Alabama needs QB Jalen Hurts to show more than ‘the option’

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: Quarterback Jalen Hurts
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: Quarterback Jalen Hurts /

It’s time to find out what Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts has learned from his freshman year. ‘The option’ cannot be his only option.

Yes, Alabama fans, you’ve read it and heard about it a million times: Jalen Hurts needs to throw the football more if the Crimson Tide expect to win. However, there is more to that statement than just criticism for the second-year quarterback, who could have been described last year as either cool under pressure or a deer in the headlights when it came to passing the ball.

The national championship game said it all, according to Rainer Sabin of it “captured the essence of what Hurts was his freshman year — a reluctant passer and a willing escape artist. That’s expected to change this season with the Tide’s newest coordinator, Brian Daboll, calling the shots.” Instead of a 35-31 loss to Clemson, a more balanced attack could help control the ball longer while putting up even more touchdowns.

Alabama football quarterback, Jalen Hurts

Sabin also points out that “Hurts was credited with 191 carries — 20 of which counted as sacks. Some of his rush attempts were designed zone-read plays while others were improvisational runs.” Often to the trained and untrained eye, Hurts would quickly look down field but decide to tuck the ball and run when a bit of pressure was on him, even when the play was a designed pass.

Does that translate to schemes confusing the young man or something deeper?

Let’s get one thing straight: it has to be hard for a freshman to want to take chances throwing the ball into coverage when he is still learning the system. Add the fact that two older quarterbacks were tested and pulled out of the first game of last season for turning the ball over. In Hurts’ mind, he must have thought that his ball management was key to his future starts. Why would he risk that and allow the other quarterbacks to move in front of him again?

Sounds selfish? How about the fact that the Alabama offensive line was absolutely brutal in protecting Hurts when he went back to pass?

The team was 44th in the country in sacks allowed, according to Sports Illustrated. The famous publication believes that sophomore offensive lineman Jonah Williams moving from the right to the left side of the line and his “ability to blow open holes will help the Tide’s deep stable of backs—Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs—and make the read-option decisions easier for quarterback Jalen Hurts.”

The fact that Alabama believes Hurts’ blind side needs more protection says a great deal. When Hurts feels the pressure, he runs for as many yards as he can get so that Alabama can live for the next play. Not a horrible idea, especially when the alternative was being sacked a ridiculous amount last season; however, this season is missing O.J. Howard, the excellent tight end who was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in this year’s NFL draft. Howard’s velcro-like hands also blocked really well up field, allowing Hurts to make some big runs. Howard was such a big, strong target that he could either block or release and present himself if Hurts wanted to get rid of the ball quickly on a roll-out.

Alabama may have done well to replace Howard as best as they could, but Hurts may not have that same trust in anyone else just yet.

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That trust is the whole point to Hurts wanting to throw. He may not have trusted his eyes against college-level defensive schemes, he may not have trusted his offensive line to protect him, and he may only have started to trust his big target before he left for greener pastures. All of this lack of trust needs to change for Hurts to change anything about himself. If that trust can bond him to his teammates, his skills may trust his mind to take a chance at putting the ball into the air for more than just sure catches.

Alabama needs that to happen, because being ranked 16th in the country in pass completions means very little when the team was also 49th in yards per pass attempt.