Alabama QB Jalen Hurts has impressed with mental fortitude
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Jalen Hurts' Alabama career started with a fumble on his first play. At Mississippi, Hurts got drilled and lost a fumble that the Rebels returned for a touchdown.
Yes, the top-ranked Crimson Tide's freshman quarterback has dealt with some adversity in the infancy of his college career - and bounced back each time even stronger.
And that's sold coach Nick Saban that the 18-year-old Texan has the mental fortitude to hold up under the pressures of leading the defending national champions more than any high school video every could.
''I don't think you ever really know for sure that a guy has that mental makeup until he sort of gets in there under fire, and you see what kind of decisions he's going to make under fire,'' Saban said.
Hurts has passed all the tests so far. There have been rough spots in other games but none more so than against the only two ranked teams Alabama has faced heading into Saturday night's visit to No. 16 Arkansas.
He bounced back from his initial play off the bench in the opener against Southern California to both rush and pass for two touchdowns - all in the second half. That fumble-for-six against the Rebels helped put Alabama in a 24-3 hole.
Big plays from defense and special teams helped the Tide forge a comeback, but Hurts' numbers were strong, too: 158 passing yards, 146 rushing yards.
There's little question about the physical tools of the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Channelview, Texas. He'll almost certainly be the most prolific running quarterback Saban's had during his decade at Alabama, running for 276 yards and three touchdowns through five games. He has also passed for seven touchdowns against just one interception.
Only one of Saban's previous Tide quarterbacks has reached 105 rushing yards in a season. Hurts is closing in on Blake Sims' 350-yard season two years ago.
Arkansas has struggled against mobile quarterbacks like Texas A&M's Trevor Knight, who ran for 157 yards and two long touchdowns. Now, the Razorbacks face another challenge in Hurts.
''He's a different quarterback,'' Arkansas defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads said. ''He's the biggest, strongest running quarterback that we've faced. I think he's deceptively fast, and the only reason I say deceptively fast is it's effortless when he's running. It doesn't look like he's running very fast, and people have a hard time catching him.''
Hurts has thrown 14 passes of 20-plus yards , even with star receiver ArDarius Stewart missing the past two games with a knee injury. Stewart is expected to return against the Razorbacks.
Hurts' teammates are buying in on the way he's handled those moments that could have flustered many young quarterbacks.
''Everybody on the field it's, `So what? Now what?' That's the saying that we have,'' center Bradley Bozeman said. ''It's `So what, that happened, now what are you going to do to respond to that?' So it's great to see that in him and he does a very good job with that.''
Hurts' ownership of Alabama's starting job was reinforced when backup Blake Barnett left the school less than a month after starting against USC.
That leaves Cooper Bateman as the backup. Saban said losing Barnett won't necessarily lead coaches to limit Hurts' carries to reduce the injury risks.
''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,'' Saban said. ''I guess if he gets injured doing it, then it'll my fault. I guess if he gets injured by sitting in the pocket throwing a pass, then it's OK. (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.''
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Arkansas contributed to this report.
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