TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Two plays and 39 seconds. That’s all it took for Alabama’s offense to get rolling again.
Well, that and a mediocre Fresno State defense. But still.
A week after no receiver other than Calvin Ridley caught a pass against Florida State, Jalen Hurts dropped back on the first play from scrimmage and and found Cam Sims on a bubble screen that went for 18 yards and a first down. Then, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll dialed up the read-option and Hurts kept the ball himself, found daylight and sprinted 55 yards for the touchdown.
For the first time since last season’s Iron Bowl, Hurts looked like himself again. He was poised, confident, accurate with the football and lethal in the open field. In other words: After struggling in last season’s College Football Playoff and then again during the season-opener against Florida State, he looked like the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year should.
Hurts ran for a career-high 154 yards against Fresno State. It was the fifth time he reached the century mark rushing, but the first since Nov. 12 against Mississippi State.
That’s not to mention the fact that he completed 14 of 18 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
A week after coach Nick Saban lamented a lack of players being involved in the passing game, Hurts completed balls to seven different teammates, including a 23-yard seam route to tight end Hale Hentges that went for a touchdown. Former blue-chip recruit Robert Foster had his first catch since Oct. 1 against Kentucky.
“The emphasis was to execute,” Hurts said after the game. “Just going through the read, whoever is the read, and getting them the ball and letting them make the play. I think that’s what we came out and did today.”
Asked about the criticism of his performance against Florida State and late last season, Hurts responded, “I’ve said it all spring -- everybody is entitled to their own opinion.”
“He did a nice job today,” Saban said. “He threw the ball to the right place. He was accurate with the ball. He kind of took what the defense gave.”
Saban would have liked to have seen more explosive passing plays, but that was him being nitpicky. Overall, he said, he was happy with Hurts’ efficiency.
“I was actually pleased with the way Jalen handled the game and managed the game and also the way he threw the ball in the game,” he said.
Hurts' average Total QBR in his previous four games was 52.4. On Saturday, it was 97.8.
It was a productive day, Hurts said, but “it wasn’t perfect.”
The offensive line fixed some of its pass-protection problems, center Bradley Bozeman said, but they weren’t perfect either. When Saban challenged the offense on third-and-2 to pick up 1 yard and they’d go for it on fourth down, they came up empty.
But, again, we’re talking about being nitpicky.
Overall, Alabama rushed for 305 yards on 39 carries. That’s 7.8 yards per rush for those keeping track at home.
“We were pretty fluid from the start,” Bozeman said. “We tried to come out and play fast and get the ball rolling early. And we did a good job of that. We just have to finish in the later part of the game.”
In terms of the bigger picture, though, this was the exact game Alabama needed. The offense finally found its rhythm and Hurts was back to his old self, making plays with his arm as well as his feet.
Remember, Saban admitted that he and former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin didn’t develop Hurts like they should have last season. Hence his struggles throwing from the pocket in big games.
So while playing well against a mediocre Fresno State defense shouldn’t blow the doors off of anyone, it might just be the first sign in his development from a one-dimensional player to a multi-faceted quarterback.
There's a long way to go, but Saturday was a step in the right direction.