Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway is the only true freshman quarterback to ever win a national championship in college football, but Alabama QB Jalen Hurts is in great position to become the second.
Holiway won while filling in for an injured Troy Aikman in 1985. Hurts could accomplish the same feat, but he must first get by Washington in the Peach Bowl. Todd Blackledge, who will be the television analyst for that game, thinks Hurts is in that position because of the circumstances around him, starting with his defense.
“It is a tremendous luxury for a quarterback, whether you’re a freshman or a fifth-year senior, to know that the guys on the other side of the ball on your team are going to keep you in every football game,” Blackledge said Tuesday on a media teleconference
Indeed, Hurts benefits from the No. 1 defense in college football. The Crimson Tide have also scored 13 non-offensive touchdowns this season, good for first in the country.
With those advantages, Hurts isn’t usually asked to do too much.
“Defensively, Alabama is never going to put their quarterback in a panic-type mode where he’s going to have to feel like he has to score a ton necessarily to get them back in the ball game, or to win a ball game,” Blackledge said.
It isn’t just the defense that helps Hurts out, though. The combination of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and Alabama’s incredible skill talent also benefits the true freshman.
“He’s surrounded by great playmakers,” Blackledge said, “and he has as good of a play-caller in Lane Kiffin as a quarterback can have.”
With Kiffin at offensive coordinator, Blackledge said Hurts’ success shouldn’t be surprising. Kiffin is in his third straight year with a first-year starting quarterback. In each of those years, the Crimson Tide has made the College Football Playoff.
“Lane Kiffin’s track record is pretty amazing in his years at Alabama,” Blackledge said.
His track record is so impressive that it landed him the head coaching job at FAU. But Hurts doesn’t have to worry about that. Nick Saban just hired Steve Sarkisian, known for his way with quarterbacks, as Kiffin’s replacement.
So what does Hurts bring to the table? Blackledge echoes Nick Saban’s praise for the freshman, which is that he plays relaxed.
“Then when you look at Jalen Hurts himself,” Blackledge said, “his poise and his calm demeanor, I think, is his greatest asset playing the position for this team this year.”
While Alabama’s attempt at an undefeated championship season with a true freshman quarterback is unprecedented, so are all the conditions surrounding it.
True freshmen don’t usually have one of the best coordinators in the game, or a bunch of blue chip recruits at every position on offense, or a defense that might be one of the best in the history of the game. Hurts has all three of those things, plus his own mental toughness and natural talent.
So maybe what he’s doing shouldn’t be so surprising after all.