Although Nick Saban said at SEC media days it was the media who created his quarterback competition, it was not the media who chose to pull Jalen Hurts — to that point 26-2 as a starter — at halftime of the national championship in favor of true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. It was Saban who made that decision, his hand forced by the play on the field.
As we know, Hurts hit just 3-of-8 passes for 21 yards over the first two frames as the Tide carried a 13-0 deficit to Georgia into the locker room on that January night. Tagovailoa took over from there and led Alabama back for a 26-23 overtime win, completing 14 of his 24 throws for 166 yards with three scores and one pick, including the 41-yard knockout punch to Devonta Smith to win the game.
Ever since then, the the biggest quarterback battle of Saban’s 12-year tenure in Tuscaloosa has been on. And according to the incumbent, the die has been cast by the coaching staff.
“This whole spring ever since the game, (coaches) kind of wanted to let it play out and I guess didn’t think it was a thing to let it die down like there wasn’t something there,” Hurts said Saturday. “But that’s always been the elephant in the room. For me, no one came up to me the whole spring, coaches included, no one asked me how I felt.
“No one asked me what was on my mind. No one asked me how I felt about the things that were going on. Nobody asked me what my future held. That’s that. So now it’s like when we try to handle the situation now, for me, it’s kind of late, it’s too late, the narrative has already been created.”
Make no mistake: both Hurts and Tagovailoa want to play, and neither will be happy in not being the guy.
Tagovailoa revealed in March that he felt like transferring if he didn’t play in Alabama’s championship win over Georgia, asking his father if his USC offer was still on the table.
“Even throughout my football season, I wasn’t the starter,” Tagovailoa said at the time. “I wanted to leave the school. So I told myself if I didn’t play in the last game, which was the national championship game, I would transfer out. If I gave in, I don’t think I would have seen the end blessing of where I am now.”
The entire Tagovailoa family has moved from Hawaii to Alabama, and Tua’s younger brother, Taulia Tagovailoa, plays at Thompson High School in Alabaster, Ala., and is a 4-star member of Alabama’s 2019 class. The elder Tagovailoa son later clarified his comments as his feelings at the time, but it’s impossible to know how his reflection in March was clouded by the fact that he did indeed play against Georgia.
Hurts’s father, Averion Hurts, indicated in April his son could transfer if he doesn’t win the starting job. Here’s what the elder Hurts said to Bleacher Report this spring:
Coach Saban’s job is to do what’s best for his team. I have no problem with that,” Averion Hurts said. “My job is to do what’s best for Jalen—and make no mistake, Jalen is a quarterback, and he wants to play quarterback. He loves Alabama, loves Coach Saban and everything about that place. But he wants to play, and he will play…”
Averion stops mid-sentence because the idea of his son not playing for Alabama isn’t one he takes lightly. What if Jalen doesn’t win the job, he is asked?
He shakes his head slowly, answers begrudgingly. “Well, he’d be the biggest free agent in college football history.
So we know both quarterbacks, or at least their camps, have publicly entertained the thought of transferring if they don’t win the starting job. And only one of them will.
Saban said earlier this summer that Hurts told him the junior quarterback will graduate in December. “Jalen actually came to me and said … ‘I am going to be here. I am going to be here, I came here to get an education. I graduate in December, and I’m going to be here.’”
Given the grievances Hurts aired Saturday, it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility at all that Hurts plays Alabama’s 2018 season as the backup and plays elsewhere in 2019 as a graduate transfer. In fact, that seems directly inside the realm of possibility at this moment.