Alabama football: Now scanning the field as he scrambles, Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts adds new dimension
TUSCALOOSA – The first-half clock ticked inside seven minutes. Alabama held a 24-point lead against Ole Miss but, here, faced third-and-19 from the Rebels 23. Jalen Hurts stomped his feet, clapped his hands and called for the football.
Defensive end Victor Evans swatted aside Crimson Tide left tackle Jonah Williams, flushing Hurts from the pocket. Head up and eyes fixed downfield, Hurts rolled to his left, approaching the line of scrimmage with the tantalizing option to tuck and run.
“Any time Jalen starts to scramble, he’s always got an option to run, which he’s great at,” tight end Hale Hentges said. “But seeing him kind of looking downfield and realizing that ‘OK these receivers are working to get open and a lot of times the defenders lose track of the receivers,’ it’s really helped his game.”
This time it was Henry Ruggs III who appeared in the end zone. One step before crossing the line of scrimmage, Hurts rifled a throw to his open freshman receiver. Ruggs dropped it, though he absorbed a hit officials flagged for targeting but later overturned on review.
“He scrambled, kept his eyes downfield, found an open receiver and made a good throw,” Tide coach Nick Saban said Monday. “I think that can be a tremendous complement to his running ability and his scrambling ability.”
During an offseason fixated upon improving Hurts — and the entire Tide offense — as a downfield passing threat, this was a preeminent focus, according to Saban. Hurts was coy discussing specifics of his lessons, only reiterating the repetitive nature of his practice habits.
“Just kind of emphasizing it in practice,” Hurts said of running with his head up. “I think everything comes with repetition. If you rep it some kind of way, I think at the end of the day you’ll probably improve at it. So that type of thing comes from that.”
Against Ole Miss, Hurts’ enhancement was evident.
On Alabama’s first second-half series — the last of Hurts’ evening. Facing third-and-8 on the cusp of field goal range, Hurts was forced from the pocket two seconds after receiving the snap. He rolled to his right, scanned the field, took three steps and fired to Calvin Ridley.
Ridley leapt and caught the ball but was pushed out of bounds while in the air.
“(Hurts) has been a good decision-maker and played very well,” Saban said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “Kept his eyes downfield and has made some nice plays in the passing game.”
Hurts’ legs are a gift and his athleticism in the open field a terror to opposing defenses tasked with stopping the sophomore quarterback who averages a Southeastern Conference-leading 8.39 yards per play.
Scanning the field as he scrambles is the next step in Hurts’ evolution under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Hurts’ inordinate poise pairs with an advanced football acumen, allowing coaches to feel comfortable in whatever decision he makes.
But this, the slightest of changes — just keeping his head up — provides the Tide’s offense with even more variation.
“It’s really helped his game out even more because now have to people worry about him throwing it where, in the beginning, they might have only been worried about him running,” Hentges said. “That’s just showing how he’s developing into a really dynamic player and he’s taking his game to a new level.”