It was less than three weeks ago when Nick Saban reminded everyone just how critical Jalen Hurts could be to Alabama football’s future.

“There may be a time in the future where he becomes the guy if something happens,” the Alabama coach said late last month.

That didn’t quite come to pass on Saturday night during Alabama’s 39-10 win over Missouri. But it came uncomfortably close to reality in the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Tua Tagovailoa scrambled on third down and slid just short of the marker. When he sat up, he grabbed the right knee that he had sprained during Alabama’s win over Arkansas the previous week. Bryant-Denny Stadium hushed.

The sophomore jogged off the field after Alabama’s athletic trainers took a look. He spent an extended period in the medical tent but emerged later as the offense was mid-drive.

“He wanted to go back in the game,” Saban said. “I didn’t think it was worth it to put him back in the game.”

Hurts and the offense finished that drive with a 2-yard touchdown run from Damien Harris. The junior quarterback was 7 of 8 passing for 115 yards and rushed for 15 yards. The Alabama offense moved in the red zone on another drive and into range for a long field goal on another drive under Hurts’ guidance, though it didn’t score on either drive.

“I think he did a great job of managing the game when he was in the game,” Saban said. “We were trying to run the ball and shrink the game a little bit, keep it away from them some. I thought he did a really good job. I think we have every confidence that Jalen … has really improved as a pocket passer. I’m really pleased with the way he played today and I’ve been pleased with the way he’s played all year.”

Tagovailoa was 12 of 22 for 265 yards with three touchdowns before leaving the game. He dissected Missouri’s secondary mostly from the pocket. The scramble on which he was shaken up was his only rush attempt on the night; he was sacked once. Between Hurts and Tagovailoa, Alabama piled up 380 passing yards. The offense finished with 564 yards overall.

Sophomore wide receiver DeVonta Smith had four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown before he left the game with a pulled muscle. Saban said he will be day-to-day moving forward. Fellow sophomore Jerry Jeudy had three catches for 147 yards and a score. Before Tagovailoa left, even Hurts caught one pass for 7 yards while lining up in the slot.

“He led us to the national championship two years in a row,” Harris said. “He shattered all kind of records. His resume speaks for itself. There’s never any doubt in our minds when he has to go in and play quarterback and plenty of other positions. Jalen is a pretty special talent, a guy that you really only get to play with once in a lifetime. I’m thankful to line up in the backfield with him and do all these kind of things.”

Reach Ben Jones at or 205-722-0196.