Jalen Hurts' Flaws Are Ultimate Test of Lincoln Riley's Vaunted Oklahoma System

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2019

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jalen Hurts #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide warms up prior to the CFP National Championship against the Clemson Tigers presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Jalen Hurts had a memorable career at Alabama, but his shortcomings afforded Tua Tagovailoa an opportunity he never relinquished. One season and graduation later, Hurts is going to Oklahoma.

The long-awaited transfer decision arrived Wednesday, with Hurts announcing in the Players' Tribune that he's headed to play for Lincoln Riley and the Sooners.

Maryland and Miami also pursued Hurts, who becomes the favorite to replace Kyler Murray and absorb the lofty expectations that come with it. Hurts will be immediately eligible, and he can assume control of a national contender with a head coach considered one of football's brightest offensive minds.

Oklahoma has produced two straight Heisman Trophy winners while leading the nation in yards per snap both years, and part of that credit belongs to Riley. While he's not responsible for the talent of Murray or Baker Mayfield, both players thrived in a high-efficiency system Riley tailored to their strengths.

Let's be clear: Every quarterback is a system quarterback. There are zero exceptions. Riley runs an Air Raid that he's tweaked to fit personnel, not personal preference. It's a huge credit to Riley.

Hurts won't need an overhaul, but he'll require some teaching.

During two seasons as Alabama's starter, Hurts played well enough to capitalize on elite surrounding talent and a stingy defense. While posting a 25-2 record, he completed 61.9 percent of his 637 passes for 4,861 yards and 40 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions.

But, as any respectable coaching staff would do, the Crimson Tide kept it simple. Offensive coordinators Lane Kiffin (2016) and Brian Daboll (2017) relied on quick passesfirst to simplify the game for a freshman and then because Hurts struggled downfield.

To his credit, Hurts significantly improved when throwing to intermediate areas (11-20 yards) from 2016 to 2017. He still wasn't consistent enough there or deep to eliminate concern.

Oklahoma hasn't dealt with those issues lately. Mayfield and Murray picked apart defenses at every level of the field thanks to a combination of arm strength, patience and timing. Hurts has flashed those qualities, but they haven't appeared consistently.

Riley must see the possibility of extracting them, considering he told 5-star signee Spencer Rattler that OU wouldn't be taking a transfer anytime soon, per Chris Hummer of 247Sports.

Plans changed.

Both Mayfield (2017) and Murray (2018) threw at least 11 touchdowns that traveled 20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage, per internal tracking by Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton. According to CFB Film Room charts from 2016 and '17 and internal tracking on Hurts' performance in 2018, he's tossed seven such scores in his college career.

While it's unfair to label him a one-read-and-run quarterback, Hurts has often hesitated in the pocket or looked to scramble. The hope is the poise he showed in the SEC Championship Game is the new normal. Even in limited action, Hurts impressed thoroughly.

If the Sooners can unlock that version of Hurts, they'll have an obvious All-Big 12 candidate. Slow your roll on Heisman Trophy talk, but it's within the realm of possibility.

After all, he's also a tremendous runner. He rushed for 1,976 yards and 23 touchdowns at Alabama.

Hurts will produce on draws and as a scrambler, but Oklahoma can lean more heavily on designed QB runs next season, too. Murray was listed at 5'10" and 195 pounds; Hurts is 6'2" and 218.

That build allowed Alabama to use him in short-yardage situations―a non-factor in Murray's game. In 2018, he logged three runs in third-down situations of six yards or less. Hurts posted 21 such attempts in 2017 and 28 the year before.

Hurts' mobility will offer a fresh dimension to Oklahoma's scoring attack, one that must also replace four offensive linemen.

Still, his development through the air will define the Sooners in 2019. The returning pass-catching corps includes CeeDee Lamb, Lee Morris, Grant Calcaterra and a stacked group of incoming receivers. Hurts will have plenty of talent around him.

On offense, at least.

Murray shouldered a massive burden last season, atoning for a defense that would've crushed more than 99 percent of QBs. Though the unit should improve as recruiting does, it's theoretically hard to get worse after ceding an 83.3 red-zone touchdown rate.

Hurts rose to prominence while an elite defense buoyed the Alabama offense. That won't be the case in Norman.

Riley evidently believes Hurts' upside and experience outweigh his past throwing issues. But this transition won't be seamless, and he's taking a calculated risk he can transform Hurts into a lethal passer while utilizing his mobility.

If Riley succeeds, the third-year coach will move from inheriting a ready-made winner to creating a different kind of one.


All recruiting information via 247Sports' composite rankings. Stats from NCAA.comcfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


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