TUSCALOOSA, ALA. – Watching Alabama’s Jalen Hurts put up what for him was a very average performance against Texas A&M Saturday, never once was there the urge to diminish his day with the phrase, “not bad for a freshman.”
Back in Athens, they have marked every step of another noted true freshman quarterback with the disclaimer: “Relax and remember, there are going to be growing pains.”
But at Alabama, such pains are not acknowledged. They are not allowed. The first true freshman to start at quarterback during Nick Saban’s decade at Alabama was commanded to do exactly what he is doing – trigger an undefeated and No. 1-ranked team. Expectations do not get tempered in these parts.
That an 18-year-old can throw for 164 yards and two touchdowns and run for 93 yards and another score against the 6th-ranked Aggies and it be deemed merely very average tells you a little about what Hurts is up to at ‘Bama. There have been no wild swings in output that you might expect from an inexperienced quarterback. His first collegiate snap was a fumble on a botched read-option play, as if to flush it from his system. He recovered nicely (Alabama went on to beat USC 52-6). Without undo drama or angst, he just wins. As if he has always been doing that beneath the brightest and hottest of lamps.
At both Georgia and Alabama, we are unfamiliar with the sound of the starting quarterbacks’ voices. Neither school deems a freshman capable of uttering a few banal quotes for the media, no matter how much he has otherwise been thrust into the public view. (You know, it’s amazing how much this Saban fellow mimics Kirby Smart).
As for comparing their work on the field, that is tricky business. Like trying to compare the seedlings of very different trees. Distinct species of quarterback are Georgia’s Jacob Eason (classicus dropbackis) and Hurts (elephas dualthreatus).
Hurts is asked to run a different system and is surrounded by a different level of talent. He has the benefit of a team that scores almost as much on defense as it does on offense. He also labors under the pressure that anything less than a national championship constitutes abject failure.
There, all the necessary counterbalances have been employed. Now a look at the numbers:
Passing Efficiency Rating – Hurts 140.1, Eason 118.96.
Averaging Passing Yards Per Game – Hurts 193.6, Eason 195.1.
Touchdown/Interception Ratio – Hurts 11/5, Eason 9/5 (Georgia has played one less game than Alabama).
Rushing Yards – Hurts 521, Eason minus-34.
Passing Touchdowns – Hurts 11, Eason 9.
Rushing Touchdowns – Hurts 9, Eason 1.
Beyond numbers, Hurts has accomplished seemingly the impossible – earning Saban’s trust to put a callow quarterback in charge of his offense. He is attempting to become the first true freshman quarterback to lead a team to a national championship since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985. He is, as was elaborated in a recent CBS Sports story, redefining the potential and possibilities of the true freshman quarterback.
And how eagerly we look forward to that day that Hurts and Eason – as all grown up as college quarterbacks – may put their greatly contrasting styles to use against each other in a game of great importance.