Like it or not, the kid from Channelview, Texas, is not just here to stay: he is here to win.
Since Nick Saban has arrived in Tuscaloosa, he has only ever played quarterbacks that he felt could win – or at least not lose – ball games. Whether that means managing the game or leading the team, the key to quarterbacking for him has always been about poise.
That still has not, and will not, change. At least not as long as Saban is still king of Title-Town.
When Blake Barnett dropped back to receive the first offensive snap of the season against the Trojans of USC, Saban saw the exact opposite of what he wanted.
Barnett looked ‘nervous’ to him – shaken, even. And while Barnett will almost surely go on to be a great quarterback for the Arizona State Sun Devils, he was just never the right fit for Nick Saban’s offense.
He transferred when times got tough, called himself B-Squared (B² on Twitter) around campus, and according to classmates ‘acted like he knew he was the next best thing’.
Besides poise, one of the most important things that makes up a Nick Saban quarterback is humility. The ability to stay humble in the brightest of spotlights keeps guys grounded, regardless of whether they are attempting 40 passes per game, or 20.
When Jalen Hurts entered that ball game, the nation let out a collective gasp. It has been well-documented since that no other true-freshman had ever played at quarterback under Nick Saban.
Well, Hurts fumbled on his first play of his collegiate career. And failed to recover it as the cherry-on-top.
Yet, he came back out again. And again. And again. And again.
And he won. A lot. And never really looked rattled doing so.
He came back out a few drives later and threw a 39-yard bomb to ArDarius Stewart in the back of the end zone. Then threw another 55-yard touchdown to Stewart. Then added two more scores on the ground. All of a sudden, the true-freshman was responsible for 24 of the team’s points.
And he didn’t stop there.
After taking a likely-illegal hit against Ole Miss and losing possession of the ball, his team was down 24 -3 in Oxford. So what did the 18-year-old do then? He put the nation’s number-one team on his back and led them down the field for a crowd-quieting touchdown.
With help from the defense and special teams, the Tide rallied to take back control like a rolling storm. By the early portion of the third quarter, the game was tied, and they never looked back. Hurts totaled 158 passing yards and a team-high 146 rushing yards.
They went on to outscore the next five opponents – including the likes of Tennessee and Texas A&M – by a total of 153 points.
Then it happened. A daunted night game in Death Valley against the Fighting Tigers and arguably the loudest and most raucous crowd in the country.
Hurts threw a dud on the first drive that was then picked off by Jamal Adams.
Hurts then failed to lead the team down the field through the rest of the first three quarters.
Nick Saban and Scott Cochran don’t call the off-season workout regimen “fourth-quarter conditioning” for nothing.
When it mattered the most, game tied 0-0, Hurts does the unthinkable on a 3rd-and-long from the 21-yard-line.
He jukes past the first defender, hops over another, and breaks the plane to put points on the board and ultimately a win on Bama’s schedule.
He followed up those heroics by going off for 347 passing yards and 4 touchdowns, adding another 100 yards and a score on the ground, in a 51-3 blowout against Mississippi State.
Then he won some more, including a victory in the storied Iron Bowl and an SEC Championship title.
Then, the worst statistical game of his collegiate career came in a win over Washington in the College Football Playoff Semifinals. He didn’t throw a pick and he didn’t fumble the ball. In fact, he only threw the ball a mind-numbing 14 times through four quarters. However, he completed only seven of those for just 57 passing yards on the day, and zero touchdowns.
What may have been one of the worst games in offensive play-calling history, made a whole lot of sense not long after when Lane Kiffin announced he would not be with the team in the championship game. The offensive coordinator was coaching with one foot out the door already, maybe even two.
Just as most assumed, the offense struggled a week and a half later in the title game; especially after losing newly found bell-cow, Bo Scarbrough, to injury. Scarbrough had been the go-to guy on offense as he gutted the Tigers’ defense for 93 yards and two scores prior to going down late in the third quarter.
But Hurts wasn’t done yet. It was winning time.
Not long after the injury to Bo, he launched a beautiful 68-yard touchdown bomb to O.J. Howard. A familiar sight to all involved.
Later in the game, finding his team down four with just over two minutes remaining, Hurts knew it was time to make a play.
And he delivered it.
Officially it was a 30-yard scamper for six. Jalen actually took the snap on the 35-yard-line and – after a five-step drop-back – ended up about ten yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Still, he found a way to avoid the first defender, regain his balance, burst past the second level defenders, side-step through the safeties and shake off a diving defensive back, to put the Tide back up three with two minutes left.
Ultimately, the defense was too gassed to earn one last stop and the Tide lost a national championship game for the first time in Nick Saban’s tenure.
Immediately, people needed someone to point their fingers at and Lane Kiffin was no longer there to go to. So, Jalen took the flack. People said he couldn’t do this, or couldn’t do that. They said he was a running back at quarterback. They said he was no more than a flash in the pan.
They forgot what makes him one of the best quarterbacks in Alabama Football history: he is a winner. A proven winner, willing to give his all to his team no matter the stage.
Forget both quarterbacks throwing for over 300 yards in the 2017 A-Day game, Jalen’s team won. Tua will get a chance to write his own legacy soon enough, but right now the throne belongs to the 18-year-old kid with the poise of a 39-year-old Tom Brady.
Love him or hate him, Jalen Hurts is a winner. He won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.