The numbers may not show it, but Jalen Hurts and Alabama’s offense are only getting better

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was after the Ole Miss game ended and University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was trying to keep an even keel.

The Crimson Tide had destroyed the Rebels, 66-3, and the offense played well. Alabama had amassed 365 rushing yards and 248 passing while scoring 8 touchdowns. So when he was told a teammate, senior linebacker Rashaan Evans, had rated the team’s overall performance a five on a scale of one to 10, Hurts was surprised.

Initially, nothing came out of his mouth, but his eyes showed it, as if to say, “Are you kidding me? A five?”

“It’s just, just a thing,” he quietly said.

That kind of scrutiny comes with playing at Alabama, which Hurts knows as well as anyone, but his primary concern is whether the team won, not necessarily how it did so. It doesn’t matter if he threw for 300 yards or every point was scored on special teams as long as the Crimson Tide got the W.

So any statistical comparisons between this year’s offense and 2016 may not accurately measure the offense’s growth, or his as a quarterback.

Both teams started  6-0, including three SEC opponents faced, but you’re also talking different circumstances, different foes and Alabama having a new coordinator, Brian Daboll, who is slowly molding the Crimson Tide offense.

“Oh, that’s gone extremely well,” coach Nick Saban said about the transition. “I think the players have responded well. I think we’ve been productive on offense. I think we have the kind of balance that we’re looking for. He does a great job of preparing the players, and I think they have a lot of respect for him.”

Thus far, Hurts is 70 of 111 passing (63.1 percent) for 870 yards and 7 touchdowns.

This time a year ago he was 97 of 152, (63.8 percent) for 1,242 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Based on that, it would be easy to conclude that Hurts has regressed, but the opposite is true. For one, he hasn’t had a turnover yet this season and his passer-efficiency rating is up. He’s also more prolific in the running game, with 517 yards on 69 carries. A year ago, he had 62 carries for 296 yards.

Additionally, Alabama has barely used the jet sweep, a staple last year that counted as a completion. Hurts is now making adjustments on his own instead of checking with the sideline before every snap, and going through his progressions more.

“Jalen is improving,” senior wide receiver Cam Sims said.

So is the offense.

Offense Rushing Passing Totals yards TDs 1st downs 3rd down conversions Turovers
2016 249-1,422 116-180 1,525 2,947 26 127 41-84 8
2017 281-1,810 88-139 1,088 2,898 31 144 34-82 1
Defense Rushing Passing Totals yards TDs 1st downs 3rd down conversions Turnovers
2016 187-415 108-201 1,340 1,455 9 88 30-95 13
2017 171-440 106-192 1,113 1,553 7 85 21-78 13

Alabama has outscored its opponents 258-62 compared to 269-95 at this point last year. But that’s a little misleading.

Remember all the non-offensive touchdowns the Crimson Tide scored last season? The majority of them were during the first half of the season with 9 through six games: 4 on fumble returns, 3 on interception returns and 2 on punt returns.

So far Alabama has had 1 this season. So if you subtract those out of the totals the point differential would be closer to +189 for this season, compared to +102 for 2016.

Alabama is averaging 6.4 yards per carry, 12.4 per catch and the team’s passer efficiency rating is 155.17. All of those numbers are up from this time a year ago.

Alabama football-crimson Tide football-Jalen Hurts
Alabama’s offense has reached the end zone more this season than in 2016 (Chris Kirschner/SEC Country)

Moreover, Alabama is back to being more of a running team despite having only two offensive linemen playing in the same spots as last year. It’s still working on the consistency, but the Crimson Tide leads the SEC in rushing offense by a wide margin (301.7 yards per game).

“Ups and downs,” junior left guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “We watched the film from last year, Texas A&M, and I didn’t think that was a very good game for us. I think we’re kind of ahead of where we were even last year, which is promising. And I think it’s always a work in progress. But I think we’ve done good things and I think protected well for the most part, and rushing yards have been good, too, so that’s a credit to everyone on offense.”

Even though it hasn’t quite clicked the way the Crimson Tide hoped, the downfield passing game has shown flashes of its potential. Nearly every incompletion Hurts had against Texas A&M was 10-plus yards, and nearly all were just a fraction off, like the sideline catch Sims made out-of-bounds.

“Uh, I’ll take the blame on that because I didn’t really know where I was on the field,” Sims said.

Now compare it to a year ago, when the defense carried the Crimson Tide and the offense became more turnover prone and cautious as the season progressed.

How many times do you hear someone say, “Why can’t they get the ball to Calvin Ridley?” Overall, 28 of his receptions (almost 40 percent) came against three opponents — Western Kentucky, Ole Miss and Kentucky — all in the first half of the season.

Alabama football-Crimson Tide football-Calvin Ridley
With 29 catches for 390 yards, Calvin Ridley has been a steady contributor this season ( Chris Kirschner/SEC Country)

Meanwhile, this offense is on an upswing and making strides.

Consequently, to really gauge Alabama’s offensive development all one needs to do is consider one question: If the game was on the line, how much more confident would you be that the Crimson Tide could score?

“Jalen’s played really well for us,” Saban said. “We’re really pleased with the progress that he’s made. We wanted to do a little better job, maybe, developing him in the passing game, and I think we’ve done that. Obviously we still have room to improve — I’m not talking just about Jalen, but I’m talking about as an overall team, so that we have the kind of balance that we need. But he’s been a good decision-maker and played very well, kept his eyes downfield and has made some nice plays in the passing game.”

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