The cover photo for this story shows Jalen Hurts playing college football… but not for the Oklahoma Sooners, the team he will lead against the LSU Tigers on Saturday in the Peach Bowl, a College Football Playoff semifinal.
Hurts, in the cover photo, was playing for the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2018 SEC Championship Game. He relieved an injured Tua Tagovailoa and rallied Alabama to a win which put the Crimson Tide in the 2018 College Football Playoff. Alabama reached the national championship game.
Hurts will represent Oklahoma this Saturday, but his career was built at Alabama, where he made three straight national championship games. Now he will try to make a fourth one at a different school.
Everything has come full circle for Hurts in this 2019 playoff semifinal.
Here's your friendly reminder that Jalen Hurts has never lost a college game in the city of Atlanta:
— Nate Feken (@TheGreat_Nate) December 27, 2019
Hurts is coming back to Atlanta for one more ride. The city is where Hurts played for the 2017 national championship against Georgia. He was the quarterback who was relieved. Tagovailoa relieved HIM and led Alabama past Georgia for the 2017 national title. This is precisely what made Hurts’ relief appearance in place of Tagovailoa such a spectacular story one year later against the same opponent, the Georgia Bulldogs.
Hurts is playing LSU for a third time in his collegiate career. He defeated the Tigers in 2016 and 2017. Tagovailoa faced LSU in 2018. Hurts won in 2016 because Alabama’s defense shut out LSU. In this Oklahoma-LSU semifinal, LSU will not be shut out. The Tigers’ offense has received a complete makeover and boasts the best player in college football this season, Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. Hurts can’t “manage the game” and get out of the way; he has to be great in order for Oklahoma to have a real chance.
Alabama, he said, is "the place where I'll always be remembered, and they'll always have a special place in my heart." – Jalen Hurts https://t.co/TBv8TYVPq9
— Roll Tide #17™ (@jerrysandersRTR) December 27, 2019
The first half of the 2019 season was a period of luminous brilliance for Hurts, who entered the season with something to prove. Hurts turned Oklahoma into the juggernaut team many people currently think the Ohio State Buckeyes are as OSU prepares for the other College Football Playoff semifinal against the Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl. However, in the middle of the season, two things happened: Oklahoma’s defense took a two-week vacation (hashtag #JustLikeUs in the middle of a difficult year at our workplaces), and Hurts’ ball security deteriorated. Hurts started to fumble a lot more, especially near the goal line, and his passing touch evaporated. Key interceptions nearly cost Oklahoma the College Football Playoff. Fortunately, the OU defense rescued him in several situations.
Dave Aranda on Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts: "I think you have to count on him running the ball and making him beat you throwing it."
Said #LSU didn't do that when Hurts rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown with Alabama in the Crimson Tide's 10-0 win in 2016.
— Brooks Kubena (@BKubena) December 24, 2019
Because Hurts received timely help from his teammates, he is back in a College Football Playoff one more time. He played Clemson for the 2016 national championship and lost when the Tigers scored a touchdown in the final 10 seconds. He beat Clemson in the 2017 semifinals, setting up the 2017 title game against Georgia in which his backup, Tagovailoa, rallied Alabama to a victory. Hurts watched Tagovailoa lose to Clemson in a blowout national championship game last season.
You can do the math: Hurts has never won a national championship game in which he went wire-to-wire as the starting quarterback. He would love to get that chance. He comes back to Atlanta, the site of his two most emotional and momentous games as a college football player, trying to earn that precious opportunity.
Back to Atlanta for one more ride in the College Football Playoff. We will see how Jalen Hurts writes this next chapter in a storied college football career. Will it be his last chapter, or will there be another one in January of 2020 in New Orleans, with the national title on the line?