Alabama Football: Quarterback Duel may decide the Sugar Bowl


Alabama football QB, Jalen Hurts and Clemson QB, Kelly Bryant will never see the field at the same time, but the duel between them can decide the game.

Alabama football and Clemson fans can debate which quarterback is the best. There are good arguments for both. Stats can be cited to claim whether Jalen Hurts or Kelly Bryant is the better player. However, stats do not measure leadership, a honed skill essential to team success.

Last January, Jalen Hurts was a true-freshman, 18-year-old on the biggest stage in college football. He performed admirably in defeat though far from flawlessly. Alabama football was only 2-for-15 on third downs against Clemson. The result was not enough points to support a defense that had to work for 99 plays. It was not all Jalen’s fault but he bore most of the blame.

ICYMI: Is Kelly Bryant who the Tide thinks he is?

Kelly Bryant is no Deshaun Watson

In last season’s national championship game, backup Clemson QB Kelly Bryant watched as Deshaun Watson executed a magnificent performance. Watson’s calm demeanor and pinpoint accuracy on long throws led the Tigers to victory. Watson was a once in a generation college quarterback. Going into the 2017 season, Bryant won the open job but without expectations for being another Deshaun.

On Monday night, Hurts and Bryant will duel. How well or how poorly each performs is perhaps the biggest determinant of the game’s outcome. In a recent ESPN podcast, Kirk Herbstreit offered his summary of the primary key to the game.

"Kelly Bryant’s a great runner, not just quite the passer that Deshaun Watson was. If they come up a little short, he’s gonna miss on some throws. And if they win, he’s going to make those throws."

Kirk predicted a low-scoring game and also said,

"if Clemson wins it’s going to be because of Kelly Bryant, not his feet, his arm, and his receivers are going to make plays in the passing game. That’s the only way they win this game."

Are low-scoring games extinct?

Low-scoring games have become virtually extinct in college football. Both teams scoring in the 20’s will qualify as a low-scoring game. If Kirk is correct, Alabama football should benefit from a clear special teams advantage. Additionally, Jalen Hurts is the type of quarterback coaches want in tight low-scoring games. Jalen’s high Quarterback Rating of 157.1 is No. 13 in the FBS. A major component of that rating is very low turnovers. In 2016, Jalen threw nine interceptions; in 2017, just one.

Nick Saban is a big fan of those stats. Yet, there is more to a game than protecting the football. Points must be scored. Against top defenses in 2017, scoring points has been an issue for the Tide. Clemson is a top defense and Alabama football is not likely to suddenly unveil a Big 12 offense.

Instead, the Tide needs a good performance from Hurts. Make some easy throws plus a few over the top of a compact defense. And don’t turn the ball over. If the Tide can make enough first downs to wear down the Clemson defense, Jalen playing good will be enough.

On the other side, Herbie may be right. Kelly Bryant must play great as a passer. He might do just that. Or the Tide defense, playing 75 or fewer snaps (the Clemson average for the season) will do enough to stymie the Clemson passing offense.

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During an interview on Thursday, Jalen said, “I got what I asked for and it’s put up or shut up time.” He was talking about the rematch and there is no doubt Jalen is determined to not lose to another Clemson QB.