Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts entered his fifth game of the season against Louisiana on Saturday afternoon, finally putting to bed the question of whether or not he would redshirt and try to retain an extra year of eligibility.
Hurts, a junior who compiled a 26-2 record before losing his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa this year, entered the 28-0 game to cheers in the first quarter of the No. 1 Crimson Tide's 56-14 victory. He will play in a complementary role to Tagovailoa for the rest of the season.
"Jalen's a first-class guy," coach Nick Saban said after Saturday's victory. "He's a really good player; he's won a lot of games around here for us. And I think he respects the program, and we certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He's done a wonderful job, and he's a great team player."
Hurts is on pace to get his degree in December and is expected to leave shortly thereafter as a graduate transfer, giving him immediate eligibility. If he had not appeared in another game this season and taken a redshirt, he would have had two years of eligibility remaining instead of one.
Saban has said on multiple occasions that his plan all along has been to play both Hurts and Tagovailoa.
"I know there's been a lot of talk around here about the guy transferring and the transfer rule," Saban said Saturday. "Jalen, obviously, handled this extremely well -- relative to being a great team player, a team leader, respecting his teammates, and sticking with the program here, and playing very well today and taking advantage of when he does have an opportunity to play, to play well and try to create value for himself -- which, I think, would be the message that I would send to all players out there who are trying to take advantage of this new rule."
Hurts had started 28 straight games entering this season, but the former SEC Offensive Player of the Year was unseated by Tagovailoa, the sophomore who came off the bench to help Alabama win the College Football National Championship last season.
Hurts has appeared at varying points in all five games this season. On Saturday, he had completed 4 of his 6 attempts for 118 yards and a touchdown. On the season, he is 26 of 37 for 394 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. He has also rushed for 62 yards on 19 carries.
"We're going to play him as much as we possibly can," Saban said of Hurts on Thursday. "He deserves to play. There may be a time in the future where he becomes the guy if something happens. We're not hoping for that narrative, certainly. But I think it speaks volumes of his character to stick with his teammates, be a part of of his team, finish the season.
"I've always said how much respect I have for both the guys. How you handle things when you're in a difficult situation, I think, speaks volumes of who you are. The one thing we're all going to have in life, is we're gonna have a lot of problems. Life is difficult. How you handle the problems is the one thing that you can control. I think this is certainly an obstacle that will help him be more successful in the future, and the way he's handled [it] is certainly going to help him handle issues and problems that we all have in our lives in the future."
Tagovailoa, meanwhile, has vaulted into the Heisman Trophy race this season with a perfect 12 touchdowns and no interceptions coming into the weekend. He had also rushed for a pair of touchdowns.
Keeping Hurts on the active roster is a huge win for Saban and the coaching staff, giving them a safety net in the event that Tagovailoa is injured. It also gives them a veteran presence in the locker room and a weapon on offense that could come in handy in certain situations.