Nothing like an unexpected personnel change to really shake up a game.
When Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa exited the SEC Championship Game with an injury, Jalen Hurts filled the void no problem. In fact, he went on and gave the Crimson Tide its 27th conference title.
“We weren’t really prepared for him,” UGA defensive back Deandre Baker said. “We were focused on Tua. When Tua got hurt, he came in and won the game.”
Although Tagovailoa has been Alabama’s starter all season, Hurts’ ability to pull off the comeback shouldn’t have been surprising. Even Baker admitted that, noting Hurts’ history.
Hurts brought Alabama to back-to-back national championship appearances in 2016 and 2017. He was 26-2 as a starter before losing the job to Tagovailoa before this year. Now, Tagovailoa has gone ahead and led the Crimson Tide to yet another College Football Playoff run.
Basically Alabama has two capable quarterbacks opponents need to prepare for.
“There’s not enough time,” Baker said.
Maybe not during the regular season when teams have a week or two max of preparation, but the Crimson Tide’s next foe has multiple weeks to get ready. Alabama and Oklahoma don’t play in the Orange Bowl until Dec. 29. Both teams last played on Dec. 1 in their different conference championships.
The Sooners already started game planning.
“Tough to narrow it down when you start to study Alabama and all they do well,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “The thing I’ve seen from afar, and I don’t want to act like I’m an expert on their program, I’m not in those walls day to day, but you see the unselfishness in that program. The most obvious notable example is Jalen Hurts because we need more guys like him.”
Hurts could’ve redshirted and left Alabama with two years of eligibility remaining. Instead he stayed in a backup role. He has played in all but two of the Crimson Tide’s 13 games this season, and the two he missed were due to an injury. He has completed 50 of his 67 passes (74.6 percent) for 755 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions. He has also rushed for 167 yards and two scores on 34 carries.
Meanwhile, Tagovailoa has connected 199 of his 294 passes (67.6 percent) for 3,353 yards and 37 touchdowns. He has also picked up 190 yards and five scores the ground over the course of 48 attempts.
Alabama could easily switch its quarterbacks just for a new look.
“I remember Notre Dame did that to us,” LSU defensive back Greedy Williams said. “They were starting their other quarterback, then the running quarterback came in and we never practiced for him.
“So it’s kind of like you’ve got to switch up and cover things. I know it’s difficult when the defensive coordinator only practiced for one quarterback and then the other comes in and does totally different things.”
Tagovailoa and Hurts are very different, too.
“Tua, he’s more of a student of the game,” Baker said. “Jalen, he’s got the more athletic side of the game. Jalen is going to make plays with his feet. Tua is going to beat you before the snap.”
They’re just part of what Oklahoma is up against.
Alabama has five other players averaging more than 50 yards per game, receiving or rushing. The Crimson Tide’s offense as a whole is averaging 47.9 points and 527.6 yards per game.
“A great challenge,” Riley said. “But could not be more impressed with Jalen Hurts, how he handled that just from afar. Big fan of that kid and how that entire situation was managed.”
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.