BATON ROUGE, La. — Jalen Hurts is a quarterback who inflicts plenty of pain on opponents thanks to his legs.
That’s not to say the freshman is incapable of doing damage through the air. He ranks sixth in the SEC with 1,578 passing yards and is second in completion percentage (63.2 percent).
But Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows Hurts is best when he is on the run. So does everyone who plays the Crimson Tide. Hurts has eclipsed 90 yards on the ground three times in his first season.
- Ole Miss (48-43 win): 18 carries, 146 yards
- Tennessee (49-10 win): 12 carries, 132 yards
- Texas A&M (33-14 win): 21 carries, 93 yards
Hurts enters Saturday’s game against LSU 51 yards shy of reaching No. 2 on Alabama’s all-time list for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback. He’s certainly capable of getting there. LSU allowed 56 rushing yards to Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly its last time out, though rather than being a true runner Kelly is more a pocket passer with superior escapability.
“Jalen Hurts, (it’s) like defending the wildcat back there,” said LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron. “He’s another tailback back there, you have to consider him as one. One that can also throw the ball.”
LSU’s front seven is ready to embrace the challenge Hurts brings.
“Basically like any other running quarterback we’ve faced the past couple years, it comes down to having the best gameplan from start to finish and executing,” said defensive end Lewis Neal. “He’s a great runner. You want you to beat you with his arm, not his feet.”
This season, LSU has faced two true running quarterbacks in Jacksonville State’s Eli Jenkins and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald.
Jenkins still has the longest run by any player against the Tigers this season, a 35-yarder. But outside of that explosive play he was pretty well contained, gaining 47 yards on his other 17 carries.
Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was totally ineffective, gaining 13 yards on 13 attempts.
“Whatever the gameplan is that Coach (Aranda) tells us to do is what we’re going to do to try and keep him in the pocket,” Neal said. “He’s going to dial up some great calls like he always does.”
Nose tackle Greg Gilmore sees himself as being crucial to any success LSU will have in preventing Hurts from taking off.
“We have to get a better push in the middle,” Gilmore said. “We’ve got great end rushers, so we don’t ever have to worry about end rushing. We’ve got Lewis and Arden (Key). But the main thing is the push up the middle.”
Gilmore isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself to live up to that responsibility.
“I want to be a factor in the game. But I’m not going to put that on myself,” Gilmore said. “Every week I want to prove to myself I can do it against who I’m going against. It’s not really about them, it’s more ‘Am I getting better at practice? How are my eyes and feet looking?’ And looking at last year and how I played.”
If LSU’s front seven can make Hurts a pure passer, the Tigers trust their secondary to make the plays that will slow down Alabama’s offense for the first time this season.
But as everything else goes against the Tide, it is all easier said than done.