NEW ORLEANS — Knock, knock.
Come on in, Jalen Hurts.
Alabama’s quarterback has earned a seat at the table. When the Crimson Tide’s offensive coaches go over film, Hurts is there — and he even has an input.
“As they’d meet as a staff (last year), I’d kind of just peak my head in and watch from the outside,” Hurts said Thursday at a pre-Sugar Bowl news conference. “Now, I go in and sit down with them. It’s kind of understood.”
It’s a part of his job.
Hurts not only has the respect of his coaches, but also has stepped into his role a mature team leader and takes the initiative on things he may not have in the past. There are more responsibilities.
“I got to go out there and lead the troops on Saturday,” Hurts said. “So why not take that initiative and play my part in preparation?”
Only this time it’s a Monday matchup, as Alabama will play Clemson for a spot in the national championship. This opportunity, however, wasn’t the Crimson Tide’s for the taking.
After losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Alabama’s postseason fate was left in the hands of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Many people didn’t like that and went as far as to blame Hurts for the Crimson Tide’s fall from the top. He doesn’t listen to the critics, but the chatter is something his teammates will never comprehend.
“I’m not one to sit here and critique him, and I’m a guy who understands the offense better than 99.99999 percent of people who are watching this,” Alabama offensive lineman Jonah Williams said. “So I don’t know how you sit there and critique people when you don’t understand what they’re doing. And most people don’t.”
Clemson does, and it recognizes that Hurts is, in fact, a talented quarterback.
“Jalen Hurts is as good as ever,” Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said. “He can throw the ball a lot better. You can see the improvement from being a young freshman to now a vetted sophomore.”
Wilkins pegged Hurts as a mix of Miami’s Malik Rosier and Louisville’s Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Others likened Hurts to Clemson’s own Kelly Bryant, who is older but less experienced. Comparisons aside, Wilkins was right.
By the end of last season, Hurts owned a 139.12 passer efficiency rating. Right now, he has a 154.91 mark, good for 11th in the nation. That’s an overall stat that takes into account passing yards, attempts, completions, interceptions and touchdowns.
So, there it is. Hurts has improved, and best believe he has been aggressively studying film on Clemson – said he has watched last season’s game specifically “a good number of times” – and plotting revenge. Time for a rematch.
“It’s like if you were to beat me in a video game,” Hurts said. “You beat me in a video game. I want to play you again. But you probably won’t want to play me again.”