Hurts has not been stopped this season with the dual-threat quarterback rushing for 841 yards and 12 touchdowns in addition to throwing for 2,592 yards and 22 touchdowns.
ATLANTA — When it comes to Alabama true-freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, there isn’t any secret to the Huskies’ game plan. And if there was, Budda Baker spelled out Washington’s defensive intentions going into Saturday’s national semifinal game at the Georgia Dome.
“I feel like the D-line is going to have a great opportunity to keep (Hurts) in the pocket, and when he does cross the line of scrimmage we’ve got to hit him,” said Baker, Washington’s star safety. “He’s been hit before, but he’s never backed down. You see him running over guys, stiff-arming guys. So for that, we’ve just got to keep hitting him and hitting him and hitting him and hitting him and hitting him all game.”
That’s five hits in all, and the No. 4 Huskies (12-1) will probably need more — much more — than that to upset the top-ranked Crimson Tide (13-0) in the Peach Bowl.
“Hopefully, he’ll crack,” Baker said. “But he’s never cracked yet.”
If there is a chink in Lancelot’s armor, a weakness in Alabama’s offense, Hurts’ right arm may be it. At least, that’s what the Huskies are hoping. They want to keep him in the pocket Saturday and make him beat an elite secondary through the air.
But, as Baker hinted, Hurts has been everything and more that Alabama could have asked for as a true freshman. At 6 feet 2, 209 pounds, Hurts is built more like a fullback, and he’s rushed for 841 yards and 12 touchdowns in addition to throwing for 2,592 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was named the SEC offensive player of the year.
“I think that it’s extremely abnormal, what he’s doing,” Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said, adding: “He’s had an unbelievable year, again, for a true freshman. He has some great players around him that help, and the defense and special teams have made a lot of plays.”
The Huskies’ defensive plan is similar to the one they employed against USC’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Sam Darnold. On Wednesday, Darnold was the QB UW players most compared to Hurts, and Darnold’s scrambling ability helped the Trojans pull off a 26-13 upset of UW at Husky Stadium on Nov. 12.
“Sam did a really good job of keeping plays alive and was accurate with the ball and didn’t make a lot of mistakes that a freshman would make,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said.
The one dual-threat quarterback who torched UW’s defense this season was Arizona’s Brandon Dawkins in the Huskies’ overtime victory on Sept. 24. Dawkins had 176 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
The Huskies don’t believe that performance was a sign of any sort of systemic issue against running quarterbacks.
“That first Arizona road game, we were hyped out of our minds, and I think that (showed up) terrible on the field,” UW outside linebacker Psalm Wooching said. “After that, we got our stuff together.”
Hurts has been susceptible to turnovers. He’s thrown nine interceptions and has fumbled 10 times, losing five of those.
“I think if we contain his running and try to get him to pass more (we have a chance),” Wooching said, “because our DBs in the back can take care of that.”
For the past two years, cornerback Sidney Jones has won the Huskies’ team “best hands” award, given to the UW player who ends up with the most interceptions at the end of the season.
It’s a coveted award, and one true freshman safety Taylor Rapp is in line to steal away. Rapp has four interceptions — two against USC and two against Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game — one more than Jones. Baker and Kevin King each have two.
“We’re a competitive unit,” King said Wednesday. “I think each one of us want to be leading in picks. …
“We’re happy for Taylor. It’s not a surprise for me. It’s not a surprise for anybody, seeing him have the type of game that he’s had. And I’ve never had a multiple interception game, and he’s had two this year. So being able to have a playmaker like that, and he’s only a true freshman, you know, the sky’s the limit for somebody like that.”