Jalen Hurts has left Alabama to join Lincoln Riley in Oklahoma, the coach who has produced the last two Heisman Trophy winners and first overall draft picks.
When Jalen Hurts broke onto the scene as a true freshman in Alabama’s 2016 smack down over USC, I was among the skeptics that didn’t truly believe that Jalen Hurts could be the next big thing in college football. I saw potential, yes, but I also saw a lot of work that needed to be done and a coaching staff who historically didn’t build young, potential quarterbacks into NFL caliber players.
Back then, Jalen was a raw, athletic quarterback. We have seen many great mobile quarterbacks in college football over the last two decades. Each one seems to transform the game into something more exciting and more explosive. We have also seen most of these skillset type quarterbacks fail at the next level. That being said, I didn’t expect to find myself talking about Jalen Hurts as a potential NFL Draft pick.
One of my closest friends and my football mentor, we will just refer to him as Patman, told me back in 2016 that Jalen was going to be great. It was directly after the USC game, which he had watched together from different places. I laughed at him. “Wait until people get tape on him,” I said. I thought for certain that Patman was over reacting to the first game of the season.
Jalen ended up leading the Crimson Tide to the national championship game, and took a close loss to Clemson. Hurts was incredible in not only the game, but all throughout the season, keeping Alabama within it every step of the way.
The rise of Tua
The 2017 Alabama Spring Game I watched very closely, reviewing the tape several times. I had a reason to. I wanted to see how well Jalen had progressed through the off-season. Instead, I saw an electric playmaker in this new freshman quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. Patman watched the tape too, and we talked about the game extensively.
I was convinced that the Alabama offense would be more dynamic and explosive than ever if Tua was at the helm. He impressed me with his decision making, arm talent and superstar potential oosing from his every move.
Patman disagreed with me. He thought Hurts was the man and while the freshman looked good, he played against the second team and wouldnt perform that well throughout a season.
All season long, I kept talking about it. Tua was the better quarterback and he was sitting on the bench. It was driving me insane to watch the Alabama offense struggle with Hurts, as he would miss reads, and because of his lack of ability to move through progressions, he was missing a lot of open receivers.
Then, the national championship game against Georgia happened. Tua became a national star overnight, while Jalen, who had compiled a 25-2 record as a starter, disapeared from the national spotlight.
Jalen Hurts doesn’t give up
I felt bad for him. He had gone from star quarterback to back-up who had prevented the rise of the better player. I knew that I had agreed with that narrative, I had all season long, but still, the humiliation of being the reason why your team struggled in the biggest game of the year had to sting.
Jalen Hurts could have transfered out. He could have quit football entirely. He didn’t. Hurts stuck around at Alabama for reasons that no one understood.
Alabama hired a quarterbacks coach, and Patman pointed that out to me. “Watch,” he told me, “both Alabama quarterbacks are going to have a huge season.”
They did. Tua was the frontrunner for the Heisman most of the season, while Jalen played mop-up duty, showing signifigant improvement as a passer in those games regardless.
Then, in the SEC championship game, Tua went down with an injury. Down 28-14 in the 4th quarter, Jalen engineered a huge comeback that allowed the Crimson Tide to win yet another SEC championship game. He was back on the national spotlight not only for his accomplishment, but for his persistence and resiliency.
What Jalen has shown me so far
Although Jalen played a lot of “garbage time,” last season, Jalen’s stats were off the charts last season. He completed 73% of his pass attempts, compiling a 196.7 efficiency rating and averaged 4.6 yards per run (his lowest season average in his collegiate career).
Jalen’s tape clearly proved he was improved as a passer, showing major strides in his mechanics and decision making. He was clearly becoming a much stronger passer and this was a huge part to his success against Georgia.
In the Oklahoma Spring game tape this year, Jalen is reading through his progressions, and he’s not trying to run. He looks much more comfortable in the pocket and moving out of the pocket still looking to throw. The first play, he went through all of his progressions while moving right and then came back the other way and made a throw on his fifth read. I was very impressed.
Do we have to talk about Lincoln Riley?
Lincoln Riley has proven himself to be one of the elite coaches in college football. He’s worked with two different quarterbacks who play two different styles, and both of them have won the Heisman Trophy. He is laid back, relaxed, but a solid teacher of the game.
Jalen Hurts is a laid back personality as well. His passion for the game is never doubted, but his ability to stay calm in crazy circumstances is extremely impressive.
Both personalities should mesh together very well. Lincolns teaching style with Hurts learning style are almost made for each other. With the way that Lincoln got the best out of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, who is to say that the best will not come out of Jalen Hurts?
In Oklahoma, Jalen has nowhere to go but up. The coach that can bring the best out of him, an offense built to score more points in the Big 12 Conference, and a resiliency that proved the nation that he is a strong individual, I have all the faith in Hurts and seeing him win the Heisman trophy in 2019.