TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If you talk to people who know Jalen Hurts a little better than most, you find out that he isn't much for the limelight. Attention doesn't thrill him, and he'd rather not have his name mentioned as much as it is.
Well, sorry about your luck, Jalen, but your name is only going to ring louder and be said more as college football nears the home stretch. And really, it's your own fault. Per Alabama policy, freshmen aren't allowed to speak to the media during the regular season, so it's your own God-given talent that has most of the nation gushing about you ad nauseam.
Alabama's true freshman quarterback has become an instant sensation in the SEC, months removed from a high school prom he never went to. Now, it's time to rev that hype machine up a tad and put Hurts in his rightful place -- the Heisman Trophy conversation.
No, Hurts isn't the best player in the nation. He isn't even the best player in his conference or the best player on his own team. But the Heisman Trophy isn't always reserved for the best player in the country, either. You want an exciting, MVP-type player who is transforming a team and leading it through arguably the toughest conference without a blemish on his record? Well, then Jalen Hurts is your man -- I mean, kid.
You like a little razzle-dazzle with your smash-mouth football? Look no further than Hurts, who in less than a season has helped an offensive revolution at Alabama. Think about this for a minute: Hurts, who is the first ever true freshman to start at quarterback for Nick Saban, is running the zone-read to near perfect execution. Historically, Alabama and Saban have mostly been about between-the-tackles, roughneck football. Now, Saban has this kid running and cutting about in and out of his backfield in more of a spread offense.
The one thing Saban couldn't stand a few years ago and openly protested at times is now the cornerstone of his offense. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin certainly has a major hand in all of this, but it's Hurts and his exceptional football acumen and skill who is directing the ship once the Tide takes the field. We don't know if Alabama is still undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country if Hurts isn't the quarterback, but there's no way Alabama's offense is as potent and as tough to stop without Hurts behind center.
On the season, Hurts has thrown for 1,549 yards with 11 touchdowns to five interceptions. He's completing 63.1 percent of his passes and has completed 24 passes of 20-plus yards, which ranks fourth in the SEC. Against ranked opponents (five), Hurts is completing 62.7 percent of his passes. He has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in all seven of his starts.
When it comes to rushing, Hurts ranks fifth nationally among quarterbacks with 521 yards. He is averaging 11.9 rushes and 65.1 yards per game. He's tied for first with Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight in the SEC with nine rushing touchdowns. He has 273 yards on zone-run reads. Heading into last week's game with A&M, Hurts and Knight were two of only three FBS players with at least eight touchdowns passing and rushing this season (Louisville’s Lamar Jackson was the other).
Hurts' numbers are good, but for a freshman you have to skew them closer to the great level. Hurts' importance to this team stretches far beyond the numbers aspect. Think about how he rebounded from a bone-rattling sack-fumble against Ole Miss that led to a 24-3 Rebels lead in the second quarter by driving 50 yard in three plays for a touchdown to start a 45-6 run. His resolve is outstanding. When I asked cornerback Marlon Humphrey what has been the most impressive thing Hurts has done, he pointed to him bouncing back after that hit.
Think about that backbreaking, 45-yard touchdown run he had against Tennessee to put Alabama up 21-7 and essentially put the game away in the second quarter. That play came on the drive right after a Tennessee sack-fumble on Hurts helped the Vols cut Alabama's lead to 14-7. But Hurts sucked all the life out of Tennessee's team and fans with his blazing run.
Turn back to this past Saturday and consider that Hurts was having one of his worst games of the season. But with Alabama up 12 early in the fourth, he yet again put the game away with an electrifying and dizzying 37-yard touchdown run that left Aggies defenders beaten and winded in his wake, as he sprinted and cut from the right side of the field all the way to left corner of end zone.
Hurts still has a ways to go with Kiffin's playbook, but he's evolving every week. A little more gets thrown his way each week. So with a smaller playbook and a lot of instincts and talent to rely on, Hurts has been outstanding to watch and he's guiding the No. 1 team in the country.
If he isn't in the race now then people just refuse to pay attention.