LOOKING AHEAD

What’s next for Houston area’s Jalen Hurts at Alabama?

Jalen Hurts of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates beating the Georgia Bulldogs in overtime and winning the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Originally appeared on Houstonsportsandstuff.com. Check out the site for a more snarky view of sports and other stuff.

Alabama won the final game of the college football season with a Houston Area native leading the way for all but the last two quarters. In two seasons for the Crimson Tide, Jalen Hurts has made fans out of a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t care about Alabama football. So it’s with no surprise that I offer an opinion on the fate of a local hero who just won a College National Championship in his second attempt as just a sophomore.

I gave it a day for the excitement of it all to settle in. I didn’t want to immediately jump into this argument after Alabama’s amazing victory over Georgia in overtime, but it’s something I’ve thought about since the start of the 4th quarter Monday night. I may have witnessed the end of the Jalen Hurts era in Tuscaloosa–or maybe I haven’t.

The 19 year old who took the world by storm in the 2016 season by leading Alabama to an undefeated regular season and within one second of the championship over Clemson may be out after a 25-2 record as a starter (I won’t count this years final game because he was upside down on the scoreboard before being benched at halftime), though it’s difficult to fathom considering what he’s accomplished on the field.

But anyone who saw how Tua Tagovailoa was able to put that game on his arm and lead the Crimson Tide to a victory can’t deny he has the ability to add to Alabama’s offense, not take away. His passing may be something Nick Saban needs to take his play calling to the next level.

I’m not sure it’s so cut and dry.

One of the greatest assets of having Jalen Hurts on the field is his ability to run the football, a hallmark of the Alabama powerhouse. In his two years he has rushed for 1,809 yards and 21 touchdowns. He did this by being a quarterback in the body of a running back. His physicality and skill set fit right into the road grading offense and the punishing defense that gets them in the championship conversation every year.

The real question is: do I think Nick Saban will change?

I don’t think he will. He just won his 5th National Championship in 9 years at Alabama with pretty much the same formula. Run the ball and stop the run. It’s pretty basic stuff that he has done that much better than everyone else.

Hurts won his spot on the roster by being able to run the ball from the quarterback position like Deshaun Watson, the opposing quarterback the Tide defense was facing in the Championship Game in January 2016–just after he arrived on campus. Not only does he have the moves of a tailback, he also has the power. It’s well documented that he is a power lifter that can squat more in the weight room than some of his lineman. That’s not something a power running offense can simply toss aside because the new guy has a live arm.

College football is very rarely about the quarterback who can throw the ball better than the other one. It helps to have a guy with a big arm, but more often than not it’s the ground game that wins at this level. That’s why I’m not entirely sure Hurts is out at Alabama.

What he gives them on the ground might outweigh what Tagovailoa gives them in the air. We saw that Tagovailoa has some ability to scramble but he doesn’t have the size and power of Hurts. His biggest asset was the ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly. While it flashed big in the second half of the National Championship Game, I’m not sure I believe Saban will see it the same in the big picture.

In 636 career pass attempts, Hurts has only thrown 10 interceptions against 40 touchdowns. That’s a pretty low rate. Last year he fumbled 11 times and lost 5 while this year saw that rate drop to 4-2. If Saban suddenly decided to start chucking the ball all over the field with a young quarterback; how much more vulnerable does his team become?

Jalen Hurts will have the chance to reclaim his spot next year, but he will have to show some improvement in the passing game. I thought he would do so from his first year to this one, but if he did it wasn’t much. If he wants to hold on to his starting spot he will have to improve a lot before the next season gets under way.

And this is where the question gets murky. I grew up in Channelview Texas on the East side of Houston. That happens to be the high school where Jalen Hurts played before he left for Tuscaloosa. When I watched him play on Friday nights I saw a kid who had the ability to take over the game. Knowing the school and how it has fared over the years, it was awesome for me to witness him lead them into the playoffs for the first time in nearly 20 years. The problem is that I don’t see a big difference in the Jalen Hurts of Channelview High School 2015 and the one that played for Alabama in 2017.

I’m not a big believer in Nick Saban as a developer of quarterbacks so it’s no surprise Hurts hasn’t quite improved. But does it help them to bring in a player who already has the goods? That’s a possibility. If his offensive coordinator can handle the balance between clock control and air raid offense then maybe Tagovailoa has a chance. If Hurts can improve his ability to open up the passing game when necessary then maybe he has a chance.

There’s also the chance that Jalen does the shocking thing and skips town. He began his college career in January of 2016 and just finished his true sophomore season. That means that under NCAA rules he can transfer schools, sit a season, and then play for another season. If he really felt like his job was in jeopardy because of one half of football he could move on and no one would suffer the consequence. He could also pull a surprise and change to a different position. He has the skills to pull off either of these moves.

I guess in the end there is no clear answer about the end of Jalen Hurts. He has options in front of him. If he decides to stick it out in Tuscaloosa I think he has a good shot at keeping his starting quarterback job. I believe that because Saban loves running the ball and controlling the clock. If Hurts proves himself to be the guy that can do that without turning the ball over then maybe he keeps it. But if the new guy comes into camp and looks like he will take his job then maybe he moves to a different position or onto a different school.

I don’t think the latter will be his choice. His athleticism and build gives him the ability to change positions like other players before him. If he doesn’t go that route then he will have to decide what his fate will be. I’m not sure if it’s the end of Jalen Hurts as the Alabama quarterback or the end of him at Alabama but I’m sure it’s not the end of him as a player on a national scene. He just has too much talent.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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