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Freshman QB Hurts is force that drives No. 1 Alabama

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) breaks loose on a run past LSU linebacker Duke Riley (40) in the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Baton Rouge, La. (Gerald Herbert / AP)
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) breaks loose on a run past LSU linebacker Duke Riley (40) in the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Baton Rouge, La. (Gerald Herbert / AP)
By Christian Caple Tacoma News Tribune

SEATTLE – Surely, you’ve heard about Alabama’s top-ranked defense, about the Crimson Tide’s fearsome front seven, about their 10 defensive touchdowns and their NFL prospects at seemingly every position.

So it can be easy to forget that Alabama also has an offense, one that seems to play a supporting role behind its defense but has still assembled an impressive statistical profile this season with freshman Jalen Hurts at quarterback and a trio of running backs filling the void left by 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.

“What they do well is really simple, but they do it well,” UW linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “And other than that, they’ve got a lot of great athletes and a great coaching staff.”

It starts with Hurts, who won the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year award after winning the starting quarterback job as a true freshman.

Hurts, a 6-foot-2, 209-pound native of Channelview, Texas, came to Alabama as a coveted, four-star recruit, and has completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,592 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. Alabama ranks 26th nationally in passing efficiency and 35th in yards per pass attempt. ArDarius Stewart, a junior and a first-team All-SEC selection, leads the Tide with 852 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Hurts’ running ability is probably more difficult to defend. He has rushed for 841 yards and 12 touchdowns, a dynamic threat in offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s scheme.

“He’s a great athlete. He throws a lot of good short balls,” Bierria said. “That’s what he’s very comfortable with, and he can make plays with his feet. That’s the most important thing he can do. That just goes to him being a great athlete.”

Alabama did not replace Henry with a single back; the Crimson Tide instead have four players who have rushed for 539 yards or more – including Hurts – and rank eighth nationally in yards per rush with an average of 5.74.

Damien Harris, a 5-foot-11, 214-pound sophomore, leads Alabama with 986 yards rushing on only 131 carries, an impressive average of 7.5 yards per rush. True freshman Josh Jacobs (548 yards, 4 touchdowns) and 6-2, 228-pound sophomore Bo Scarbrough (539 yards, 7 touchdowns) have each been effective, too.

They run behind an offensive line that features five players 6-foot-4 or taller. Four of them weigh 304 pounds or more. One is a senior. Two are juniors. Right tackle Jonah Williams, a former teammate of UW quarterback Jake Browning at Folsom High School, is a true freshman … and a freshman All-American.

“They’re huge. They’re big guys,” Bierria said. “I feel like throughout the year, we’ve faced a lot of big linemen. But across the board, every position, they’re pretty stout and pretty big, so we’ve just got to focus on our fundamentals.”

Said UW defensive lineman Vita Vea: “They’re going to be the best O-line we’ve faced all year.”

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