The Undoing of Jalen Hurts
By: Larry Burton
The Jalen Hurts era as Alabama’s passing threat has come to an end, long live the new King. He was not overthrown as King, it was an abdication brought on by lack of accomplishment. No one will ever say that Jalen Hurts lacked the heart, the will, or the trust of the team, he just couldn’t do what needed to be done and he, Nick Saban and most of the people who didn’t have their head in the sand all knew it and saw it coming.
When I wrote an article last week about how Alabama defeated Clemson despite Jalen Hurts’ poor play, you wouldn’t believe the amount of hate mail I got. Every time I wrote a negative article about the poor third down completion ratios and the poor passing production I was called a hater or worse. But it was way too clear for someone who has covered football as long as a 60 year old man has that Hurts had major problems in being the quarterback to take Alabama all the way to the top. It was like watching Blake Sims all over again. A good runner, a good leader, but just not an elite passing quarterback who was ever going to win the big game with his arm.
Tons of people confused what Hurts had accomplished in the past with what he failed to do in big game losses in the past.
Saban did not. Saban knew that despite leading the team on a go ahead touchdown in last year’s national championship loss against Clemson, that it was his inability to convert just one of many third down opportunities in the late third and fourth quarter was the reason that Clemson had the time to come back and win the game.
He saw the bad game Hurts had against Auburn and then poor stats against Clemson. He gave Hurts the benefit of the doubt in the championship game by starting him for many reasons, we won’t go into them all and figure those out for yourself, but Saban was not going to give him an unlimited leash.
Here is what happened and the supposed mindset of what transpired in the undoing of Jalen Hurts.
Bama’s first drive: Result – Missed field goal –
o 1st and 10 at ALA 36
(13:32 – 1st) Damien Harris run for 4 yds to the Alab 40
o 2nd and 6 at ALA 40
(13:13 – 1st) Jalen Hurts pass complete to Robert Foster for 8 yards to the Alab 48 for a 1ST down
o 1st and 10 at ALA 48
(12:55 – 1st) Jalen Hurts pass complete to Calvin Ridley for 9 yards to the Geo 43
o 2nd and 1 at UGA 43
(12:29 – 1st) Jalen Hurts run for 12 yards to the Ga. 31 for a 1ST down
o 1st and 10 at UGA 31
(12:02 – 1st) Jalen Hurts pass incomplete
o 2nd and 10 at UGA 31
(11:57 – 1st) Damien Harris run for 2 yards to the Ga. 29
o 3rd and 8 at UGA 29
(11:09 – 1st) Jalen Hurts run for 10 yards to the Ga. 19 for a 1ST down
o 1st and 10 at UGA 19
(10:40 – 1st) Josh Jacobs run for 2 yards to the Ga. 17
o 2nd and 8 at UGA 17
(10:04 – 1st) Jalen Hurts pass incomplete to Calvin Ridley
o 4th and 8 at UGA 17
(9:58 – 1st) ALABAMA Penalty, False Start (Irv Smith Jr.) to the Ga. 22
o 3rd and 8 at UGA 17
(9:58 – 1st) Jalen Hurts pass incomplete
o 4th and 13 at UGA 22
(9:54 – 1st) Andy Pappanastos 40 yd FG MISSED
First drive, Hurts moved the team down the field and it was not Hurts fault that a field goal was missed, but it was Hurts fault that he overthrew a wide open Calvin Ridley in the end zone on a throw that a mediocre throwing QB should have hit. His inability to complete a ball more than 10 yards in the air was something that punched Saban in the stomach. He knew his team had just given up seven sure points and a chance to seize momentum early in the game.
Alabama’s second drive – Result – Punt
(8:56 – 1st) Bo Scarbrough run for 3 yards to the Ala 23
o 2nd and 7 at ALA 23
(8:21 – 1st) Bo Scarbrough run for 4 yards to the Ala 27
o 3rd and 3 at ALA 27
(7:45 – 1st) Jalen Hurts run for a loss of 1 yard to the Ala 26
o 4th and 4 at ALA 26
(6:54 – 1st) JK Scott punt for 53 yards, downed at the Ga. 21
A quick three and out. Georgia was putting all their chips on stopping the run and daring Hurts to beat them one on one which they felt he couldn’t do. Since they stacked the line and didn’t respect the passing game, Saban saw it was going to be tough to get the running game going.
Alabama’s third drive – Result – Punt
- (14:14 – 2nd) Rodrigo Blankenship kickoff for 65 yards for a touchback
o 1st and 10 at ALA 25
(14:08 – 2nd) Damien Harris run for 3 yards to the Ala 28
o 2nd and 7 at ALA 28
(13:32 – 2nd) Jalen Hurts run for 1 yd to the Ala 29
o 3rd and 6 at ALA 29
(13:05 – 2nd) Jalen Hurts pass incomplete to Calvin Ridley
o 4th and 6 at ALA 29
(12:52 – 2nd) JK Scott punt for 56 yards , Mecole Hardman returns for 15 yards to the Ga 30 Ga. Penalty, Illegal Block (10 Yards) to the Ga. 20
With Georgia just having driven the ball down the field, Alabama needed to get something going itself to not only keep up, but regain some momentum and give the defense a little time to rest and try and go over what wasn’t working so good. Instead, Hurts led the team to another very fast three and out. Saban saw once again that Georgia was playing rush defense and Hurts was having trouble converting third downs throwing. His frustration was growing quickly with the offense’s inability to move the chains.
