There's no masking it: Jalen Hurts is struggling, and Alabama needs him to bounce back in a big way in National Championship Game
There’s been an ongoing narrative against Jalen Hurts since late last season. His deficiencies as a passer have been heavily criticized, and there are those who believe Alabama can’t win a national championship with him under center.
It’s an absurd criticism considering Hurts has helped Alabama to a 26-2 record and two consecutive national championship appearances since stepping on campus. With that said, Hurts’ lack of production in big games is concerning.
Alabama walked away with a convincing 24-6 win over No. 1 Clemson on Monday night. They did it with Hurts not playing particularly well, however.
Yes, he threw for two touchdowns while completing 66.7 percent of his passes, but those stats don’t tell the entire story.
The bottom line is Hurts missed some key pre-snap reads, he uncharacteristically turned the ball over, he missed a few open receivers and some of his completions weren’t very accurate despite finding their way into the receiver’s hands.
Now, this is the part where Hurts supporters jump to his aid and mention a few key arguments: 1) he’s 26-2 as the starter 2) he’s dynamic with his legs and 3) he doesn’t turn the ball over. All of those arguments typically are true — well, except for Monday night, when he turned the ball over and only accounted for 40 rushing yards. But, for the most part, you’d be correct by pointing to one of those three things.
I, too, am a big fan of Hurts. I’ve been banging the table for this guy for a while, and I’ve defended him after what looked like some pretty rough performances.
However, we have to be able to hold Hurts to the same standard we do everyone else. When Andy Pappanastos misses a 38-yard field goal, he’s criticized. When Tony Brown misses a tackle, he’s criticized. When Brian Daboll only gives his running backs 18 carries on a night when they’re averaging 6.8 yards, he’s criticized.
It’s important to call a spade a spade. Otherwise, we aren’t doing justice by Hurts.
The bottom line is Hurts didn’t play his best game against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
Take the 12-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley for example.
— Sports Degens (@TheSportsDegens) January 2, 2018
While it initially looked like a phenomenal play from Hurts, further review showed us that Ridley was open way earlier. It’s surprising because the junior wide receiver was the primary read and Hurts was looking directly at him, but he inexplicably chose to bail instead.
That wasn’t his only miscue in the game.
Early in the second quarter, Alabama was riding high after freshman running back Najee Harris had ripped off a 22-yard gain to make it 1st-and-10 from the Alabama 40.
Daboll followed it up by dialing up a brilliant flea-flicker. Hurts ended up under throwing Ridley, however, which gave Clemson safety Van Smith a chance to make a clean break on it.
Van Smith gets up celebrating, but he’s lucky Jalen Hurts underthrew that flea-flicker. Calvin Ridley was wide open. 10-3 Bama 2Q
— Jeff Hartsell (@Jeff_fromthePC) January 2, 2018
Now, broadcasters revealed during the game that Hurts had been sick leading up to the game. Maybe that’s the culprit with him being just a split-second off with his decision-making and not as explosive with his running.
There is a disturbing trend brewing, however.
Hurts has played 10 games against a top 20 defense.
- 2016: Florida (No. 5), Clemson (No. 8), LSU (No. 10) and Washington (No. 12)
- 2017: Clemson (No. 4), Mississippi State (No. 10), LSU (No. 12), Auburn (No. 14), Fresno State (No. 15) and Florida State (No. 18)
In those 10 games, Hurts has only averaged 131.4 passing yards and 0.9 touchdowns through the air. He’s also only completed 54.8 percent of his passes.
His ability on the ground certainly helps his case some, but he’s still only averaging 195.7 total yards and 1.5 touchdowns if you included those rushing numbers. He’s only had one 200-yard passing game against a top 20 defense (242 yards against Mississippi State in Week 11) and one game where he threw for more than a touchdown (Clemson on Monday night).
He’s found a way to put the team in position to win during some crucial moments, though — LSU and Clemson last year, Mississippi State this year. But let’s also not forget that Alabama was in that position due to a lack of offensive production earlier in the game.
There’s no denying what Hurts has done since taking control of the offense in the 2016 opener. There’s also no denying that he’s hindered the Tide’s offense at times, too.
The good news is Hurts will have another opportunity to shake off his less-than-stellar performance next Monday night against Georgia at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Bulldogs will be bringing with them the No. 6 defense in the country.
Can he prove the doubters wrong and help bring Alabama its fifth national title under Nick Saban?