USC vs Alabama: Tide Could Play Two Quarterbacks Against Trojans

Apr 16, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) leaps and passes against Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Christian Miller (47) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) leaps and passes against Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Christian Miller (47) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports /

Could USC vs Alabama feature two Tide quarterbacks, with the competition in Tuscaloosa extending through the first two games of the season?

It’s looking more and more likely that when USC vs Alabama kicks off the 2016 season on Sept. 3, the quarterback situation for the Tide could still be undecided.

The word out of Alabama is that the Tide could let their quarterback competition go through the first two games of the season, including the season opener against USC.

Phil Savage, who is the executive director of the Senior Bowl and Alabama’s radio analyst, took in the Tide’s practice on Wednesday and came away with the impression that the quarterback would not be set before kickoff at AT&T Stadium.

During a radio appearance on WNSP 105.5, Savage expanded on those thoughts.

“Based upon what I saw yesterday, I would suspect that we’re going to see both Cooper Bateman and Jalen Hurts,” Savage said. “No one told me that, but I just get the sense in watching how the reps were split yesterday that we’re going to see certainly more than one quarterback in the first game.”

Savage indicated that, if a quarterback were named the starter ahead of the game, it would likely be Bateman to get the nod. He is, after all, the more veteran of the two as a redshirt junior.

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However, Savage’s read from practice was that the true freshman, Hurts, has made such an impression with his arm and his dual-threat ability that he’ll get a chance to prove himself worthy of the job during live action.

“I don’t think they’re ready to turn it over to him but I do think that we’re going to see Jalen Hurts in the first couple of games and then they’ll figure out, can they go with one by the time Alabama goes to Ole Miss in Week 3,” said Savage, seeming to cast Blake Barnett, another dual-threat option, as the odd man out of the competition.

The analyst pointed out similarities between this quarterback battle, in which Bateman and Hurts have separated from the pack but not from each other, and the competition when Phillip Sims and A.J. McCarron entered the 2011 season as co-starters.

Ultimately, it was McCarron who grabbed the reigns during a blowout victory over Kent State ahead of a more difficult match up at Penn State.

“I think that’s what Nick Saban and this staff is hoping will happen this go around,” Savage said.

Trojan fans will be all too familiar with such a tactic, except when Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin did the same at USC it ended disastrously for the then-Trojan head coach.

In 2013, it was Cody Kessler and Max Wittek competing for the starting job following the departure of Matt Barkley.

With no decision on a starter over the offseason, Kiffin played Kessler in the first half and Wittek in the second half of a ho-hum season opener against Hawaii.

The following week, the Pac-12 opener against Washington State was a nightmare for the Trojans, who couldn’t get the offense off the ground. They lost at home 7-10.

While Kiffin named Kessler the starter for Week 3 and the Trojans won their next two games, confidence in his leadership had eroded so completely that the head coach was fired at the end of September after falling to ASU.

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USC head coach Clay Helton has had the quarterbacks for both teams on his mind throughout fall camp.

In deciding his own quarterback battle, Helton referenced a desire to avoid the pitfalls that his former boss made in 2013.

“To go back and forth it’s really, really hard  to get in a rhythm to be able to do that,” said Helton before his decision was announced. “I’m going to name one and allow that guy to be the guy and let him move our football team.”

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He also noted similarities between the Tide’s dilemma and his own, choosing between a veteran pocket passer and an exciting, but inexperienced dual-threat talent.

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Helton went with the former in naming Max Browne the starter, though Sam Darnold will have special packages formulated for him to utilize his running ability in certain situations.

The major difference between the two situations, however, is Helton’s unequivocal assurance that there would be no splitting time. Darnold’s cameos will be used as a weapon, but Browne will remain the undisputed starter unless his play warrants a midseason change.

Saban has nine days to speak on his philosophy of split playing time, but with the Alabama head coach mum on the quarterback race for now, it’s anyone’s guess.