TAMPA – First things first. Jalen Hurts, the true freshman quarterback who nearly pulled a comeback for the ages, said it didn’t matter.

You’ll read some and hear more about people questioning Nick Saban’s decision to fire Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator and replace him with Steve Sarkisian. Saban certainly left himself open to criticism when he made the shocking move public last Monday.

But those inside the program said it had no factor in the outcome of the game.

Hurts was chief among that group.

“None at all,” Hurts said. “He called a rhythm. (No matter) who’s calling plays, it comes down to execution. At points in the game we didn’t execute.

“I don’t think we were clicking. We just didn’t execute. You have a game plan, you have to execute it. We didn’t.”

Hurts wasn’t great throwing the football, but he did throw for more than the 57 yards he did in the semifinal with Kiffin at the helm calling plays.

For the record, Sarkisian called 12 passing plays on first down and ran on 15 first downs. Of course the game plan might have changed a bit when sophomore-sensation running back Bo Scarbrough went out of the game in the third quarter.

Scarbrough’s two first-half touchdown runs made Sarkisian look brilliant. But when Clemson adjusted and loaded the box with what seemed like its entire defense, Hurts wasn’t able to make them respect the passing game with consistent throws.

That’s not all on Hurts, though as with everything with a quarterback he’ll get too much blame just as sometimes he gets too much praise. His receivers dropped several passes that could have been caught.

For the night, Hurts completed 42 percent of throws, connecting on 13 of 31 for 131 yards with one touchdown. Fifty-two percent of his yardage came on one throw, when Clemson inexplicably left O.J. Howard wide open again for a 68-yard touchdown pass.

Outside of a six-play, 88-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive with its back against the wall in the final minutes, the offense flat-out struggled.

But during that drive the offense lit up.

Sarkisian called three straight passes to start the drive, and then after Damien Harrispicked up the fourth-and-one, he dialed up a double pass, trick play – with Hurt throwing the ball behind the line to ArDarius Stewart, who then fired a 24-yard strike to Howard.

Next Hurts darted in the end zone from 30 yards out to give the Crimson Tide a brief lead.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘This has got to go in the end zone,’” center Bradley Bozeman said. “We didn’t have any other choice.”

The offense remained steadfast after the game that the change from Kiffin to Sarkisian didn’t play a factor in the outcome. When it mattered most, the offense answered. But for large chunks of the third and fourth quarter, the offense sputtered.

“We tried to keep our cool and get in the end zone,” Hurts said. “We might have scored too fast. It just clicked. I think we could have executed better in the game. But that is what it is and we have to live with it.

“We just tried to keep playing like we do. Keep our composure and go down and score. I guess it wasn’t enough.”

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.