Prior to Tua Tagovailoa captivating the college football world in the second half of last year’s 26-23 national championship win against Georgia, which he capped off in spectacular fashion by tossing the game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass in overtime and finishing with 166 passing yards, three scoring strikes and game MVP honors, Jalen Hurts was the big man on Alabama’s campus.
In 28 games, Hurts’ record as a starter was 26-2. During his two seasons as the starting quarterback, he won an SEC Offensive Player of the Year award as a true freshman and threw for a combined 4,861 yards and 40 touchdowns to augment his 1,809 rushing yards and 21 additional scores on the ground.
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After leading Alabama to the national championship game as a freshman and sophomore, it looked as if he had the chance to go down as the best and most accomplished quarterback in school history.
But that narrative changed quickly with the emergence of Tagovailoa, who looks to be a generational talent.
It was apparent that as good as Hurts was, Tagovailoa would be the starter for the remainder of his days on campus. Most college quarterbacks with Hurts’ resume would have bolted immediately for a starting gig elsewhere, but he came back to play the role of the ultimate teammate who was willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team.
He performed his duties as the backup signal caller admirably, with no complaints. And when he was needed the most, in the second half of this year’s SEC Championship game, with Tua injured on the sideline and Georgia holding a 28-21 lead, Hurts came off the bench to lead them to a 35-28 victory and a coveted playoff spot.
Down late to Georgia, with Tua Tagovailoa hurt, the Crimson Tide turned to Jalen Hurts, who stepped in and led two clutch touchdown drives en route to winning the SEC Championship.
In his piece in The Players Tribune, where he thanked Alabama for what he experienced there, both as an athlete and an accomplished student who earned his degree in three years, he also discussed his next chapter after deciding to transfer to Oklahoma.
“They tell me how it was like a MOVIE, or that they’ve gotta make you a 30 for 30 now, you know, things along those lines,” Hurts wrote. “But I just tell them back — that 30 for 30? You can bet on it. Only not anytime soon. Not yet. Because this story of mine … it’s still just getting started. There are movie moments still to come.”
And he ain’t lying. Hurts will be walking into the best possible scenario for him in Norman, Oklahoma.
Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley is the undisputed quarterback guru in the college game right now. He’s mentored back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Hurts, given OU’s quarterback-friendly system, would definitely have to be considered a Heisman hopeful in 2019.
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And by playing in a system that’s being fully embraced by the pro game, he’ll not only be able to put up huge numbers in the Big 12, he’ll also be able to prove that he does have the potential to be an NFL quarterback.
For folks still harping on his miserable first-half performance in last year’s title game, an effort that gave rise to the phenomenon of Tagovailoa, Hurts showed marked improvement as a passer this year, increasing his completion percentage to 72.9 and averaging 10.9 yards per passing attempt, both career-highs.
Mayfield hit 70.5 percent and averaged 11.5 yards per attempt under Riley’s tutelage in 2017. Murray connected on 69 percent of his passes while averaging 11.6 yards per attempt this year. And with his ability to impact the game as a runner as well, you better believe that Hurts is in store for a very big final season.
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As he said in The Player’s Tribune, he believes that he’s just getting started, that there are more movie moments to come.
Orchestrating Oklahoma’s aerial assault next year, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see him at the Heisman ceremony alongside his former teammate, Tagovailoa, and Clemson’s golden boy Trevor Lawrence.
But if we’re going for the ultimate Hollywood ending, how about him lined up in the shotgun against the Alabama defense with the national championship on the line?
Now that would be the ultimate bounce-back.