What's next for Jalen Hurts at Alabama after advent of Tua Tagovailoa?
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts didn't remove himself from the Tide's postgame celebrations. He didn't keep to himself, pouting that he hadn't led his team to an improbable 26-23 overtime win against Georgia in the College Football Playoff championship.
No, there the sophomore quarterback was, among his teammates, wearing a genuine smile the size of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. His team had won, and the guy who had backed him up all season, Tua Tagovailoa, was the reason.
"He was going to step in and do his thing," Hurts said of Tagovailoa after the game. "We have a lot of guys in the QB room that play really well. And he stepped in and did his thing, did his thing for the team. ... He's built for stuff like this. He had a good impact, and I'm so happy for him, happy for this team."
It was an incomprehensible display of humility, team-first attitude and leadership. And to be sure, Alabama wouldn't be national champion were it not for the Hurts. With Alabama's win Monday, he became 26-2 all time as Alabama's starter. He completed 155 of 256 passes for 2,146 yards, 17 touchdowns and one interception in 2017. He also added 855 rushing yards and eight additional scores. To date, the 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year has accounted for 6,105 total yards, 61 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in two years.
And yet, Alabama coach Nick Saban removed him from the game in the third quarter, the Tide down 13-0 and in need of a spark. Saban didn't see Hurts providing it, at least not through the air.
“One of the first things that I said to Jalen was, ‘We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. You put us in a position by the plays that you made and the way you played all year long, but it just seems to me like, if we’re going to have the best chance to win this game, that we may need to do it in a different way,’” Saban said. "I think he understood that."
Now, with the advent of Tagovailoa, a true freshman who only needed one half to engineer the come-from-behind win on the sport's biggest stage, the question must be asked: What's next for Jalen Hurts?
It's a question that not even Saban can answer yet. The Tide coach — who is known to talk about the upcoming season right after winning a championship — doesn't know what the Tide's quarterback situation will look like next year.
“Look, we have two good quarterbacks on our team, no doubt,” Saban said Tuesday morning at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. “Both of them made a great contribution to the success of the team this year. I think that we haven’t really made a decision about that."
The answer, of course, is already clear. Tagovailoa is too good a player to keep on the bench any longer. The true freshman completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, and that's with Georgia knowing he'd throw the ball. Conversely, in his past six quarters of play in championship games, Hurts completed 16 of 39 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown, rushing for 110 yards and another score.
His athleticism is there. His poise is there. But when it comes to passing, Hurts simply hasn't taken the next step needed in his development. The question, then, is whether Hurts contributes to Alabama in a different role — a la Braxton Miller for Ohio State in 2015 — or, like so many other quarterbacks before him, transfers.
One former Alabama quarterback, Greg McElroy, already has an answer:
A transfer to Texas might not be in the cards for Hurts — not with Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele battling it out — but that doesn't mean it's off the table completely. He still has a redshirt to burn, and could win the starting job of several top programs around the country.
If Hurts is committed to sticking with the Tide, however, the 6-2, 218-pound athlete has several options. His best physical traits are his athleticism and strength, which he consistently put on display in 2016 and '17 when out-running, eluding or running over defenders who attempted to tackle him.
If Hurts does indeed take that route, he could potentially make the move to wide receiver, using his 4.48 40-speed and strength to maneuver around defenders and out-muscle them when fighting for the ball. Of course, his most obvious move would be to convert to running back, becoming part of the Tide's deepest position group. Perhaps he could make a move to H-back, using his strength to block and make catches out of the backfield.
Those probably aren't options that Hurts the competitor wants to hear. But Hurts the leader might consider it. Regardless, it's a question that he and Alabama will have to answer before the start of the 2018 season.
Just chalk it up as a problem that comes with having one too many good quarterbacks.