Jalen Hurts struggled in the final few games of the season; there’s no denying that. He completed less than 50% of his passes in the last three games, including going a dreadful 13-31 for 131 yards against Clemson in the national championship.
Naturally, this concerned people, especially since he appeared to regress as a passer after the Mississippi State game. The downfield and even intermediate passing game was largely nonexistent.
That’s why I was so pleased when I saw his performance in the A-Day game, and I voted him as my MVP. Yes, it’s just a spring game; and the defense wasn’t blitzing or giving him exotic looks for the majority of it. And he still struggled with his touch and looked tentative at times. However, he did look much more confident slinging the ball downfield; and I saw plenty of pretty intermediate and deep passes. Hurts hit his safety valve several times instead of trying to make something happen with his legs. Though, he made sure to remind everyone how deadly he can be running the ball on a couple plays.
1st and 10: The Crimson offense lines up in the shotgun with its familiar 11 personnel. There are two receivers left - Cam Sims and Robert Foster - and one right - Calvin Ridley. Josh Jacobs is on Hurts’ left hip. Sims, the slot receiver, runs a simple out route. Hurts drops three steps and begins passing, right as Sims is breaking to his left. It’s nothing fancy, just a routine throw to the far side; but it’s executed well and is a good opener for Hurts.
2nd and 7: The offense gets set quickly, and the formation is flipped. Anthony Averett was in press coverage on Ridley on the left, but he started bailing deep. Ridley’s running a little five yard hitch route, so Hurts knows he’ll have a nice cushion. His throw’s on the money, and Ronnie Harrison makes a nice tackle to stop Ridley short of the first.
2nd and 4: The Crimson offense is in the same formation as the first play above. It’s a playaction to Jacobs then Hurts drops and looks to Ridley on the fly route. Christian Miller has Jonah Williams beat badly, so Hurts doesn’t have much time. And he doesn’t need it. Harrison has come down to the line expecting run; and CB Trevon Diggs, who was matched up against Ridley, gets caught peeking into the backfield too long. By the time he turns and runs, Ridley is almost dead even with him and already sprinting. Ridley has a couple steps on Diggs; and Hurts, throwing it almost 45 yards through the air with a defender bearing down on him, drops it in perfectly. Minkah Fitzpatrick has made it over from the other safety spot and drags Ridley down by his facemask. While the offense is now on the two yard, a false start bumps them back and changes the playcalling.
2nd and goal: The Crimson’s in shotgun again. Miller Forristall is the tight end on the left. Forristall runs a shallow crossing route before slanting it up towards the goal line. The linebacker is in tight coverage, but there’s a makeable throw. The corner and safety are both occupied with Foster in the endzone; so there’s open space, too. Forristall just isn’t on the same page as Hurts, though; and he’s not expecting the pass. Diggs happens to be in great position in the endzone and picks it off, returning it just past the 20 yard line. Hurts put it right where he would’ve needed to; it’s just that Forristall wasn’t ready. It’s an interception, but I put more of this on Forristall than Hurts. He knew he had open area to throw it and put it exactly where Forristall could’ve made a touchdown catch.
2nd and 5: The Crimson offense has trips left with Robert Foster by his lonesome on the right. The defense is in Cover One; and, with the safety shaded over to the left, Trevon Diggs is by himself. Foster releases to the outside, and Diggs doesn’t jam him. This proves to be his undoing. With a clean release, Foster blows past Diggs; and that’s all she wrote. Hurts has a wide open target, but it’s not just pitch and catch. Christian Miller beats Matt Womack with ease outside, and Da’Ron Payne manhandles Dallas Warmack inside. With two defenders closing in, Hurts launches the pass and hits Foster in stride. Ronnie Harrison can’t make it over, and Diggs tries but fails to trip up Foster. The Crimson team is on the board.
1st and 10: With less than a minute left in the half, the Crimson offense is rolling with four wideouts. Hurts gets the snap and takes a short drop. He sees Ridley covered and moves on to his next target. He’s also covered, so Hurts makes the smart play and just checks it down to Josh Jacobs instead of forcing something or taking off with his feet.
1st and 10: Hurts has four wideouts again, including a flexed Miller Forristall on the right. Forristall runs a post route, and Hurts sees he’s going to have it. He shows patience and waits a beat before rifling it to the exact spot he knows Forristall will soon be. Hurts throws him open instead of waiting for him to get open.
Forristall catches it going to the ground and takes a hard hit from Harrison - a hit I don’t think Harrison should have gone for. He does make the catch, but he has to be helped off the field and is done for the day. It’s a great play by Hurts, though, and is one of my favorites of his from the game.
1st and 10: I can’t show all good plays, though. The defense has started blitzing more, and Tony Brown comes from his star position. Hurts correctly identifies the blitz and targets the slot receiver, Cam Sims. His throw is off-the-mark, however; and the pass falls incomplete. Good read, bad throw.
2nd and 10: Hurts is trying to lead the Crimson offense at least into field goal range in the final minute of the game, and they’re at midfield. The four wide outs run deep or intermediate routes while Josh Jacobs spills out of the backfield to provide a checkdown option. The right side of the offensive line is sieve, with Lester Cotton and Matt Womack both getting beat. With two defenders coming from his right and Da’Ron Payne threatening to his left, Hurts stands tall. Rather than take off running, he locates Jacobs and dumps it off. Jacobs makes Anfernee Jennings miss and scoots down for a 20+ yard gain.
1st and 10: Hurts gets the offense lined up quickly and gets the play off. The defense brings the house, rushing seven. Jacobs provides a crucial block on Ronnie Harrison, and Hurts scoots around to the now wide open left side. He tucks it and hits the boost running out of bounds at the 14 yard line, giving J.K. Scott a much easier field goal attempt.