide in the remainder of the season and that Cornwell is likely to stay.

From their standpoint, it’s a possibility of receiving another national championship ring. From Alabama’s standpoint, there’s the possibility one of them might be needed to have a chance of winning the title.

Otherwise, behind Hurts Bama has a true freshman walkon quarterback on the practice field. Montana Murphy, 6-3, 201, has a quarterback name and hails from a quarterback high school, Carroll in Southlake, Texas.

The departure of Alabama quarterbacks didn’t just begin.

When Florida hosted North Texas early this season, the starting quarterback for the Gators was Luke Del Rio (Jack’s much-traveled son) and the backup quarterback for North Texas was Alec Morris. Both had formerly been quarterbacks at Alabama.

For the past few years it seems as though Alabama has been able to wave a magic wand and produce a fabulous quarterback. In 2014 former journeyman tailback Blake Sims became the all-time record holder for yards and touchdown responsibility as he led Alabama to the SEC Championship and into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Last season Bama had Jake Coker, former backup to Jameis Winston at Florida State, and Coker led the Tide to the SEC and national championships.

This year the third consecutive first-year starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, led Alabama to the SEC Championship and into the CFP.

One common denominator was Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Lane Kiffin, who came to Bama after being fired at USC.

Now Kiffin is in the news, possibly headed for a new gig. Both he and Saban are working to get him a job as a head coach, and if that happens he may have to get to the new job. He did say, following Bama’s win over Florida for the SEC Championship, that regardless of what happened he planned to be with the Tide in the playoffs “if they’ll have me.”

If not Kiffin, who? Steve Sarkisian, who is an offensive analyst on the Alabama staff? 

 

The quarterbacks:

 

Jalen Hurts, 6-2, 209, Freshman

*Cooper Bateman, 6-3, 220, Redshirt Junior

^David Cornwell, 6-5, 228, Redshirt Soph

Montana Murphy, 6-3, 201, Walkon Freshman

*Has received his release and will transfer at some point, perhaps before the playoff games begin

^Will be graduated at conclusion of fall semester and is leaving as a graduate transfer, perhaps before the playoff games begin

 

Alabama does have a few players who were high school quarterbacks (at least parttime), but it seems unlikely that any would figure into plans. They are starting wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, starting cornerback Anthony Averett, starting safety Ronnie Harrison, and backup defensive back-running back Ronnie Clark.

Against Auburn Stewart took a backwards pass from Hurts and then threw a forward pass to tight end O.J. Howard for a 12-yard gain.

 

Thus, the subject of Alabama quarterbacks really is the subject of Jalen Hurts. The Alabama camp is hopeful that he can become the fourth first-year quarterback of the Saban Era to deliver a national championship.

Bama’s first national title under Saban came in 2009 with Greg McElroy having taken over the starting quarterback job. In 2011, AJ McCarron took over at quarterback and he delivered national titles in his first season and again in 2012. The fourth national title came last year under Coker.

None of those, however, were true freshmen. Hurts, the son of his high school coach, celebrated his 18th birthday around the time he was winning the job as starting quarterback at Alabama.

The Crimson Tide has had some notable quarterbacks over the years, but names like Bart Starr, Joe Namath, and Kenny Stabler are well down the lists of statistical leaders – lists that Hurts is moving toward the top.

In single season statistics, he is already the all-time rushing leader among quarterbacks with his 162 runs for 841 net yards, a 5.2 yards per carry average, with 12 touchdowns. Hurts is second in touchdown responsibility with 34 (22 passing, 12 rushing), one behind Sims in 2014. He is also second to Sims in passing yardage. Hurts has completed 220 of 337 passes for 2,592 yards with 9 interceptions against his 22 touchdowns. He is averaging 199.4 yards per game passing. In total offense, he is again second to Sims. Hurts has 3,433 yards while Sims had 3,837.

Hurts was the first true freshman to start at quarterback in the 25 years of the SEC Championship Game as he led the Tide to a 54-16 win over Florida. He was also the first Alabama quarterback ever to record 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game when he managed the feat vs. Mississippi State. His 447 yards of total offense in that game was third highest in Bama history.

Hurts was a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and was mentioned in late-season Heisman Trophy conversation, but those honors were unrealistic for a true freshman. They may not be unrealistic in future years.


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