Alabama’s fourth drive – Result – Punt
- (7:33 – 2nd) Rodrigo Blankenship kickoff for 65 yards for a touchback
o 1st and 10 at ALA 25
(7:24 – 2nd) Jalen Hurts run for 31 yards to the Ga. 44 for a 1ST down
o 1st and 10 at UGA 44
(7:10 – 2nd) Josh Jacobs run for 1 yd to the Ga. 43
o 2nd and 9 at UGA 43
(6:45 – 2nd) Jalen Hurts sacked by Davin Bellamy for a loss of 6 yards to the Ga. 49
o 3rd and 15 at UGA 49
(6:00 – 2nd) Josh Jacobs run for 5 yards to the Ga. 44
o 4th and 10 at UGA 44
(5:14 – 2nd) JK Scott punt for 39 yards, punt out-of-bounds at the Ga 5
Once again Georgia drove the field and the defense rose up to force a field goal to keep the score to a manageable 6-0 score. The offense really needed to respond but more importantly give the defense a chance to rest up after two long drives by Georgia. Hurts broke loose for a big run putting the Tide in field position to strike big, but Georgia kept playing to stop the run and a quick four and out was the result.
By now Saban was strongly thinking it was time to make a change, but perhaps Hurts big 31 yard run earned him one more chance to show he could get the team in the end zone.
Alabama’s fifth drive – Result – Punt
o 1st and 10 at ALA 25
(2:10 – 2nd) Jalen Hurts pass complete to Damien Harris for 4 yards to the Ala 29
o 2nd and 6 at ALA 29
(1:50 – 2nd) Damien Harris run for 3 yards to the Ala 32
o 3rd and 3 at ALA 32
(1:26 – 2nd) Jalen Hurts pass incomplete
o 4th and 3 at ALA 32
(1:19 – 2nd) JK Scott punt for 37 yards, fair catch by Mecole Hardman at the Ga 31
This was Hurts undoing. With the score just 6-0, the game was still within hand for Alabama, so when the Tide got the ball with just 2 minutes and 10 seconds left, the job was simple. What Saban wanted was either a drive to a score of some kind, or keeping the ball long enough to run out the half with just a six point deficit and make the necessary adjustments for the second half. The very last thing Saban wanted was a quick three and out.
But that’s just what happened. All Hurts had to do in the first half was earn just one more first down than he did and the clock would have run out in the first half with a small 6-0 Georgia lead to overcome. Since he couldn’t, Georgia took the remaining 79 seconds to score a touchdown and go into the locker room riding a huge high and a 13 to zero lead.
This was exactly what Saban didn’t want to happen. He was clearly upset on the sidelines.
Hurts had failed to either score or run the clock out. He was done before Georgia ever scored that touchdown.
Saban knew that if Georgia was going to continue to sell out to stop the run that the Alabama offense with Hurts at the helm was not going to win the game. Especially with him guiding only quick three and outs or four and outs, missing open receivers and missing seeing open receivers and seeming lost when dropping back with happy feet.
The end of the Jalen Hurts era ended with a good opening drive and a missed chance for a super easy touchdown. It ended with a missed a field goal and then punt, punt, punt, punt.
Hurts ended the half completing less than 50% of his passes (3 for 7) with his longest pass being for just 9 yards. Georgia was right to give no respect to Hurts as a passer.
For one half of the most important game of the year it was apparent that Alabama’s passing game was a complete mess. The fact that Georgia knew this and was using all their resources to contain the running game was making this game draw toward a very predictable outcome. They were simply following Auburn’s game plan on defense.
If you have read my articles for most of the season, you know how much I’ve said that Alabama’s poor third down conversion rate would kill them in an important game. It has been bad all season. In one half of play in this important game, Hurts was responsible for guiding Alabama to only one third down conversion out of five attempts for a 20% completion rate. That was once again abysmal and not untypical for Hurts in big games.
Saban had given Hurts all the time and chances he could afford to give someone who had done so much for him in the past. The decision was made before the team made it to the locker room, Hurts was done and the only reason he would return was if Tua Tagovailoa completely fell on his face after being given the reigns.
Saban and the team itself owe Jalen Hurts a lot. He is an amazing player and competitor and a great teammate. While many may have been shocked to see Hurts urging on and cheerleading for Tua, the people that knew him best were not. Jalen Hurts is one hell of a man. But the team did not owe him a loss to repay him. It was clear that this wasn’t a day that Hurts was at his best and that Tua was the best option to force Georgia to respect the passing game and make some cracks in the rushing game.
It was a gamble that worked.
A lesser coach would have been scared to keep riding the horse that brought him to the big race to begin with. For any coach, it would be a difficult decision but not for Saban. He has seen Tua in practice for a year now and knew he was ready.
Tua Tagavailoa proved to have some of the same qualities that make Jalen Hurts so beloved. He showed ice water in his veins, coming back from an interception to confidently throw again in the next series. He was unafraid to run when he had to and elusive enough to move the chains. Lastly, he proved like Hurts, to be able to be a leader.
There are many more articles out there now to herald what Tua did. This is the article to explain the undoing of Jalen Hurts role as Alabama’s premier passing threat. Jalen Hurts is not finished at Alabama. There are times when his athleticism will be needed and situational times when Hurts will be under center once again to be sure.
This is not an article that is intended to signal the end of Jalen Hurts, just to recount why and to show that Hurts has undone himself as the man that will be relied upon to run the passing game at Alabama. Whether this game signaled the passing of the mantle for the starting job on a permanent basis, only time will tell. That is a battle for another day.
But what is clear and was always known is that Tua was the future of Alabama football. That day may have just arrived faster than many thought and it was the undoing of Hurts in this game that may have signaled it into happening now.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter