Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray might be finalists for the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, but another quarterback has Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s attention.
Speaking in Atlanta at a news conference for the College Football Playoff, Riley said Alabama’s “unselfishness” was the team’s X-factor in Orange Bowl, and then gushed over Alabama backup quarterback Jalen Hurts.
“The thing I’ve seen so far, and I don’t want to act like an expert on that program I’m not in those walls day to day,” Riley siad, “but you see the unselfishness in that program. The most obvious notable example is Jalen Hurts. How he handled that entire situation…Every kid, every college football player in the country, every young football player out there, every six-year-old getting ready to play the game ought to see that story. Because we need more guys like him.”
Hurts’ story is now the stuff of legends after entering the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship game, and leading Alabama in a comeback against Georgia. Hurts was a starter at Alabama as a freshman and sophomore, but lost that position to Tua Tagovailoa before this season. Instead of transferring or redshirting to preserve a year of eligibility, Hurts embraced a role as backup quarterback.
When Tagovailoa went down with an injury against Georgia, Hurts was there to help his team to victory, win the SEC championship game and guarantee Alabama a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Hurts is an inspiration to his teammates at Alabama, but he could also play an important role in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29 if Tagovailoa doesn’t fully recover in time for the game. Tagovailoa had surgery earlier this week for a high-ankle sprain he suffered near the beginning of the SEC championship game.
On Thursday, Alabama coach Nick Saban said he expects Tagovailoa to be ready for practice in two weeks, and Tagovailoa said after winning the Walter Camp Award and Maxwell Award that he’ll be ready in time for Oklahoma.
“I think Tua is right on schedule,” Saban said. “The procedure they did usually takes two weeks for a guy to be able to have any explosive movement, and then they go from there. So we’ll see how he progresses from there. But we’re pleased with the progress that he’s made to this point.”
Asked his opinion of Oklahoma’s possible X-factor in the Orange Bowl, Saban said the Sooners’ dynamic quarterback and offense was the best he’s ever seen.
“They’ve had some great games this year, high-scoring games where their defense has come through when they’ve needed to, but I do think this is one of the most dynamic teams that I’ve seen for a long, long time in terms of the way they play offense,” Saban said. “I think Lincoln does a great job with their players. They’ve got some really explosive players. The quarterback is an explosive player. They can run the ball. They have great balance…This is a team that is as explosive as any that I’ve ever seen.”
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.