Why Jalen Hurts and Spencer Sanders aren't likely to slide — and why their coaches are OK with that
Spencer Sanders can slide.
That doesn’t mean he will.
“I’ve slid one time in my entire life,” he said.
The memorable moment occurred when the Oklahoma State quarterback was still in high school. He was hurt — a shoulder injury — but he was playing. As he broke free on a run, he realized a linebacker was closing in.
Sanders didn’t want to take a big hit.
“I just had to push through that game,” he said. “I just had to slide.”
Even though this football season is less than a month old, it is clear our state’s major-college programs have quarterbacks who are going to run. Sanders does. Ditto for Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma. But something else is clear, too – these guys aren’t going to slide.
“Well, when you slide,” Hurts said, “you lose yardage now.”
- Related to this story
- Video: OU Football: Defensive Changes
Even if the college rules didn’t mark a guy where he starts his slide, it seems unlikely Hurts would slide.
Same for Sanders.
But at the heart, to slide or not to slide isn’t a question of field position. It’s about the quarterbacks feeling free to play and maximizing their abilities.
Their coaches are on board, even if it means cringing every now and again when their quarterback gets taken to the ground. Both Hurts and Sanders have been spectacular so far this season, and when you've got a quarterback that good, injuries are always in the back of a coach's mind.
“I have a lot of trust in him,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said of Hurts. “He’s played a lot of ball. He knows his body, what he can take and can’t take.”
Hurts is a strong, broad guy, too. Videos of him squatting nearly 600 pounds went viral earlier this year, but his strength is nothing new. Back in high school, he won a district track title in discus. Not often do you find a guy running the 400-meter relay and throwing the discus, so Hurts is a unique combination.
Still, that doesn’t mean Riley, also the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, is letting Hurts run into anything and everything that moves.
After the South Dakota game, for example, Riley showed Hurts a few plays where he didn’t have to take contact.
“There are some unnecessary ones,” Riley said, “that he has to do a better job with.”
There’s a similar refrain in Stillwater.
OSU offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson has talked to Sanders about times the quarterback calls his own number, runs for 10 or 15 yards, then must make a smart decision.
“He doesn’t need to run over somebody at that point,” Gleeson said. “But his legs are a huge weapon.”
They were Saturday at Texas. Sanders rushed for 109 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries, and his running clearly made the Longhorns uneasy. Never was the Texas defense more on its heels when it was trying to figure out whether Sanders was going to throw or run.
Sanders appreciates having the leeway to decide when to go full speed ahead and when to pull back. Sanders thinks doing otherwise would be detrimental, would be limiting what he might be able to do.
“It’s like telling a race horse to only go, I dunno, 30 miles an hour when he could maybe go so much faster,” he said. “I feel like I wouldn’t be playing my game. I would be playing a modified game.”
Of course, both the Cowboys and the Sooners will be modifying a lot if either Sanders or Hurts is seriously injured while running the football.
“I can get hurt walking down the stairs right now, so can’t really worry about injuries,” said Hurts, who rushed for 150 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries in OU's last game against UCLA. “You just got to go out there play football.”
For the record, Hurts, like Sanders, can slide.
“I played baseball when I was little,” Hurts said, “so I know how to slide.”
Knowing how and actually doing it, as we’ve seen, are two entirely different things.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.