War Eagle Extra

Auburn defense wants to keep Alabama QB Jalen Hurts from stealing Iron Bowl spotlight

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts runs the ball gainst Chattanooga, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts runs the ball gainst Chattanooga, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. AP

Auburn has relied on dynamic dual threat quarterbacks in recent years to create lasting Iron Bowl memories.

This year it might be Alabama’s turn thanks to freshman superstar Jalen Hurts.

When Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa Saturday they will face the type of quarterback their coaching staff has scoured the country for since Nick Marshall left campus.

Hurts has jumped into the Heisman Trophy race powering the SEC’s top offense to more than 40 points per game. The quarterback has just shy of 3,000 total yards (2,971) heading into the regular season finale with 30 total touchdowns.

The true freshman’s 11 rushing touchdowns are the most for an Alabama quarterback under coach Nick Saban and he set the program’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback last week.

Hurts is also the first quarterback in the program’s history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in a single game (Mississippi State).

“I have been very impressed with the way he has operated,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He is like a running back playing the quarterback position. What stands out to me is that when things break down, he makes good decisions and he protects the football. He can throw the football vertically downfield very well and he has really had good command of his offense.”

Auburn has successfully contained the mobile quarterbacks its faced this season — Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald — and the defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since the third week of the season against Texas A&M.

“We’ve got one of the better defenses in college football this year, and that will definitely help trying to contain the guy,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to keep him off balance; we’ve got to get after him. Our defensive front has done an excellent job all year, and that will be one of the keys for us defensively, just containing him.”

The goal for Auburn’s deep defensive line will be pressuing Hurts while keeping the quarterback between the tackles Saturday.

Few if any teams have accomplished that task this season.

“He's been effective in every game pretty much,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said.

Steele doesn’t want his defense added to Hurts’ already lengthy freshman highlight reel.

“We don't want to flush him out and make him throw on the run because now you have a double-edged sword in that he doesn't have to throw it and he can run real fast and far, and does often,” Steele said.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra