Lincoln Riley may have his hands full. He may have to trash some of his playbook, and begin bulking it up with new plays that better fit his new quarterback: Jalen Hurts.
Hurts announced on Wednesday he will be transferring from Alabama to Oklahoma. Presumably, Hurts will be the starter for the Sooners in 2019. And Hurts is a different quarterback than the previous two starters for Oklahoma in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Hurts isn’t the same caliber as a passer — that’s largely why the Crimson Tide benched him in the National Championship last year in favor of Tua Tagovailoa, who has turned out to be one of the most gifted passers in college football. Nick Saban stuck with Tagovailoa over Hurts for the entire 2018 season, which ended in a National Championships loss to the Clemson Tigers.
In 2017, Hurts proved he can be a starting quarterback at Alabama — he is not a scrub by any measurement. Last season, Hurts completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 2,081 yards, 17 touchdowns and one interception. He had 154 carries for 855 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2016, Hurts rushed for an absurd 13 touchdowns.
If Riley is going to play to Hurts’ strengths, he will likely have to give his playbook a facelift that allows Hurts the ability to run the ball, much like Murray did this season — which was a huge increase from what Mayfield did in 2017. Hurts also has more limitations as a passer and didn’t figure to be desirable prospect for the NFL. That could change. After all, Mayfield and Murray weren’t desirable until Riley got his clutches on them. Riley adjusted his playbook to work for Murray, and allowed the diminutive quarterback the opportunity to run and gun downfield. He can surely tune up the offense for Hurts in 2019.
Everything Riley touches (at quarterback) turns to gold. What’s more, Hurts won’t have to worry about SEC defenses every week. He may have his limitations, but Riley seems likely to amplify his strengths.
Hurts and Riley will challenge each other, but the results should be positive.