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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is quick to tell you his performance in Saturday’s 41-10 win over Fresno State wasn’t “perfect.” Although, there were moments where the sophomore came pretty darn close.
Take the Crimson Tide’s second offensive possession for example. In the midst of a blazing start to the game, Hurts dropped back from the Fresno State 23-yard line, looking just long enough to his left to lure a safety to cheat. After that it was almost too easy, as Hurts delivered a perfect strike to wide-open tight end Hale Hentges for a touchdown.
“That’s a play he’s been running for a long time, and for Jalen to be able to look off the safety and hold him long enough for me to come open is a very veteran move and something he’s going to have to do in the NFL,” said Hentges, who recorded his first career touchdown on the play. “For him to be able to execute that today show a lot of confidence, poise and next-level play.”
Hurts finished the game 14 of 18 passing for 128 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound quarterback was even more ruthless on the ground, running for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Not perfect, but close.
“Productive,” Hurts said. “It was productive, but it wasn’t a perfect game. I wasn’t 100 percent... We want to be the best we can be. It’s not about personal stats, it’s about playing to the standard.”
For the most part, Hurts and Alabama’s offense lived up to that standard. The 23-yard touchdown to Hentges was sandwiched in between two rushing touchdowns from Hurts as Alabama recorded touchdowns on its first three possession. Hurts got the Tide on the board first on his second snap of the game, making a nice read to tuck the ball and break through a hole in the right side of the line for 55 yards. He later sold a pump-fake before tucking it in for a 3-yard touchdown to put Alabama up 21-3 with 4:38 left in the half.
“He knew starting this week that he was going to come in and play better,” Hentges said. “He made it known to all of us right from the get-go this week, saying ‘Hey guys, we need to do better this week,’ and we did. For him to kind of get us going like that is great from a leadership standpoint because he’s our leader, obviously, and you want your leader to be headstrong and rally the team. He did that this week and it reflected upon a great game.”
Perhaps most importantly, the sophomore showed an improvement on some of his Week 1 mistakes. During the season opener against Florida State, Hurts was limited to 10 of 18 passing for 96 yards and a touchdown. While he was able to hit receiver Calvin Ridley seven times for 82 of those yards, Hurts failed to get any of his other receivers the ball.
Saturday, 11 different Alabama players recorded a reception, including five receivers. Hurts also did a good job to find Alabama’s tight ends, as evidenced by the strike to Hentges, and connected on a couple of passes to running back Bo Scarbrough.
“He did a nice job today,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “He threw the ball in the right place. He’s accurate with the ball, he kind of took what the defense gave. I’d like to see us make some more explosive plays in the passing game, but the passing efficiency was a lot better... I was actually pleased with the way Jalen handled the game and managed the game and also threw the ball in the game.”
Saturday’s game also saw the debut of freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came in during a series with 10:35 left in the second quarter and then again in the fourth quarter to close out the game. Tagovailoa finished the game 6 of 9 for 64 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown to fellow freshman Henry Ruggs.
Saban said the plan was always to get Tagovailoa into the game in the second quarter while letting Hurts come back in to start the third quarter in order to let the sophomore get used to coming back out of the break. Hurts was not only accepting of the situation, he passed along some veteran advice to his freshman teammate.
“I told him, I said ‘Look, it’s football, you go out there and play. It’s the same stuff ya’ll did in Hawaii, it’s the same here. It’s football,”’ Hurts said. “He’s a baller, and he played. And he did a good job.”
Saban said there is still some room for improvement moving forward. Despite gaining 497 yards, Alabama was unable to capitalize on a couple drives, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.
Productive, but not quite perfect.