Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts had a great true freshman season last year. Hurts had enormous talent around him, but he was the catalyst in an offensive machine that tore through the SEC and got the Crimson Tide to a third-straight College Football Playoff.
Hurts’ play got worse as the season wound down. His combined passer rating in the SEC Championship, the Peach Bowl Playoff semifinal, and a national title loss to Clemson was 108.7. It had been 147.1 in the Tide’s previous 12 games. This is understandable, as Hurts was a rookie and had to face elite defenses three times in a row: Florida’s, Washington’s, and Clemson’s. Most rookie QBs would struggle there.
Tide head coach Nick Saban blames coaching, at least in part. From a Birmingham radio interview on Thursday, via Gridiron Now:
“Sometimes later in the year when people played us in a way that we needed to be able to throw the ball, we may not have been as efficient as we’d have liked to have been,” Saban said. “That was probably our fault as coaches, because we protected him, instead of developed him as a young player.
“The goal this spring and certainly before next season is that we can create more balance by being a better passing team to go along with what we’re able to do with our feet as a quarterback — as well as how that creates balance for our overall offense and utilizes some of the other skill players that we have, which we didn’t always take advantage of last year.”
Former Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin disagreed with Saban’s claim on Friday.
.@Lane_Kiffin: "Did we protect Hurts? I don't know. Last time I checked the job was to win games. He was SEC offensive player of the year."— Opening Drive (@openingdrive) April 21, 2017
Before the title game, Saban reportedly acrimoniously parted ways with Kiffin, who was the FAU head coach-in-waiting at the time.
By teams that “played us in a way that we needed to be able to throw the ball,” Saban’s probably talking about Clemson. Hurts threw 31 passes in the title game, six off his season high in attempts, and had his second-lowest efficiency rating of any game last season. He averaged 4.2 yards per attempt, his second-lowest total after the 4.1 he put up against Washington in the Peach Bowl. Hurts was pretty good as a runner against Clemson but otherwise ineffective on the ground at the end of the year.
Kiffin’s replacement for the title game was former USC coach Steve Sarkisian, who oddly shifted away from a mostly solid running game when Bama led in the second half.
Sarkisian left for the Atlanta Falcons afterward, and Saban hired longtime New England Patriots assistant Brian Daboll to replace him. Daboll could blend college and pro tactics to give the Tide’s offense a unique, devastating flavor.
Hurts ran often last season, but Saban doesn’t want that to be a focal point. Daboll’s been a tight ends coach with Tom Brady as his quarterback, so he’s used to working in offenses that don’t exactly emphasize the QB running game.
Also from Saban’s radio interview, which you can listen to here:
“That’s not really what we want to be,” Saban said. “We want to be more pro-style as we were, with a mix of the spread. We want a dual-threat quarterback who can make plays with his feet, but maybe not necessarily have a bunch of quarterback runs to enhance the offense. So, I think that’s the goal for what we want to do. I think Brian brings a special skill set of being in the NFL, with a very successful program and offensive team.”
We’re in for a different-looking Tide offense. How much different is yet to be known.