Confident and comfortable Jalen Hurts impresses, has some fun in Oklahoma’s spring game

NORMAN, Okla – In his retelling, it just felt right. That was Jalen Hurts’ explanation for the moment when, just after scampering inside the pylon for a 1-yard touchdown, he gathered his teammates – on Friday night, they were the guys wearing crimson jerseys in Oklahoma’s annual spring game – for a group photograph in the back of the end zone.

“It’s different, I guess,” Hurts said.

Unquestionably, it is.

The graduate transfer from Alabama presents one of college football’s most fascinating story lines heading into next season. How will he fit in at Oklahoma? Does his skill set – and here, we mean his passing – translate into Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid? Hurts supplied a few partial answers with an impressive performance Friday.

Unexpectedly, there were some fun answers, too – starting with what he said about that lightly choreographed celebration in the back of the end zone after his final possession. When a reporter asked, Hurts said senior center Clayton Woods had asked him the same question, and his reply was: “I just thought about it, so let’s go take a picture after we score.’”

Oh, and also, that he’d told sophomore offensive lineman Adrian Ealy: “‘Yeah, I ain’t doing that over there at the other place, at Alabama.’”

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Jalen Hurts made his Oklahoma debut on the field during the team's annual spring game. (Photo: Alonzo Adams, USA TODAY Sports)

And finally, there was this:

“I know my old coach, coach (Nick) Saban, I’d have got a chewing for that one.”

Hurts grinned as he said it, and it was striking how relaxed he seemed. Most importantly on the field, of course, during the first public look at Hurts in an Oklahoma uniform.

“They had me in a blue jersey,” he said, “so I’m not sure what it feels like (yet).”

Hurts was 11-of-14 passing for 174 yards with a touchdown and several impressive throws. His running ability was evident, even while wearing that “hands-off” jersey and with officials employing a quick whistle. Someone asked, after he bolted for a 32-yard touchdown but was called down because a defender touched him, if he would have scored.

“I guess you’ll have to wait ‘til the fall to find out,” Hurts said.

We all will, about this entire experiment. 

Riley says Hurts is locked into a quarterback competition with redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai. But at least Friday, with a crowd of 50,228 watching, the graduate transfer from Alabama was better. And although coaches don’t necessarily value performance in a spring game nearly as heavily as do fans, it was undoubtedly a good night for Hurts.

“I thought he handed it well,” Riley said. “Made some nice plays in some scramble situations, made some good decisions from the pocket, got settled in quickly. I thought he felt pretty settled in the whole time.”

Hurts got a rousing ovation when he was introduced. And afterward, he lingered on the field, acquiescing to requests for photos from fans.

That included a Sooner legend. Jamelle Holieway, the former Oklahoma quarterback who piloted Barry Switzer’s wishbone to a national championship in 1985, pulled Hurts aside and spoke with him, then posed for a photograph.

“We’ve got a little work to do, but he’s gonna get there,” Holieway said. “He’s seasoned. I love that boy. … He looks good at quarterback.”

Later, when Hurts spoke with reporters, he was as composed as he’d been a couple of weeks earlier, during his only other interview session since enrolling last January. But he was also more occasionally more playful, heading toward mischievous. A reporter suggested Hurts seemed stoic in public, but asked if there was “a side of you that you’re letting your teammates see that the world doesn’t see?”

Hurts: “What do you see?”

Reporter: “You seem like a very stoic guy.”

Hurts: “Do you think I’m different (than at Alabama)?”

Reporter: “I didn’t cover you at Alabama, so I don’t know.”

Hurts explained he was “a team guy,” adding, “I try and put people first, my peers first. I’m team-oriented.” He paused, smiled, and said:

“I’m me.”

About the celebration explanation: It didn’t seem Hurts was throwing shade on Saban or Alabama. If anything, his comments Friday continued to reflect his background. He spoke of being “process-oriented,” of playing and practicing “to a standard,” and how “day by day, night by night, we’ll build an identity of who we want to be.” It all sounded so Alabama.

If anything, Hurts has been Sabanized, and he’s bringing some of ‘the Process’ to his new program. And that might be a very good thing. Junior offensive lineman Erik Swenson said Hurts arrived with instant credibility, that his new teammates “kind of gravitate to what he has to say.”

“It’s pretty impressive,” Swenson said, adding: “He’s got some swagger to him. Just the way he walks, the way he calls plays. He’s definitely got that to him.”

If you’re wondering about Hurts’ passing – and let’s face it, we’re all wondering about his passing; we’ll wonder from now until kickoff – there were encouraging glimpses, including a couple of very nice back-shoulder throws.

“I think comfort will continue to come with time,” Hurts said. “On the outside looking in, it probably looks that way, but there’s always more, there’s always more that I can do. There’s always more that we can push each other to do.

“There’s always more we can accomplish. I think that’s the biggest thing for us is trying to make those necessary steps to be the team that we want to be when it’s game time.”

See? Sabanized.

But there’s also something different, as evidenced by Hurts’ decision to choreograph that end-zone celebration. Afterward, on his way off Owen Field, he posed for maybe a dozen more photos – these with fans and one very notable former Sooner, who almost shared more than one link to Hurts.

Until Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence did it last season, Holieway was the only true freshman quarterback to lead a team to a national championship. But it’s easy to forget that Hurts was one second away from doing it during the 2016 season. Instead, Clemson scored. But just before that touchdown, Hurts had rallied Alabama into the lead, firing a couple of critical passes and then running 30 yards for a touchdown with 2:07 left.

We know what happened after that. How Hurts was supplanted a year later by Tua Tagovailoa. How eventually, he transferred to Oklahoma, where his plan – the Sooners’ plan, if all goes to plan – is to show off his passing ability in Riley’s version of the Air Raid.

“We’ve got to continue to make steps, move forward, be the best we can be,” Hurts said. “The expectation I have for myself and the expectation I’ve placed on my peers, my teammates, my guys – we’re trying to do special things. It takes a lot of hard work. We’re gonna continue to take those steps.”

We’ll have to wait ‘til fall, but the partial answers supplied Friday night hinted it might just work out. And Hurts’ relaxed, occasionally even playful answers afterward seemed to suggest that on a spring Friday night under the lights, it just felt right.

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