OU football: Why Jalen Hurts' durability is underrated aspect of his success
There are two reasons Jalen Hurts is a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Oh, that might be oversimplifying things — his throwing, leadership and competitiveness are pretty salty, too — but the Oklahoma quarterback goes from good to great because of his ability to run the football. It makes him big threat. A huge weapon.
Hurts is a bit like a tank, shoot you down or run you over.
“Just look what he does for our team,” Sooner receiver Nick Basquine said. “It's similar to the last two Heisman winners. He's doing things just as well if not better in some areas.”
What's obviously better is Hurts' running — and the most underappreciated part of that equation is his durability.
Hurts has carried the football 219 times for 1,255 yards this season, only four carries and 34 yards behind Jack Mildren’s single-season records for a Sooner quarterback. Those marks were set in 1971 when OU employed the wishbone and quarterbacks ran way more than they passed.
With only seven more carries, Hurts will also land on OU's top 10 for single-season running attempts. He would be the only quarterback on that list.
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We knew Hurts was going to run more than most quarterbacks when he transferred to OU from Alabama. But this much? Having a quarterback who’s averaged more than 16 carries a game wasn’t what anyone envisioned — including Lincoln Riley.
“You never know what you are going to get and skill-set wise what you are going to have,” the Sooner coach said. “I love having mobile guys, and I think being able to run the quarterback some here and there is a great thing to be able to do offensively.
“But to say we’d have a guy that would rush for that many yards, I probably would have lost that bet.”
Hurts has been able to amass big totals because he’s been able to withstand the pounding. He hasn’t missed any snaps because of injury. He hasn’t needed help from the medical staff to get off the field.
Not that he’s gone completely unscathed.
He jammed his hand during the Texas game, for example, and he said it swelled up to the point he couldn’t grip the ball well. But it didn’t sideline him.
He is a tough cookie.
Now, some of Hurts’ durability is luck — ankle sprains, knee twists and worse can happen without warning or cause — but he has helped himself, too. His postgame workouts have become social-media famous but are important to aid in his recovery and keep him feeling good.
His abilities when he takes off are big, too. Hurts has running back skills at the quarterback position. His vision is sublime. His patience is superb. His strength is supreme. His instincts are solid, though you’d like him to feel contact a bit better to reduce those fumbles.
Those skills help him to avoid big hits many running quarterbacks endure. Hurts doesn’t get blindsided. Doesn’t unwittingly charge headlong into a bad situation either
And I’m not sure anyone, including Riley, fully appreciated how refined Hurts' skills as a runner were.
“You probably envision it more with what we had last year,” Riley said of having a running quarterback put up big rushing totals, “with a guy who was really fast, who could break long ones and who could scramble.”
Kyler Murray was lightning quick, but he wasn’t going to get many yards after contact. The diminutive quarterback didn't really take any hits because he knew he would jeopardize his well-being.
At 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, Hurts can take hits.
And while he has taken many, he has also delivered something that has been invaluable for the Sooners. Without his running abilities, he wouldn’t be as big a threat. Even though his completion percentage (71.8) and passing efficiency rating (200.3) are on pace to set records, he doesn't stretch the field like quarterbacks in Riley's pass-centric offense have in the past. Hurts' strength as a passer is with the short and intermediate throws. But that doesn't stretch defenses like long, downfield throws.
Hurts, however, keeps defenses on their heels with his feet.
Will he run? Will he throw? Defenses don’t know.
The challenge that presents has helped the Sooners win a lot of games and Hurts earn a lot of accolades.
“As far as his number of carries, do I wish it was a little bit lower?” Riley said. “Probably a little bit, but that’s part of who he is as a player.
“He’s extremely, extremely effective.”
Truth is, Jalen Hurts has been every bit as durable as he's been effective.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.