TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Despite being largely overlooked following the University of Alabama football team’s A-Day game at the end of spring practices, the Mal Moore Leadership Award can tell a lot about the upcoming season.
The honor often goes hand-in-hand with the team captains for the scrimmage and indicates who has really stepped forward since the conclusion of the previous season.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts was one of the winners this spring, along with linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton and running back Bo Scarbrough. Neither of them played since they’re both coming off major injuries.
In 2016, the Mal Moore winners were Cam Robinson, Eddie Jackson and Jonathan Allen, who all ended up being permanent team captains. The A-Day game captains were tight end O.J. Howard, Robinson, Jackson and linebacker Ryan Anderson — all big-time contributors to last year’s team.
So Hurts winning the award said a lot about what the coaching staff thought of his development and place on the team — beyond what anyone has said about his progress or the improvement he showed on A-Day.
One way they expect it to translate statistically is in passer-efficiency rating, which is based on attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions.
Some consider it an outdated barometer because it doesn’t factor in things like rushing yards, fumbles, sacks, performance on key downs or location on the field. Yet it’s how the NCAA determines its annual passing champion. And efficiency is something Nick Saban strongly emphasizes.
Last season, Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech led the nation in passing yards with 5,502, but he wasn’t among the leaders in passing efficiency (12th). Instead, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield finished first with a 196.4 rating, breaking Russell Wilson’s single-season record of 191.8 with Wisconsin in 2011.
Hurts’ rating of 139.1 was 44th in the nation, aided by the shovel passes that were really glorified handoffs to wide receivers on jet sweeps.
It’s fueled speculation outside of Tuscaloosa about whether Hurts has left the door open to be challenged during training camp.
First, some perspective.
It should come as no surprise that Hurts’ three worst games in passer efficiency were at LSU and the two College Football Playoff games. He had a rating of 84.2 against Washington, and 88.1 vs. Clemson, in part due to the coaching staff deliberately trying to take as much pressure off their young quarterback as possible.
Hurts played last season at the age of 18.
Odds to win 2017 Heisman Trophy: Darnold 4/1, L Jackson 13/2, Mayfield 13/2, Bo Scarbrough 9/1, Jalen Hurts 10/1 via @BovadaLV
— Pat Smith (@patsmithradio) February 20, 2017
In contrast, Jake Coker clearly got better down the stretch in 2016, with a 185.4 rating against Michigan State in the playoff semifinal and a 203.0 against Clemson in the title game.
He was also 23 at the time.
Nevertheless, Hurts’ passer-efficiency rating is only a shade behind Coker’s and his career is only getting started.
Saban–era career passer–efficiency ratings
|1. AJ McCarron||2010-13||162.5|
|2. Greg McElroy||2007-10||155.4|
|3. Blake Sims||2011-14||155.2|
|4. Jake Coker||2014-15||146.6|
|5. Jalen Hurts||2016||139.1|
|6. John Parker Wilson||2005-08||120.6|
With college football having changed a lot over the years and Alabama historically being a run-first team, those are some of the best career ratings in program history.
Harry Gilmer had an incredible 193.1 in 1945 when he completed 57 of 88 passes for 905 yards, with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. More recently, Jeff Rutlegde had a 169.9 in 1997, and Steve Sloan 153.78 in 1965.
Yet none of them had a career rating better than 150.
Notable Alabama career passer–efficiency ratings
Greg McElroy saw his passer efficiency rating rise from 140.4 to 169.0, and AJ McCarron enjoyed a similar jump from 147.3 to 175.3, which led the nation.
Moreover, Hurts had one of Alabama’s 10 best games over the past decade:
|1. Blake Sims||Florida Atlantic||2014||12-14-0||85.7||228||2||269.7|
|2. AJ McCarron||Georgia State||2013||15-16-0||93.8||166||4||263.4|
|3. AJ McCarron||at Tennessee||2012||17-22-0||77.3||306||4||254.1|
|4. Greg McElroy||Georgia State||2010||12-13-0||92.3||159||2||245.8|
|5. AJ McCarron||Western Kentucky||2012||14-19-0||73,7||219||4||240.0|
|6. Greg McElroy||North Texas||2009||13-15-0||86.7||176||2||229.2|
|7. Jalen Hurts||at Arkansas||2016||13-17-1||76.5||253||2||228.5|
|8. AJ McCarron||Auburn||2012||15-21-0||71.4||216||4||220.7|
|9. Greg McElroy||San Jose State||2010||13-16-0||81.2||218||1||216.3|
|10. Greg McElroy||at Duke||2010||14-20-1||70.0||258||3||217.9|
Only two of those games were by a quarterback during his first year as a starter, Sims and McElroy’s performance against North Texas in 2009. However, both were in their fourth year with the Crimson Tide.
As for the Mal Moore Award, only two quarterbacks had previously won since it was first handed out in 2003, McElroy (2010) and McCarron (2012). Both were going into their second seasons as the starter.