Jalen Hurts vs. Jake Fromm: Which QB blinks first?
You probably haven’t heard this comparison yet, but you should’ve — in many ways, Jake Fromm is the 2017 version of 2016 Jalen Hurts.
Think about it. Hurts didn’t begin his Alabama career as the opening game starting quarterback. But in the middle of that season opener, Hurts clearly became the guy. The same is true of Fromm — a former Alabama commit — who replaced the injured Jacob Eason in the first half of his college debut.
From that point on, all Hurts and Fromm did was win. As true freshmen. They won their way to a national championship berth, though many downplayed their accomplishments because of how loaded their backfields were. The fact that both benefited from dominant defenses led some to minimize their roles in their teams’ incredible runs.
Skeptics questioned if they could, if needed, rally their teams with their arms, while 5-star quarterbacks were stuck on the bench. Assuming Eason does indeed transfer from Georgia, Fromm and Hurts will have both forced the departure of at least one 5-star quarterback.
But nobody will be focused on that come Monday. Instead, they’ll be focused on two quarterbacks who have a chance to reach what would be the pinnacle of their young college careers. Win a national championship, and any doubts surrounding their abilities should cease to exist. Really, all doubts should already be gone.
The quarterback battle will inevitably play a huge factor in deciding the CFP’s all-SEC title game.
Which quarterback blinks first?
For all the talk about the limitations of Fromm and Hurts, “blinking” isn’t exactly something they’ve done throughout their careers. Fromm actually has been better with ball security as a true freshman than Hurts was.
Hurts, as you’ll recall, earned SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors with those numbers as a true freshman. Hurts also racked up 36 total touchdowns and over 3,700 total yards for the No. 1 team in the country.
Fromm won’t end up with quite as gaudy offensive numbers (26 total TDs, 2,487 total yards in 14 games), but this is about making mistakes. Or rather, not making mistakes. It’s also about 2017.
To say that Hurts operates exactly the same way with Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as he did under Lane Kiffin in 2016 would be false. That was evident in the Sugar Bowl, despite the fact that Alabama won convincingly. A defensive touchdown certainly helped that margin of victory.
There’s an interesting stat about Hurts that I referenced before the Sugar Bowl that got even more legitimate. Heading into the semifinal game, Alabama averaged 24 points against its five best opponents on the schedule (Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Mississippi State and Texas A&M). That didn’t change after a 24-point showing against Clemson. In those games, Hurts didn’t throw an interception. And he only lost two fumbles.
So what is concerning? Hurts completed only 72 of 128 passes (56 percent) for a mere 146 passing yards per game. That’s just 6.84 yards per attempt. What about the rushing in those six games? Hurts recorded just 3.48 yards per carry. Hurts also averaged 36.5 touches (pass attempts or runs) in those six games, so it’s not like he’s had a lesser workload against better competition. He just wasn’t as efficient.
Compare that to Fromm, who is No. 4 in the FBS in passing efficiency. He was sacked just 16 times in 14 games compared to 23 times in 13 games for Hurts. Against Georgia’s six toughest opponents (Auburn twice, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, South Carolina), Fromm had just one interception while completing 63 percent of his passes for 186 yards per game.
In other words, Fromm has been better than Hurts against better competition. Both the Alabama and Georgia defenses obviously qualify as “better” defenses.
For Fromm, Alabama will be faster and more disciplined than the Oklahoma defense he just lit up for 54 points. It’ll look more like the Auburn unit that was lights out after that first drive back in November at Jordan-Hare. For Hurts, Georgia will be very similar to Clemson on that side of the ball. That’s not exactly an optimistic sign after he averaged just 5 yards per pass attempt and atypically turned the ball over once.
So who blinks first?
As mistake-proof as he’s been throughout 2017, the evidence actually suggests it’ll be Hurts. I know. That sounds crazy considering he has thrown just one interception all season. And on the flip side, it’s a true freshman going against the Alabama defense. The difference is that Hurts has been less accurate and less efficient against those better defenses. Any errant throw can turn into an interception against either of these defenses.
I also trust Jim Chaney’s feel for Fromm’s game more than I do Daboll’s for Hurts’ game. Fromm actually has been better than Hurts at going through his progressions and trusting a variety of receivers to make a play.
Does that mean we should expect Hurts to throw multiple interceptions in a game for the first time since the 2016 Iron Bowl? Of course not. We’re talking about a guy playing in his second national championship, fourth Playoff game and 29th collegiate contest. Some will point to that experience factor as to why Hurts is more likely to rise up than a true freshman.
Obviously the odds suggest that neither Fromm nor Hurts will blink. We’re talking about young quarterbacks who understand ball security in ways that some NFL veterans don’t. That’s why they’re playing in the national championship game.
But I’m just not sold on Hurts’ ability to play mistake-free football against a defense as talented as Georgia’s. The question is if that potential mistake will make the difference in the game.
If it does, Fromm and Hurts’ freshman campaigns will have a glaring difference.