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The Quarterbacks

Every football fan wants to know who the quarterback will be. Nobody seems to care who the center and the two guards are. If the interior offensive line is not excellent, the quarterback will not matter. We sometimes forget that the center touches the football on every play. That makes the center the primary focus when building a successful offense at all levels of football except for professional football. Because of the high percentage of passes in the NFL it is much easier to move a guard to center without much loss of production.

Alabama and Auburn are blessed with outstanding quarterbacks. They will both enter the 2017 football season with two quarterbacks that are capable of leading their team ot the SEC Championship and beyond. We will try to give you a thumbnail sketch of these four quarterbacks. For this piece, statistics will not be featured. Statistics do not always give one a complete picture of the value that a quarterback has to his team. In 2014 Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, a converted halfback, set almost every Alabama passing record during the season under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. However, during the national championship playoff games, he was just not good enough at the position to lead Alabama to the promised land. Statistics are more important to the Sunday papers than to the coaching staff.

Let's look at Auburn first. For four years Auburn has lost 18 games playing "Big Boy" football without a really outstanding quarterback.

In 2017 there is more excitement about the quarterback position than I have seen since the Cam Newton year when the Tigers won the national championship. Jarrett Stidham started six games for a very good Baylor team in 2015 as a freshman. Due to the unrest at Baylor and the dismissal of the very successful Art Briles, Stidham decided to take a year off and attend a junior college that had no football team. That made him immediately eligible to any team that could recruit him. Auburn won out over dozens of teams that were vying for his services. At 6-3, 210 lbs. he is a true dual threat quarterback with a live arm and good legs. He should fit in very well in the zone read, run first offense, that Coach Gus Malzahn introduced in 2013. There have been changes in the system every year but the threat of the zone read offensive system has remained the mainstay of the offense. With the departure of Rhett Lashlee to Connecticut and the hiring of new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, there will certainly be more changes. For example in the last two years, the tight end has only caught two passes. That to me is incredible. This is one statistic that should certainly cause concern to any coaching staff in America. Lindsey has already changed this dynamic. More emphasis will be placed on throwing the ball deep and involving the tight end as a weapon instead of a distraction.

For the first time in Malzahn's tenure Auburn will have two quarterbacks that can win for him. Already mentioned is the outstanding sophomore transfer, Jarrett Stidham. However, Stidham will not just be handed the job. He will face fierce competition from junior Sean White. White has two years of experience as a starter. He is not as talented as Stidham, but he is double tough and the players love him. His forte is confidence in himself which spills over to the rest of the team. They will play hard for him. He is not a great runner. He is an adequate passer. He sees the field well. In the past two years White has had more passes dropped than any time in Auburn history. If that does not change, it won't make any difference who the quarterback is. The biggest problem with Sean is his inability to stay healthy for the entire season. He plays hard. He plays hurt. He plays good. He gets a lot out of his 6-0, 200 lb. body. At this point, he is the leader of the team. As good as Stidham is, he will have to beat down a run for the job from Sean White. They both will have power to lean on. Kamryn Pettway, 6-1, 240 lb. senior, was the leading rusher in the SEC in 2016. Chandler Cox is the best blocking back in the SEC. The 6-1, 235 lb. H-Back returns for his junior season.

Alabama's situation is a little different. They have the starter from last year, Jalen Hurts, who by all comparisons had the best year of any freshman quarterback in Alabama history. In the loss to Clemson in the championship game, Hurts actually won the game at the end of the fourth quarter with a magnificent 30 yard run after he could find no receivers open. At the time of that score there were only two minutes left in the game. Alabama's superior defense just could not stop Clemson's quarterback DeShawn Watson. Watson should have been selected for the Heisman Trophy. Not only was he the best quarterback in the country, he was also the best football player. Since Peyton Manning was denied the Heisman Trophy, the selection committee for this honor is a joke.

At 6-2, 210 lbs., Jalen Hurts enters his sophomore season as the favorite to be Alabama's starter again. He has a few more weapons than he did last year. Alabama has three highly tested running backs in Bo Scarborough, Damien Harris and B. J. Emmons. In addition there are two freshmen that will certainly contribute to the running game. Najee Harris and Brian Robinson are fully equipped to play if needed. One of them will probably be red-shirted. There is not much more that can be said about the play of Jalen Hurts. He has three more years to improve. He must improve because there is a freshman from Hawaii that will be nipping at this heals during those three years. Tua Tagovailoa is the real deal. He was the highest rated quarterback in the nation in high school last year. At 6-2, 200 lbs. Tua is almost college ready. He is mature. He is quick and he has a "Snake Like" delivery when he lets the ball go. He has a slight wind up type motion that can be improved on. But he gets the ball out very quick. That is a big advantage in that the defenders don't have as much time to react to the ball. It is my opinion that he will start the 2017 season as the back up quarterback to Jalen Hurts. It is also my opinion that he will play quite a lot as well. Coach Nick Saban has had three quarterbacks to transfer in the last two years due to their lack of playing time. He most certainly has to keep Tagovailoa happy in some way. This is a plus for the 2017 season, but it could develop into a problem in the future. Right now Jalen Hurts is ahead but not by much. It will be interesting to see how Saban handles this with his new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The "genius" of Lane Kiffin will be displayed somewhere in South Florida this year. The Tide should get back to the offense that has made Alabama feared over the years. Saban wants his offense to be so physical that in the fourth quarter, most of the players on the opponents defense will decide that they really don't like football very much.

Alabama opens with a projected national power, Florida State, in Atlanta. We will know how good Alabama is after that game. Auburn plays Clemson at Clemson in their second game. So, it will not take long for us to know "what's what" as my old friend "Monk" Gafford used to say.


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