SEC Media Days Day 3: Nick Saban is not here for your manufactured QB controversy

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NCAA college football head coach Nick Saban of Alabama speaks during the Southeastern Conference Media Days before speaking Wednesday, July 18, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
NCAA college football head coach Nick Saban of Alabama speaks during the Southeastern Conference Media Days before speaking Wednesday, July 18, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Previously at SEC Media Days: Day 1, Day 2

If you listened to Nick Saban on Wednesday, you would have learned that Alabama’s quarterback controversy is a media creation.

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Saban wasted no time addressing the impending quarterback competition between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, bringing it up in his opening remarks at SEC Media Days before the first question had even been asked.

“And I think the number one thing that you will want to talk about is the quarterback controversy that you’d love to create, that you’ve already created, that you will continue to create, and I will tell you the same thing exists there,” Saban said of competition at multiple positions at Alabama. “It’s still to be determined as to who is going to play quarterback for Alabama. So you can ask all of the questions about it, but it’s still to be determined.”

“Tua basically missed spring practice due to an injury. Jalen had a good spring. Both guys had great summers, and we’ll just have to see who wins the team in fall camp. So, we’ll see.”

Tagovailoa, who replaced Hurts in the second half of the national championship game and threw the game-winning touchdown, missed spring practice with a left hand injury. He said in the offseason that he had thoughts of transferring from Alabama during the 2017 season.

Hurts, who has started for the past two seasons, has apparently had those thoughts too. Or at least his father had. His father Averion said Jalen could be the biggest free agent in college football if Jalen decided to transfer from Alabama and that his job was to do what’s best for his son.

Saban was asked straight-up if he thought Hurts would be on campus when Alabama opens the season against Louisville. The competition between the two is the biggest positional battle in college football.

“Well, I have no idea. I expect him to be there,” Saban said. “I think it’s our job to give both players a very fair opportunity to have a chance to win the team at their position. I think that one of the two guys — obviously, both are capable. We’ll create a role for one or both of those guys on our team, and they’ll all have to make a decision based on what that outcome is as to what their future is, you know, at Alabama.

“We certainly would love for every player on our team to stay at the University of Alabama and graduate. Jalen has a great opportunity to do that in December. So, we are hopeful that he will stay there and be a graduate regardless of what his circumstance is as a player.”

“But that’s not to minimize his chances of being a starter and making a great contribution to our team in some way, even if he isn’t a starter.”

It’s worth noting that graduate transfers are immediately eligible at their new schools while undergraduate transfers have to sit out a season. If — hypothetically — Hurts were to transfer from Alabama it does him no good to do it early in 2018 like Blake Barnett did when Hurts took his job in 2016.

Barnett transferred so he could be eligible in 2017 and used the rest of the 2016 season as his transfer year. Since Hurts is set to graduate in December he could simply stay on the team if he loses the starting job to Tagovailoa and then move to a new team for the 2018 season.

Joe Moorhead: From the Patriot League to Mississippi State in 3 years

Not too long ago, Joe Moorhead was strolling into Patriot League Media Day at a country club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as the head coach at Fordham.

Now at Mississippi State after two years as a Penn State assistant, Moorhead was on a slightly bigger state Wednesday in Atlanta. Moorhead is a pretty easy going guy who seemed at ease.

It’s just football, after all.

“Everybody’s seen the movie ‘Hoosiers,’ where Norman Dale takes the team before the state championship against Muncie Central, and they are in Butler Fieldhouse. And they run the tape measure down from the hoop to the floor, and they see it’s ten feet. That’s how I feel transitioning here from my time at Penn State and my time at Fordham into the SEC,” Moorhead said. “You know, the field is 53 and a third yards wide. It’s 100 yards long. When you’re on the field, there’s going to be 11 people on the other side.”

Like he did in his two years running Penn State’s offense with Trace McSorley, Moorhead has a talented QB at his disposal: third-year starter Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is a more prolific runner than McSorley, who put up huge numbers through the air under Moorhead. Their skill sets (and stature) may not exactly align, but Moorhead is confident he can make it work in a big way.

“I think there’s a lot of similarities from an intangible standpoint. Both guys are very intelligent. They understand the game very well, incredibly competitive,” Moorhead said. “Trace, obviously from a measurable standpoint, is a little bit shorter. Nick’s a 6-foot-5, 235-pound guy. Both can make all of the throws. Both can help win with their legs in the run game and can beat you with the pass game.”

And while he doesn’t have to worry about developing a quarterback in year one, Moorhead is still getting adjusted to life down south.

“Stepping out of your front door every day and being smacked in the face with the humidity, that’s a pretty good ‘welcome to the South’ moment,” Moorhead said. “And everything being wrapped in bacon.”

Jeremy Pruitt begins his Tennessee rebuilding project

When he wasn’t busy shielding himself from the criticism of former Georgia players, new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt was addressing the challenges ahead for the Vols.

Pruitt was also asked to circle back around to some of the comments he made after the spring game. In his postgame news conference, he was quick to call out the effort of some players, saying some “flat out quit.” After what he deemed a disappointing showing attendance-wise, Pruitt also made sure to issue a challenge to the Tennessee fans.
He didn’t back down from that sentiment on Wednesday, but made sure to communicate that it all starts with the product on the field.

“Somebody was keeping numbers on how many fans were at the spring game, right? Well, our goal at Tennessee is to be the very best at everything we do. We have phenomenal fans,” he said.

“I’m excited to have an opportunity to give back to this fan base. My goal is to help put a football team on the field that they can be proud of by the way they play with their toughness, their effort, the way they play together. They play smart. No matter what’s on the scoreboard, when they leave the stadium, they say you know what, that’s our team. That’s what I want to give to our fan base.”

Pruitt thinks they’re off to a good start.

“I wasn’t at Tennessee the last ten years. I’ve been there for six months,” Pruitt said. “Right now I’d say that from the top down, from the boosters, the fanbase, the players, everybody involved in the program, we’re all running in the same direction, and we’re running as fast as we can. So I think that’s what it takes, and that’s all we’re worried about.”

Barry Odom explains his decision to hire Derek Dooley

When Josh Heupel left Missouri to accept the head-coaching job at Central Florida, Tigers head coach Barry Odom had a big decision to make.

With Drew Lock running the show at quarterback, Heupel’s offense was lighting defenses up, averaging more than 50 points per game, during the Tigers’ six-game winning streak over the second half of the season. Odom is hoping to keep that momentum going into 2018 with a new offensive coordinator.

And he hired Derek Dooley. Yes, that Derek Dooley.

The name “Dooley” is a dirty word in Knoxville (perhaps not as dirty as “Kiffin”) after his rough three-year stint as head coach at Tennessee. From there, Dooley spent five years as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. Now he is back in the SEC.

What made Dooley the right fit?

“I talked to a number of people that I was interested in and leading our offense. When we hired Derek, I wanted to make sure that we’re able to maintain some of the things we’ve done with success the last couple of years, but also as head coach there were things I wanted to move to offensively that gave us a chance in either third downs or red zone or second and short,” Odom said.

“The tempo is always going to be there for us. We’ll play times as fast as we can play. There will be times that we vary the huddle and the speed of how we’re going to attack the line of scrimmage and how we’re going to play it.”

“So Derek really hit every checkmark for me on what I wanted in that position. He also, because he was a head coach in this league, it’s been good for me to be able to bounce some things off of him. He’s been in some of those opportunities to make decisions, learn from some things that he did right, learn from some things that he didn’t do right. And I’m appreciative of the approach he’s taken.”


Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper contributed to this report.

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