when the second quarter of the 2018 National Championship game ended, the Georgia Bulldogs were up 13-0 on Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. Something needed to change offensively if Alabama was going to climb back into the game.
So, in one of the most challenging decisions a coach can make, Saban decided to bench his starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, and give Tua Tagovailoa a crack at the Georgia defense.
The decision paid off, as Tagovailoa led the Crimson Tide to a comeback victory over the Bulldogs by a score of 26-23.
That decision also changed the trajectory of Jalen Hurts’ career as well, as he would serve as the backup behind Tagovailoa for the 2018 season and would opt to leave Alabama ahead of the 2019 season. Alabama head coach Nick Saban remembers giving Hurts advice at two key moments in the young quarterback’s career. The first time was ahead of the 2018 season, when Hurts would serve as the backup in Tuscaloosa.
“We had a conversation. [Hurts] wanted to graduate from Alabama, so he wasn’t going to transfer until he graduated,” Saban said in an interview with 33rd Team. “I said ‘You need to work on becoming a better passer. You can’t just make plays with your feet. So this whole season, I want you to focus in practice on reading coverages, understanding the passing game better, and being able to read and dissect what you need to do quickly’… And his diligence in doing that on a daily basis—he wouldn’t take off in practice, he made himself stand in the pocket and learn how to do that.”
Then, after serving as the Tide’s backup in 2018, Hurts came to Saban for advice before transferring.
“When he wanted to transfer, I said ‘well, who has the best players,'” Saban recalled. “He wanted to go to Maryland or Miami. I said, ‘you need to go to Oklahoma. They’ve got the best players. They’ve got the best coach to develop you as a quarterback and you’re gonna be around the best players so that’s going to enhance your chances of having success.’ So, he did that, he had a great year. I was worried about having to play him in the playoffs… and I can’t tell you how proud I am of seeing this guy in the Super Bowl.”
During his one season at Oklahoma, Hurts was electric, passing for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns to just eight interceptions, adding 233 carries for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. His passing yards and touchdowns, as well as rushing yards and touchdowns, were all career highs in 2019.
It’s safe to say that Hurts is the NFL quarterback that he is because of his time with both Saban and Riley, and that combination has him playing some elite football at the highest level in the sport.
Hurts will lead the Eagles into battle against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, with kickoff scheduled for 5:30.