If ever there was a coach with the guts to do it, Nick Saban would be that coach. At halftime of the 2018 College Football National Championship Game, the Alabama Crimson Tide were trailing 13-0 to the Georgia Bulldogs. Starting sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts had a rough first half, to say the least. Hurts was 3-for-8 for 21 yards and had his lowest rating of the season by far — an abysmal 59.6.
For two years, Hurts was the man. He had a career record of 27-2 over two seasons with the Tide. He had been responsible for a grand total of 61 touchdowns and over 6,700 yards from scrimmage. Any other coach would pull his long-groomed quarterback aside and give him a bit of a motivational speech. Any other coach would have thrown him back in knowing he had the talent and leadership to bring his team back from this deficit in the biggest game of his career.
Saban decided against that plan.
Instead of putting Hurts back into the game, he started the second half with freshman Tua Tagovailoa — a move that shocked nearly every football fan in America. What Tagovailoa proceeded to do shocked them even more.
The freshman went out and led his team on a scoring drive right out of the gate. But, it was his heroics in overtime that really blew the nation away. Tagovailoa tossed a game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith immediately following a play where he was sacked for a 16-yard loss — and, of course, the Tide stormed the field and the rest was history.
For Hurts, though, one would imagine that it wasn’t as sweet of a victory following his benching. On the contrary, though, the sophomore was nothing short of humble and supportive during the second half.
Immediately following the game, Tom Rinaldi of ESPN corralled Hurts and asked him a few pertinent questions.
“What was your reaction when you found out Tua was going to start the second half?” Rinaldi asked.
“That he was going to step in and do his thing,” Hurts said. “We have a lot of guys in the QB room that play really well and he just stepped in and did his thing. He did his thing for the team.”
“You were right next to him on the sideline for every huddle, every timeout,” Rinaldi said. “What was your message to him during those moments?”
“Ball. Play your game. Ball. He’s destined for stuff like this, he’s built for stuff like this. He has the ‘it’ factor and I’m so happy for him and for this team,” Hurts fired back without missing a beat.
“What does it mean to you to be a national champion?” Rinaldi finally questioned.
“It’s unbelievable. I dream about this.”
Clearly, Hurts has developed more than just his skills on the field while learning under Saban. How one handles adversity says much more about a person than when they enjoy success. Whether or not he will be ready for the NFL anytime soon remains to be seen, but if and when it happens, one thing is for certain — Hurts will be ready to be a leader.