Jalen Hurts brings a different dynamic to the quarterback position, one that Alabama has not typically had under center: prowess running the football and presenting the defense with a true dual threat.
Hurts has already been impressive with his feet in the early season, and he could be in for even more success on the ground when Alabama faces Arkansas this Saturday.
He has utilized his legs often during the early part of the 2016 season. Through five games, Hurts is second on the team with 276 rushing yards on 54 carries and tied for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns. During the Saban era, Alabama has started only one other quarterback who could hurt defenses running the football: Blake Sims. He, however, ran for only 350 yards during his lone season as Alabama’s starter, the most by a quarterback in one season during the Saban era.
In addition to running the football, Hurts has been able to create plays when the Crimson Tide needed it most this season. In Alabama’s biggest game to date, against Ole Miss, he ran for an early career-high 146 yards, leading the Tide back from a 21-point deficit to a 48-43 victory over the Rebels.
Arkansas’ defense has already been struggling to defend quarterbacks who are great runners. In two contests against Power Five opponents this season, Arkansas has faced two mobile quarterbacks in TCU’s Kenny Hill and Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight. Both gashed the Razorbacks’ defense on the ground.
Hill rushed for 93 yards on 15 carries (6.2 YPC) as the Razorbacks narrowly defeated his Horned Frogs, while Knight ran for 157 yards on 10 carries (15.7 YPC) as the Aggies defeated Arkansas by three touchdowns. Both quarterbacks ran for a pair of touchdowns.
Even against weaker competition, the Razorbacks’ defense surrendered 55 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries to Alcorn State quarterback Noah Smith.
Given the success Hurts has shown on the ground thus far, along with the Razorbacks’ struggles to defend mobile quarterbacks, Lane Kiffin will likely have a variety of designed runs dialed up for Hurts to take advantage of this soft spot in the Arkansas defense.
One concern for the Crimson Tide might be the durability of their freshman quarterbacks. With former backup quarterback Blake Barnett no longer on the team, it would make sense for Alabama to limit the number of hits Hurts is exposed to, but Nick Saban doesn’t seem overly concerned about this.
“I think one of Jalen’s great assets as a player is that he can make plays with his feet, and I don’t think we can totally inhibit him from doing that. I guess if he gets injured doing it, then it’ll be my fault,” Saban said per BamaOnline’s Charlie Potter.
“It’s football. I don’t worry about guys getting hurt. We’re going to do what we have to do to try to give ourselves the best chance to be successful and give him the best chance to be successful.”
If Saban and Kiffin are willing to give Hurts the opportunity for designed runs against Arkansas, this season’s history suggests that the openings will exist for explosive plays on the ground.