Thus far in the still-young 2016 season, it is been a mixed bag of results for University of Alabama freshman quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Blake Barnett.
In the Crimson Tide's opener against Southern Cal, both Hurts and Barnett had their share of big moments, but the Alabama offense really began to thrive once Hurts relieved Barnett, the starter against the Trojans. Hurts, the Channelview, Texas native, ultimately accounted for four touchdowns, with two coming on the ground and two by air.
This past weekend against Western Kentucky in UA's home opener, it was Hurts who got the start, and the majority of the playing time.
While he threw for 287 yards and a pair of touchdowns, there were also some missed throws by the youngster and the Alabama receivers did not always provide much help, dropping at least a pair of passes against the Hilltoppers.
So, it appears that Hurts has locked up the main role for now in terms of leading the Crimson Tide offense, but Alabama coach Nick Saban continues to stress the importance of developing both Hurts and Barnett and ensuring that the Tide staff puts both in a position to have success.
For the season, Hurts has completed 29 of 47 passes for 405 yards with four touchdowns and one pick. He has also rushed 20 times for 51 yards and a pair of scores. Barnett, meanwhile, has completed 7 of 12 passes for 164 yards and a score.
It would seem that either Hurts or Barnett, and possibly both, will need to step it up in terms of their leadership, poise and decision making Saturday as the duo and their teammates will face their first Southeastern Conference test of the season, in Alabama's first true road challenge as well.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide (2-0) travels to Oxford, Miss. for a battle against Hugh Freeze's No. 19 Ole Miss Rebels (1-1) in a 2:30 p.m. CT nationally-televised showdown. Alabama heads to the Magnolia State looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat against the Rebels.
In order for that to happen, Saban said Monday that he knows it will likely require very solid play by the UA offense in general.
"I don't think there's any question about the fact it is always a challenge to play on the road, and we'll do everything that we can to help (the young signal callers) with noise and all the things that make it more difficult to communicate on offense," he said. "I think it's going to be about the entire offensive team sort of being able to do this around the quarterback. It is definitely something we will practice this week and we've to get ready for. I don't think it's something that we can't overcome and do well, but it is definitely something that we need to work on."
More pressure may fall on the Tide quarterbacks if Alabama is not able to get a running game that has been inconsistent at best through two games going against the Rebels.
The Crimson Tide, in two games, has rushed for a total of 366 yards, or an average of 183 yards per game, with an average of 4.4 yards per rush. Alabama had only 124 yards this past weekend against Western Kentucky, and totaled only 13 yards on the ground in the first half.
Sophomore Damien Harris currently leads UA in rushing with 183 yards, but he tallied 138 of those yards in the opener against USC.
"I think it's (the Tide's struggle to run the ball against WKU) a combination of both (the Hilltoppers stacking the box against the Tide and the UA line failing to create consistent movement)," said Saban. "It's a combination of fundamental execution and it was a combination of they got more up there than we could block, but if we block them right we should have four or five-yard runs, if we get movement, if we have the right hand placement, if we step the right way."
"Those are all the things to me that I'm talking about that we need to do better," he added. "Is it easier to run when you have a light box?, yeah, but I think regardless of what the box is, if you do it correctly, if you execute it correctly, I think you've got a much better chance of having success."