TAMPA, Fla.—They say that quarterbacks get too much of the credit when a team wins, and too much of the blame when a team loses.
And that may be true.
If the number is 90 percent, maybe it should only be 88 percent.
That will certainly be the case after Clemson and Alabama square off in the national championship on Monday night. One of the quarterbacks is going to be wearing a cape. And fingers will be pointing at the other.
If you believe that, it would seem to give a big edge to the Tigers, who will have junior stud Deshaun Watson, a two-time Heisman finalist, taking snaps.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Asked what concerns him most about Clemson at media day on Saturday, Bama coach Nick Saban didn’t hesitate.
``The quarterback. Deshaun Watson is probably the most dynamic player in college football, maybe the best player in college football relative to what he does for his team. A combination of his ability to pass the ball accurately, execute their offense in the passing game, as well as his physical ability to run the ball and add quarterback runs to their whole system of very good players, whether it's running backs or wide receivers, and he can utilize all the talent on their team because of his skill set.’’
Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide will counter with an 18-year-old true freshman, Jalen Hurts. As the SEC’s offensive player and freshman of the year, the kid obviously can play.
But this is an awfully big stage.
That said, when I asked Jeff Scott, Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator, if he could imagine going into the national championship game with an 18-year-old true freshman at quarterback, he didn’t hesitate, either.
``If it was a guy like Deshaun Watson, I’d be happy to to do that,’’ Scott said. ``That’s what they have on the other side. He’s just so mature beyond his years. He shows great poise. It’s unheard of, really, to see a guy like that, to be as successful as he has this year at a place like Alabama. It’s really incredible. But that’s what that top 1 percent of guys [do]. That’s where I put Jalen.’’
The numbers certainly favor Watson, who has thrown for 38 touchdowns and 4,173 yards while completing 67 percent of his passes, although his 17 interceptions are a concern.
Hurts, meanwhile, completed 65 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,649 yards, with 22 touchdowns and nine picks.
And both QBs, of course, are very elusive when they opt to tuck the ball and run.
Experience, though, is where they differ. While Watson was piling up a dazzling 478 yards (405 passing, 73 rushing) in Clemson’s heart-breaking 45-40 loss to Bama in the championship game a year ago, where was Hurts?
``I was in Tuscaloosa watching the game with a few friends,’’ Hurts said when I asked. ``Obviously, I had to come in early to do the role of Deshaun Watson [in practice]. It’s kind of weird, I’m about to play against him now. Last year I was playing that role on scout team.’’
Hurts enrolled at Alabama last January after a stellar career playing for his father, Averion, at Channelview (Tex.) High School. His older brother is the quarterback at Texas Southern.
So. . . he’s got good genes and a great environment going for him.
But this is pretty big stuff. Especially when you factor in that he’ll be working for a new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, after Lane Kiffin once again let the door bang him on the fanny while making another dramatic exit.
``It was kind of a sudden change for me,’’ Hurts said, ``coming into the biggest game of the season. It’s really different. It’ll be different, because they’re different people. Sark is Sark. Lane Kiffin is Lane Kiffin. But it’s about the situation we’re in. [Sarkisian] will do a great job.’’
Sometimes it’s an advantage to be so young that the enormity of a situation doesn’t really sink in. Or maybe it’s just Hurts’ all-around maturity.
Whatever it is, Hurts has his elders in the huddle believing. All 10 of them. . .
``First of all, that guy over there is not the average first-year quarterback,’’ left tackle Cam Robinson said when I asked him why Bama has confidence in its youthful QB. ``He’s probably the most calm cool guy you’ll ever meet. We got back to this stage because of the things that we do—With the weapons he has around him. And he does a great job of making plays himself. He makes sure everyone stays cool and composed. And makes sure the offense is running well.’’
Will Hurts be up to the challenge of a national championship game?
We’ll find out.
If he is, he’ll be a super-hero. If he isn’t, he’ll get an asterisk because of his youth. But it will be a small asterisk.
It’s Watson who bears the burden of quarterback expectations. Even though Clemson is the underdog in this game, the focus will be on Watson, one way or another.
It comes with the quarterback territory.[/membership]