A couple weeks ago, Erik revisited Jalen Hurts’ freshman film, referencing the excellent work of Seth Galina.
But, more importantly were the conclusions that he arrived at: Hurts is a transcendent athlete with modest passing skills; and, the types of errors that Hurts made as a first-year player are usually wrinkled out by the next season...or they never are.
With a full season and an offseason as the #1 quarterback, the hope was that Hurts’ passing skills would take a step forward - it did not have to be a leap, really - but improvement was needed.
There were several areas were Hurts unquestionably improved. He was much more careful with the ball. His interceptions plummeted from 9 to just 1. His fumbles - total, not just lost ones - dropped from 11 to 3.
In addition to limiting his turnovers, Hurts was more efficient passing the ball. In 2016, he averaged 7.3 yards/attempt; in 2017, he averaged 8.2 yards/attempt. His completion did drop a bit, but that stat wasn’t as padded by the jet sweep “passes” as it was in 2016. His passer rating improved from 139.12 to 150.75, which was 20th in the country.
That said, many of his freshman struggles reared their heads again his sophomore year. His diffidence when throwing intermediate or deep balls was often still there. Too often he turned to scramble and run if his first read wasn’t open or if he felt some pressure. Receivers could have separation only to see a pass fall incomplete because the ball didn’t have the touch it needed.
To be sure, that wasn’t always the case. There were times Hurts stepped up into the pocket or put the ball right on the many. That was also the case in 2016, however. The consistency just wasn’t there, and that showed up again in 2017.
1st and 10: Hurts’ first pass of the season is just 1 out of 254 passes, but it’s emblematic of some of his issues. Hurts is in shotgun with Damien Harris (#34) on his right hip. Cam Sims (#17) motions right to left, leaving Calvin Ridley (#3) as the sole wideout at the bottom of the screen, though TE Hale Hentges (#84) runs a little out route. Ridley releases to the outside and immediately gets a step on the cornerback. Hurts sees it and throws it, but it lacks the right touch and sails yards past Ridley.
3rd and 10: Of course, Hurts’ performance wasn’t all bad. Bama has trips left with Ridley as the #3 receiver (#1 is the farthest outside, and you count your way in). Damien Harris stays in and does a nice job picking up the blitz from the nickel back. Hurts steps up into the pocket and drills it to Ridley, who’s wide open past the first down marker.
I still feel this was a solid performance by Hurts, stats notwithstanding. You can look back at my entire breakdown, but I’ll include a couple plays here.
3rd and 11: Bama is deep in its own territory facing another third and long. Hurts is in the gun with Bo Scarbrough (#9) to his left. LSU gets some pressure, and Hurts scampers up into the pocket; but, again, he keeps his eyes downfield instead of tucking the ball and trying to make something happen with his feet. This allows him to fire a dart to Ridley for a 15 yard gain and a first down.
3rd and 9: Alabama hurries to get set up on the ensuing play. Hurts remains in the gun. Cam Sims (#17) and Ridley are on the left. Foster is in tight on the right. Arden Key is going up against right tackle Matt Womack, and he beats Womack pretty quickly. With the pressure incoming, Hurts takes off. He keeps rolling to his right, but he keeps his eyes downfield. Hurts has the defensive end, Christian LaCouture, bearing down on him; and, while on the run, he somehow rifles the ball into a tight window surrounded by four LSU defenders. The pass threads the needle and hits Cam Sims right on the money for a 15 yard gain and the first down.
3rd and 5: Alabama recovered an Auburn fumble a few minutes after Hurts had fumbled it away. They’re facing a third and medium, and they’re in shotgun. Auburn brings five; but, with Damien Harris staying in, it’s blocked pretty well. There’s some pressure from the right, and Hurts has to step up. Instead of just doing that and continuing to scan for an open receiver, Hurts went into scramble mode. He runs to the right and eventually throws it away.
3rd and 9: Trevon Diggs gave the offense amazing field position by returning the kickoff to the Auburn 39 yard line. Bama moves inside the red zone and gets a 3rd and 4 at the 12 yard line. An inexplicable and inexcusable delay of game penalty on Hurts kills this third and manageable, however.
Hurts lines up in the gun with Josh Jacobs (#8) to his left and Calvin Ridley (#3) a couple yards behind him. Ridley motions out of the backfield and lines up on the right. Hurts takes the snap and drops back, and he faces immediate pressure. Matt Womack (77) has been beaten by Jeff Holland. Hurts steps forward, eluding Holland; and now he’s in scramble mode. He has Hentges open on a crossing route going to the left, but his eyes are on a defensive lineman who’s about to get by Ross Pierschbacher (#71). Hurts then takes off to his right. He sees he can’t make it running and makes one of the worst decisions I’ve seen him make this season. While running to his right, Hurts hops and lofts a pass back across his body into double coverage. Amazingly, it’s not picked off; and, amazingly, Hentges is in position to almost make the catch. It’s ruled a touchdown but is correctly overturned, and Bama has to settle for a field goal. J.K. Scott, unfortunately, botches the snap; and the Tide come away with zero points.
The national championship against Georgia could be Hurts’ last start in an Alabama uniform, and it obviously was not one he’ll have fond memories of. Hurts went just 3-8 for 21 yards before being yanked for Tua Tagovailoa. He did have 6 carries for 47 yards (31 of which came on ; but the performance resulted in 0 points. One of the lowlights, of course, was this play.
Hurts had Calvin Ridley one-on-one with the corner initially, and it turned into one-on-none when the defender slipped and fell. He overthrew Ridley, however; and the drive ends a few plays later on a missed field goal.
Hurts’ tendency to tuck the ball and run when not needing to was also on display.
1st and 10: Georgia only rushes four, so Alabama has the numbers advantage here. Hurts completes his three step drop and scans the field, finding nothing. He feels pressure that isn’t there and takes off to his right, limiting his options. Hurts avoids the defensive end, but he’s not longer looking for any of his targets and just has to throw it out of bounds.
Hurts undeniably made plays with his legs; but, again, the decision to tuck and run took away the possibility of a bigger play through the air.
3rd and 10: Alabama has been moving the ball, but the offense is facing a third and long. Hurts is in shotgun with Damien Harris to his right. Georgia again just rushes four while Alabama keeps Harris, making six blockers. Lorenzo Carter, blocked solely by Harris, pressures Hurts, who avoids the rush and then looks to run. Had he kept his eyes downfield, Hurts may have seen a wide open Ridley on a crossing route. Hurts picked up the first, but it could have been more.
After the putrid first half, Tua Tagovailoa trotted out there; and the rest is history. Unfortunately for everyone, Tagovailoa missed almost the entirety of spring practice with a hand injury; so we did not have the true QB competition we were all looking forward to. That’ll have to wait until the fall.
Hurts is on his third offensive coordinator - not counting the one game tenure of Steve Sarkisian - going into his third season; and he won’t have been 20 for a month by the time the 2018 season starts. Having a dedicated QB coach in Dan Enos should help him; but the question is how much. Will it be enough to fix the issues that have plagued Hurts since the beginning?
We’ll look at his performance at A-Day in my next piece.