Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts put up an impressive performance in Saturday’s 38-10 win against Western Kentucky, especially considering it was the true freshman’s first collegiate start.
Hurts completed 23 of 36 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns against the Hilltoppers. Those numbers could have been even more eye-popping if senior receiver Gehrig Dieter and senior tight end O.J. Howard had not dropped would-be touchdown passes.
However, what happened after those two plays spoke louder than any of Hurts’ stats. After both plays, Hurts looked his senior teammates in the eyes and let them know he needed them to make plays.
“You know it’s a lot of things he says, but he’s just encouraging us, and that’s what makes him a great quarterback,” Howard said. “He’s a great leader for us.”
Through two games this season, Hurts has completed 29 of 47 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. He currently ranks No. 33 in the nation with a quarterback rating of 157.91. Among freshman, Hurts trails only Texas’ Shane Buechele (188.34) and Georgia’s Jacob Eason (161.70).
But that's the thing, Hurts doesn’t seem like a freshman, at least not to his teammates.
“Just the way he carries himself,” Howard said. “He’s very poised. He knows what to do. He’s an athlete. When he gets in trouble, he can run the ball and just the dynamic threat he brings the offense I think it allows him to be very good.”
Hurts’ presence is felt outside of games as well. Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen said he often hears the freshman barking out orders to the offense during practice and said Hurts does not appear shy to instruct players older than him.
“He has to come in here and have confidence,” Allen said. “A lot of freshmen don’t come in here with confidence, so that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve seen from Jalen.”
As good as Hurts has been, there were moments when his freshman status was apparent Saturday. Hurts underthrew junior receiver ArDarius Stewart on a deep ball to the end zone early in the third quarter. Later, he overthrew Dieter on what would have been a deep touchdown pass.
"Some was good and some was things that he'll learn from,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban of Hurts. “I think that's the big thing that we need to stay focused on as coaches, that we can use every one of these opportunities that he has to increase his knowledge and experience and be more confident in what he needs to do to improve.”
This week Hurts will face his toughest challenge yet, as he looks to help No. 1 Alabama end a two-game losing streak to No. 19 Ole Miss. The last time the Crimson Tide traveled to Oxford, Miss., the game ended with Ole Miss fans rushing the field after the Rebels upset the Tide 23-17.
Those same fans will look to provide a chaotic atmosphere for Hurts this week, as well.
"I don't think there's any question about that it's a challenge,” Saban said. “It's always a challenge to play on the road. We do everything we can to help these guys with noise and all the things that make it more difficult to communicate on offense. I think it's going to be about the entire offensive team sort of being able to do this around the quarterback.”
So far, teammates aren’t worried about their quarterback’s ability to stand up to the hostile atmosphere.
After all, Hurts hasn’t had any trouble speaking up in the huddle so far.
“He’s got a lot of leadership in him,” said sophomore receiver Calvin Ridley. “He’s trying to take that role, I would say. He’s getting pretty good at it.”