Blake Barnett vs. Jalen Hurts: Who is Alabama’s starting quarterback

Published 7:06 am Monday, September 5, 2016

Nick Saban had a moment early in top-ranked Alabama’s season opener when he wondered if it really had been a good idea to go with two freshman quarterbacks.

After a shaky first quarter, including dual-threat true freshman Jalen Hurts fumbling on his first play, things worked out for the Crimson Tide in a 52-6 victory over No. 20 Southern Cal.

Just don’t ask Saban what the quarterback plans are moving forward for the defending national champion Tide.

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“I made a decision for this game that whatever we did at quarterback was for now. … We made a decision today for now. That’s the only decision we made,” Saban said. “So I’m not speculating on what we’re going to do in the future.”

Alabama plays its home opener next Saturday against Western Kentucky before getting into SEC play the following weekend at No. 11 Ole Miss, the only team to beat the Tide in the regular season the last two seasons — and the Rebels did it both years.

Saban never even revealed who was taking the first snap against USC until redshirt freshman Blake Barnett went out for the opening series Saturday night, becoming the youngest starter the coach has used at Alabama. Saban went even younger when, as he had planned, Hurts got into the game on the third series.

“We think both guys are talented, and we wanted both guys to play in the game,” Saban said. “When the first quarter was over, I was wondering to myself, ‘Was this a good plan or a bad plan?’ Both guys were a little shaky in the beginning.”

Alabama gained 12 yards on 10 plays in the first quarter, and trailed 3-0 before Hurts overcame the fumble to account for four touchdowns.

The Tide led for good when Hurts hit ArDarius Stewart for a 39-yard TD, and found him open again for a 70-yard scoring pass. The quarterback who at this point last year was playing high school ball in Texas, and not in the Dallas Cowboys’ NFL stadium, added touchdown runs of 7 and 6 yards to make it 38-3 before he exited late in the third quarter.

“He had the hiccup at the beginning, bit it was his first game, he turned the page and got back on it,” Stewart said of the young quarterback.

Barnett added a 45-yard touchdown after returning in the third quarter, and finished 5-of-6 passing for 100 yards. Cooper Bateman, the sophomore who started a game last season, completed his only pass for 5 yards and was sacked while playing Bama’s final offensive series.

With a defense that is still dominating after four players were taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft last spring, Alabama has more leeway in getting things settled at quarterback.

After allowing a field goal on the game’s opening series, and stopping USC’s second drive in Bama territory on linebacker Ryan Anderson’s fourth-down sack, the Tide allowed only 11 yards on the Trojans’ seven possessions the rest of the half. Southern Cal was held without a touchdown for the first time since 2007 in its most lopsided loss in a half-century.

Of course, Saban was still far from completely satisfied after improving to 10-0 in season openers at Bama.

“If you want to know the truth about it, I wasn’t pleased with the way we played,” Saban said. “So my focus with our team right now is what can we do better? How can we get better? How can every guy improve? … Look, I’m happy that we won. And I’m proud of our team for beating a good team. And I don’t want you to think that I’m not.”