TUSCALOOSA — The motion has accompanied several of Jalen Hurts' touchdowns this season. Upon reaching the end zone, the Alabama quarterback typically gestures as if to brush off his jersey.
The celebration seems fitting, as the true freshman has built a reputation of brushing aside any adversity that has come his way this season. That trait has a way of frustrating and intimidating opposing defenses just as much as any touchdown run.
“When something doesn't go your way, and you start, whatever, showing the emotion like somebody got to you, that's what they want you to do,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said. “In his case, man, he's unfazed. I just love that in watching him play.”
Hurts set an Iron Bowl record last week, completing 27 of 36 passed (75 percent), the highest completion percentage by any quarterback in the series’ 81-game history. Hurts also became the first true freshman to start for Alabama against Auburn, passing for 286 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, while adding 37 yards and another touchdown on the ground in the Crimson Tide’s 30-12 victory.
However, as has been the case in several of Hurts’ games this season, last week’s win did have its rough moments. Hurts tossed two interceptions in the first half, putting his defense in tight spots early while failing to take advantage of the Tide’s 8-minute lead in time of possession, as Alabama went into the break with a slim 13-9 lead.
Once again, the freshman showed his resolve, returning to complete 9 of 11 passes in the second half. Hurts was especially impressive in the third quarter, completing 5 of 5 passes for 67 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown pass to receiver ArDarius Stewart on fourth-and-4 to put Alabama up 27-9.
“There are some things that guys just have to learn by doing, and sometimes the best way to learn it is when you make mistakes,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “He would probably be the first to tell you he made a couple mistakes in the first half, and he'll learn from those and he'll get better.”
While Hurts doesn’t dwell on his mistakes during the game, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard said the quarterback is much more likely to talk about the plays he missed after the game than any of his highlights.
The freshman’s drive for success hasn’t gone unnoticed in the locker room. During his Monday news conference, Saban called Hurts “very dedicated,” stating there isn’t anybody on the team that wants to be better at his position.
“He works hard every day. After practice, he's out there doing extra with the receivers and anybody who wants to catch balls,” Howard said. “He's always trying to get the extra edge on our opponent to make a tremendous jump.”
Through 12 games this season, Hurts leads the SEC in completion percentage, completing 65.93 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 2,454 yards and 21 touchdowns with nine interceptions and rushed for 840 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns.
Hurts rushing total breaks the previous school record for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback, topping Steadman Shealy’s mark of 791 yards set in 1979. The freshman’s 33 touchdowns put him in second place on the school’s single-season touchdown record behind Blake Sims, who accounted for 35 touchdowns (28 passing, 7 rushing) in 2014.
Hurts will look to break that record this Saturday as he leads Alabama (12-0, 8-0 in the SEC) against Florida (8-3, 6-2) in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta at 3 p.m.
“He's fun to watch, I'm telling you,” McElwain said. “He's got a great command. He's calm. He doesn't get flustered. He takes what they give him. Yet they give him a crack, he can beat you with his feet.”