Our guest writer Jamie Garwood takes an inside look at how the perennial model of consistency and National Championship winning Alabama and Hall of Fame head coach, Nick Saban have been forced to forego long-held principles for continued success in the fierce environment of the SEC.
When you attempt to picture Alabama quarterbacks under the illustrious tenure of Nick Saban’s you think of pocket passers – men who are leaders on and off the field, those 6′ 4″ tall athletes who stand tall in the pocket, perform with pin-point accuracy and poise under pressure.
Yet there has been a gradual change in identity of the man under center in Tuscaloosa. Whilst there have been dual-threat quarterbacks surrounding the ‘Tide from Cam Newton in the plains to Jameis Winston out east to Johnny Manziel in College Station; Nick Saban has been reluctant to take that leap due to the wealth of talent at running back over the years from Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy.
Starting with Greg McElroy who eventually played for the New York Jets, leading the Crimson Tide to the National Championship in 2009. Whilst not setting the numbers alight, he still threw for 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns, followed a year later by 2,987 yards and 20 scores, prompting his NFL Draft inclusion.
With McElroy departed to the professional ranks, AJ McCarron inherited the mantle and in some style, leading the Crimson Tide to three national titles in four years, becoming the first and last to secure back to back titles in the BCS era. The now Cincinnati Bengal oversaw an increase in total yards thrown; 2011, 2,634 yards; 2012, 2,933 yards; 2013, 3,063 yards, in so doing eclipsing McElroy’s school passing record. His passing percentage was 66.8% which is par for a solid career with just 15 total interceptions over his career. McCarron sits behind Andy Dalton as the backup for the Cincinnati Bengals, awaiting his opportunity with immense patience.
Blake Sims had a veritable explosion in his lone starting season as quarterback, 3,487 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions coupled with 350 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground, underlying his dual threat ability. Sims was a marker for change in thinking for the long time head coach whose hand was being forced into adoptiong the very elements of play design in his offence he had been so vehemently against.
Via Florida transfer Jake Coker, a one-year starter who arrived on campus with much fanfare, was to bring Saban yet another national crown in 2015 before we land at current QB Jalen Hurts, who won out a fierce three-way tussle for the job, leading to the transfer of two competitors away from the program.
The starting quarterback once again, having reestablished himself in the spring on the back of what was to be the first true freshman to start for Alabama in 32 years, throwing for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns, completing a below average 62.8% percent of his throws. However, he epitomised a revolution in Saban’s doctrine, rushing for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago, giving him 36 total touchdowns. Hurts became the first quarterback coached by Saban to pass for 300 yards and rush for another 100 in the same game.
Come to this season and following a cagey affair versus Florida State (10-18, 96 yards, 55.6% completion and 55 yards rushing) where a win was more important than the performance, Hurts returned for the home opener versus Fresno State and threw for 14-18, 128 yards, 77.8%, 1 TD with 154 rushing yards on 10 carries and a further two touchdowns in the straightforward 41-10 victory.
The surprising factor of the victory was that Alabama out rushed their passing offense, running for 305 yards via a stable of six different carriers – freshman Najee Harris (13 carries, 70 yards), Bo Scarbrough (6 carries, 36 yards) and only 192 passing yards with the most for one receiver being Calvin Ridley reeling in 45 yards from a paltry five receptions.
For sceptics, this is Saban falling in line with the rest of the league rather than devising something original, however, perhaps this is Saban utilising the talent he has in his armoury correctly. In Hurts, he has a passer of accuracy who can execute passes to where it needs to go, this allows Saban the chance to dictate play from the off. By virtue of having Hurts keep hold of the ball when rushing you negate the threat of key turnovers and can effectively keep a stellar defense (better than Fresno State obviously) out of the game.
From worries over his pocket passing to utilising his speed and composure under pressure, Hurts will have bigger tests, but it’s a step in the right direction for this latest chapter in the Alabama quarterback tree. The sophomore has much room for development ahead and much like those before him, is a complimentary piece to anchor and orchestrate the sheer level of talent both on the field and on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa. An embarrassment of riches that requires a steady hand to steer the Crimson Tide, to what they see as another window for yet another National Championship crown, to overcome the disappointment left on the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
⇒ Jamie Garwood is the lead writer for the excellent Next To The Aisle, covering film, books and sports. http://nexttotheaisle.blogspot.com
⇒ We are proudly sponsored by Soda Folk – Finest Colorado Sodas for the big game