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Why did Jalen Hurts leave Alabama? Revisiting QB’s remarkable path to Super Bowl

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Jalen Hurts cycled through the questions at College Football Playoff championship media day on Jan. 6, 2018, two days before Alabama faced Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. He responded to one question about dealing with the pressure of being the quarterback for the Crimson Tide. 

“Don’t lose,” Hurts said. “That’s it.” 

Two days later, Hurts was benched at halftime for Tua Tagovailoa, who led the Crimson Tide to a 26-23 overtime victory. That moment changed Hurts’ career arc forever, but it’s also the midpoint of what has been a fast-paced journey that will continue with Hurts leading the Eagles against the Chiefs in Super Bowl 57 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday. 

MORE: Watch Super Bowl 57 live with fuboTV (free trial)

Just how remarkable is that journey? Hurts has been a freshman sensation, a backup quarterback, a transfer Heisman contender and now an NFL MVP candidate with a chance to win a Super Bowl. He’s 24 years old. 

A look back at why Hurts left Alabama, and how he has made it back to the biggest stage. 

Jalen Hurts the freshman sensation 

Try this for a movie script: Hurts replaced Blake Barnett for top-ranked Alabama after two series against No. 20 USC in his first college game on Sept. 3, 2016. On his first college snap, Hurts fumbled and the USC recovered. Then . . .

Hurts dominated. He led the Crimson Tide to a 52-6 blowout win in that game and then worked himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation by leading Alabama to a 14-0 record in the regular season. He finished with 2,780 passing yards, 954 rushing yards and 36 total TDs. 

MORE: Black QBs in the Super Bowl: How Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes made history in 2023

In the College Football Playoff championship game against Clemson, Hurts scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 30-yard run with 2:07 remaining, but the Tigers answered with a TD drive led by Deshaun Watson for a 35-31 victory. Hurts was literally one second away from a national title. 

Jalen Hurts benched in College Football Playoff title game 

Hurts led Alabama back to the CFP championship game the following season, but the Tide’s regular-season loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl and the emergence of freshman Tua Tagovailoa had created a quarterback controversy in Tuscaloosa. 

Georgia led 13-0 at halftime and Hurts was 3 of 8 passing for 21 yards. In the third quarter, Alabama coach Nick Saban pulled Hurts for Tagovailoa, and the move worked. Tagovailoa threw the game-winning TD in overtime to DeVonta Smith in a 26-23 thriller. Hurts gained respect for how he handled his postgame interview with ESPN. 

Jalen Hurts plays hero — as a backup 

Despite a 26-2 record in two seasons as a starter, Hurts was the backup his junior year at Alabama behind Tagovailoa. 

That was apparent in the season opener against Louisville, when Tagovailoa started but Hurts was mixed in for the occasional series. That led to the infamous exchange between Saban and sideline reporter Maria Taylor. 

MORE: Bender’s Super Bowl 57 pick

Tagovailoa eventually took over as the full-time starter, but Hurts played in every game. He then had a redemption moment in the 2018 SEC championship game against Georgia. 

Tagovailoa was injured, Hurts replaced him and then led back-to-back touchdown drives in the second half. He scored the eventual game-winning touchdown, a 15-yard run with 1:04 remaining. Alabama won 35-28. It eventually secured yet another appearance in the CFP championship game. 

Hurts closed his Alabama career with two passing attempts in his team’s 44-16 loss to Clemson on Jan. 7, 2019. Hurts was ready to transfer. Saban offered him some interesting advice. 

“I said, ‘You need to go to Oklahoma,'” Saban said, via “‘They got the best coach to develop you as a quarterback, and you’re gonna be around the best players, so that’s gonna enhance your chances of having success.'”

Jalen Hurts the Heisman finalist 

Hurts wasted no time showing exactly how well he fit in Lincoln Riley’s offense at Oklahoma. On Sept. 1, 2019, Hurts put up 332 passing yards, 176 rushing yards and six total touchdowns in a 49-31 victory against Houston. 

That game kicked off a banner season in which Hurts totaled 3,851 passing yards, 32 passing TDs, 1,298 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Oklahoma won the Big 12 championship with a 12-1 record, and Hurts finished second in Heisman Trophy voting behind LSU’s Joe Burrow. Burrow then led the Tigers to a 63-28 victory over the Sooners in the College Football Playoff semifinals. 

MORE: Which of Alabama, Oklahoma has best claim to Jalen Hurts?

Hurts closed his college career with a 38-3 record as a starter. He had 9,477 passing yards, 80 TDs and 20 interceptions. He also had 3,274 rushing yards and 43 TDs.

Jalen Hurts the rookie backup

Despite his prolific college career, Hurts was asked if he would consider switching positions at the next level. 

“I’ve always been a team-first guy, but I think I’m a quarterback,” Hurts said at the 2020 NFL Combine. “I think that’s that.” 

Hurts was the fifth quarterback selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. Burrow (first overall), Tagovailoa (fifth), Justin Herbert (sixth) and Jordan Love (26th) were all selected in the first round ahead of Hurts, who was taken by Philadelphia in the second round with the No. 53 pick. 

MORE: Why Eagles fans can thank Andy Reid for Jalen Hurts

Hurts began the 2020 season as a backup behind Carson Wentz before starting the team’s final four games. He struggled, with a 51.9 completion percentage and a 1-3 record in those starts. That was the end of the Doug Pederson era in Philadelphia. 

Jalen Hurts the MVP candidate 

Nick Sirianni was hired to replace Pederson, and Hurts quickly became an elite playmaker in the Eagles’ offense. In 2021, he had 3,144 passing yards, 16 TDs and nine interceptions, plus 784 rushing yards and 10 TDs. The Eagles reached the NFC wild-card round. 

This season, Hurts took his game to another level — with help from a trade that brought wide receiver A.J. Brown to the Eagles. He had 3,701 passing yards, 22 TDs and six interceptions. Hurts’ completion percentage increased to 66.5. He also had 760 rushing yards and 13 TDs. He’s now 23-11 as a starter in three NFL seasons. 

MORE SUPER BOWL 57: Halftime show | Location | Tickets

The Eagles tore through the Giants and 49ers in the 2023 NFC playoffs, and now Hurts is back in a championship game. Counting his time at Alabama, it is his fourth in seven seasons.


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