TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a scrimmage. It was spring. It was still 133 days until the University of Alabama opened its regular season against Louisville in Orlando, Fla.
But one couldn’t help the feeling that Crimson Tide fans were watching the end of something on Saturday afternoon.
After two months of talk about how junior quarterback Jalen Hurts had improved as a passer and regained his confidence in leading the Crimson Tide offense, there was little from Alabama’s A-Day Game to support that optimism.
Statistically, Hurts was 19 for 37 for 195 yards, 59 of which came on a deep ball thrown to sophomore wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Otherwise, his longest completion was 14 yards despite facing a secondary that didn’t return anyone from last season.
“I was not disappointed in the way Jalen played,” Nick Saban said. “I think we’ve got some guys who can rush [the quarterback] a little bit, and even though we were rushing four guys most of the time there was way too much pressure in the pocket for the quarterback to operate like we’d like.
“Jalen made some good plays in the game, made some good throws.”
But he didn’t move the offense effectively, which is always the key benchmark with Saban.
Twelve times the first-team offense started a drive, including three in the Crimson team’s territory, and none finished in the end zone. Four field goals were the extent of the White Team’s scoring, resulting in the 24-12 score.
Some of that had to do with the disruptive pass rush that managed 7 sacks, causing junior left tackle Jonah Williams to say, “It was good, man.”
Yet it’s the same number the first-team defense had against Hurts during A-Day in 2017, when he went 16 for 25 for 301 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
This should have been an opportunity for Hurts to be in the running for a game MVP honor, which went to third-string quarterback Mac Jones and kicker Joseph Bulovas. Instead, he left Bryant-Denny Stadium with a Jerry Duncan “I Like to Practice” Award.
Jones threw for 289 yards and 2 touchdowns. Facing the second-team defense, which had walk-ons playing from the get-go, never mind as substitutes, his team was 8 for 19 in third-down conversions, while Hurts’ side was 3 for 11.
Of the 5 first downs his White team managed in the first half, none had been on a pass. Even Saban’s frustration showed when an ESPN microphone caught him pointing out that the third-string quarterback was having a lot more success moving the ball downfield.
When faced with a chance to win the game, with first down at his own 30, 1:15 remaining on the clock and trailing 17-12, Hurts wasn’t able to lead the offense across midfield.
Making matters worse for him, Jones subsequently stepped up on the next play and threw a 46-yard touchdown to wide receiver Xavian Marks to complete the scoring.
Perhaps to gauge how Hurts would react, the White team offense tried again. Hurts’ final throw was picked off by junior cornerback Trevon Diggs, and his final contribution was the subsequent tackle.
It was that kind of day for Hurts, and reminiscent with how things ended last season.
Although Hurts was the 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman, he completed 154 of 255 attempts (60.4 percent) for 2,081 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and 1 interception as a sophomore.
However, he passed for only 112 yards in the loss at Auburn, 120 against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal and just 21 in the National Championship Game before being replaced by then-freshman Tua Tagovailoa at halftime. In the three months since, the speculation about who should start has only grown.
“Jalen has a great body of work and has accomplished a lot of great things here,” senior running back Damien Harris said. “Tua obviously had a great second half in the National Championship Game and everyone knows he’s a great player as well. But to be honest all that is in the past.
“All that really matters is how we progress moving forward.”
Hurts came into the spring as Alabama’s starter, and with Tagovailoa sidelined by a hand injury he’s exiting the same way.
But with Hurts doing little to show he’s improved as a passer, or that’s he’s the best option for the Crimson Tide moving forward, that gap only continued to shrink on A-Day and the momentum continued to swing the other way.