AUBURN, Ala. — When Auburn and Alabama take the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend, the Tigers are going to be focused on controlling what they can control.
That, of course, starts with trying to limit Alabama’s sophomore quarterback, Jalen Hurts.
“He’s a tremendous quarterback, has a lot of size,” Auburn senior defensive back Tray Matthews said. “Like I said earlier, he’s a running back at quarterback but he also has a great arm. So, we have to keep our eyes on him and contain him, for the most part.”
Hurts, the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016, can beat teams either on the ground or through the air. Gus Malzahn’s team has done its homework on the first quarterback to start for Nick Saban as a freshman.
“We’ve seen it on film. He puts a lot of pressure on a lot of defenses,” linebacker Darrell Williams said. “A lot of defensive coordinators have to do a lot of different things. We have to focus on him. We want to know, we want to respect our opponents. So we’ve got to respect him and his talents and his ability to run the ball, because he’s carrying the ball more than the running backs. He has more carries than the running backs. So we have to take account of that.”
This season, Hurts has carried the ball 119 times — that’s 15 more times than Alabama’s leading rusher Damien Harris. The Houston, Texas, native has thrown 201 passes (123 completions for 1,828 yards). All in all, he’s been responsible for 22 Crimson Tide touchdowns.
For Hurts, there’s been no such thing as a sophomore slump. He’s led Alabama to an undefeated record. Auburn is hoping to throw him off in his first Iron Bowl on The Plains.
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While Gus Malzahn is beyond thrilled about having a healthy quarterback — and it’s even better that it’s Jarrett Stidham — for the first time in years, Hurts has caught the head coach’s eye.
“Their quarterback, I’m very impressed with him. He can make bad plays really good plays,” Malzahn said. “I don’t think there’s very many quarterbacks around the country that can turn bad plays into good plays like him. I don’t know if you can call a bad play with him at quarterback.”
Stidham may have a little bit of scramble in his repertoire, but Hurts’ game is different.
“Probably the scariest thing is when things break down, he takes off and he’s like a running back,” Malzahn said of the 6-foot-2, 218-pound quarterback. “You’ve got to stay in your gap. You’ve got to gang tackle. You’ve got to keep him contained.”
Auburn has its plan in place and understands how it might affect Hurts. Those outside the Auburn meeting rooms and locker room won’t get too much insight, but the gist is staying focused and playing hard.
“We’re just going to focus on the things they do best, and we’re not going to worry about the little things that they might throw in here and there,” Williams said. “We’re just going to play hard.”