Alabama does not have a Kyler Murray clone stashed away on its roster.
The Crimson Tide has plenty of talent. But giving the defense a realistic look at the Heisman Trophy winner isn’t easy for anyone.
“I don’t know that you can (simulate him in practice),” coach Nick Saban said. “If we have somebody that can duplicate what he does, we’d be playing them.
“Obviously the guy won the Heisman Trophy and is the best player in college football. Anybody that has had success throwing the ball as well as the rushing totals that he has and the explosive plays that he’s made when they run the ball, it’s pretty difficult to try to get someone to simulate that.”
Alabama has used freshman wide receiver Slade Bolden as its scout team quarterback thus far. Bolden, a high school quarterback, has spent plenty of time playing with the scout team this season as he redshirts.
“He gives us a good look,” inside linebacker Mack Wilson said. “He’s fast, I feel like he can throw the ball as well. He gave us a great look the Citadel game and I feel like he’ll give us a great look today too.”
The Orange Bowl will be the first time Alabama has faced a reigning Heisman Trophy winner since it played Johnny Manziel, the 2012 winner, in the 2013 regular season. It’s the first time the Crimson Tide has matched up with a Heisman winner in the postseason since meeting 2007 winner Tim Tebow in the 2008 and 2009 SEC championship games. It also played 2010 winner Cam Newton before he received the award.
Among Murray’s raw statistics, it’s hard to find a weakness. He completed 70.9 percent of his passes for 4,053 yards in 13 games this season with 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also rushed for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 7.25 yards per carry.
There is one number that stands out about Murray: He’s listed at 5-foot-10 on the school’s football roster.1
“Kyler is short,” defensive lineman Quinnen Williams said. “We’ve got Raekwon 6-7, I’m 6-4, Buggs 6-4. Just getting our hands up. Just affect him in general. Get pressure on him. Get hits on him. If he’s throwing the ball short, get our hands up.”
Alabama’s front seven has accounted for 24 passes broken up this year, though the defensive line only has seven of those.
That’s just one aspect of keeping Murray contained, though. He has enough elite teammates on offense and enough ways to attack defenses that it will take more than a handful of altered throws to stop him.
“The guy is so quick, so fast, so talented,” Saban said. “Makes really good decisions, makes them fast. Does a great job of executing their offense, understands it well. They’ve got a really good system and a really good scheme and a complimentary play that goes with the last play. They do a really good job.”
Williams said it is an advantage for Alabama’s defense to face Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts in practice. They’re two different styles of quarterbacks, though each have some skills that can match parts of Murray’s game.
That’s the challenge facing not only Alabama’s defense, but also anyone trying to imitate Murray in practice.
“We’ve played against some great quarterbacks, but he’s by far the best,” safety Deionte Thompson said.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.
1He is listed at 5-11 on MLB.com and on the Sooners’ baseball roster, however.