Alabama Football: Why Jalen Hurts will start against Louisville

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Jalen Hurts
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Jalen Hurts /

Alabama football has a good problem at quarterback. It is a problem without the need for a quick fix. Let’s explore why Jalen Hurts will be the early-season starter.

The premise Jalen Hurts will be the Alabama football starter against Louisville does not argue who will be the Tide’s best QB in 2018. Who is the best between Jalen and Tua will be decided on the field. Don’t look for it to be decided in August fall camp.

Despite a marvelous half of football against Georgia, Tua must still prove himself. The proving ground will be SEC games and if he supplants Jalen it is hard to envision it happening before mid-October or later.

Based on past performance, there is legitimate doubt Jalen Hurts has the passing skills set to win a championship – unless he improves those skills. His has time to make key improvements and Dan Enos may be able to lead him to more success.

The Alabama football spring game is rightfully viewed as a setback for Jalen. His performance frustrated fans. Based on an inadvertent open microphone, it frustrated Nick Saban as well. That is not the end of the Jalen Hurts story.

What Jalen does well

In order to evaluate Jalen, there is value in looking at what Alabama football has done well under Nick Saban. SportsSource Analytics tweeted some Crimson Tide team superlatives for the 2008-2017 period. Two stats are pertinent to QB competition.

  • Lowest percentage among FBS teams at turnovers per offensive possession
  • Lowest percentage among FBS teams of pass attempts resulting in an interception

One of Nick Saban’s axioms about football is the value of all possessions ending with a kick. Or stated another way, don’t turn the ball over – ever. Jalen Hurts is very good at not turning the ball over.

The Football Database provides quarterback stats for 2017. In percentage of pass attempts resulting in interceptions, Jalen Hurts was No. 1 in the nation. Jalen had one interception in 255 passing attempts. The percentage of Jalen’s passes that led to interceptions was .004.

Comparing Jalen’s .004 percent to other SEC QBs, last season:

  • Jarrett Stidham – 1.6 percent
  • Jake Fromm – 2.4 percent
  • Drew Lock – 3.1 percent
  • Shea Patterson – 3.5 percent
  • Nick Fitzgerald – 3.8 percent

Tua did not throw enough passes to be rated in the database. Most of his 77 passes were in mop-up duty. He threw two interceptions. There is no indication Tua will be a turnover liability. There is sufficient data to already know Jalen protects the football exceptionally well.

What Jalen does not do exceptionally well

There is more to playing QB than not making turnovers. A QB has to make plays and he has to be able to make explosive plays against top competition. In percentage of passing attempts resulting in touchdowns, Jalen finished at No. 22 in the database. His percentage was 6.7, compared to the No. 1 QB in this stat, Baker Mayfield, at 10.6 percent.

What about leadership?

Leadership cannot be measured by stats. Nick Saban calls it, among other things, winning the team. Make no mistake, winning the team is a guide for the coaches, choosing a starting QB is a decision that will ultimately be made by Saban with input from Mike Locksley and Dan Enos.

It is clear Nick Saban does not think Tua’s offseason comments about transfer thoughts last season aided his goal of becoming the starting QB. In fairness to Tua, his message to a group of middle-schoolers was about persevering, not quitting. What Nick hates is Tua talking about publicly, in any context.

The tweet below is the Saban quote after Tua’s transfer thoughts were shared in Hawaii – followed by an observation for the current Manning Football Camp where Jalen Hurts is a counselor.

Jalen’s Dad was outspoken weeks ago concerning potential transfer situations. Jalen said nothing then and he is saying nothing now. His restraint will earn approval form Saban. Combined with his ability to protect the football, Jalen has the inside track to start against Louisville.

When will Tua face a top defense?

Tua will not just be relegated to mop-up duty. Tua needs to consistently perform better than Jalen against top defenses. All indications are he can, but Alabama football will not really face a top defense until November. Which means, unless Jalen falters, Tua will not get much opportunity to prove himself until later in the 2018 season.

Next: CNS on QBs

The new redshirt rule will allow a transfer after playing in the first four games (or any four games). Jalen could play in the first four, decide he will not be the permanent starter, and sit out the rest of the season. As a graduate transfer, he could then move to another team next season and retain two seasons of eligibility. There is zero indication he would choose that approach.