Alabama A-Day 2018: All signs point to Tua Tagovailoa starting as Jalen Hurts struggles

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts lost two games in two years as the starting quarterback in Tuscaloosa, leading the Crimson Tide to two straight College Football Playoff National Championship games in the process.

But in the second half of his second appearance -- last January against Georgia in Atlanta -- everything changed.

Hurts' struggles in the first half earned him a one-way ticket to the bench, and then-true freshman Tua Tagovailoa led the program out of a 13-0 hole and the national title. 

Those struggles continued on Saturday in Alabama's A-Day game. Hurts went 19-for-37 for 195 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. I'm not one to make a huge deal out of spring game stats, but the writing is on the wall at this point. Hurts is a good runner and game-manager, but he has still not developed as a passer.

Despite the struggles, coach Nick Saban said that he still has confidence in his junior signal-caller after the game.

"I was not disappointed in the way Jalen played," he said. "We have some guys that can rush, and even though we were rushing four guys most of the time, there was way too much pressure in the pocket for the quarterback to be able to operate like we would like. Jalen made some good plays and throws, and I'm sure if you were to talk to him he would say, 'I wish there were things I did better and can improve on.'"

Former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin kept things rather simple during Hurts' freshman campaign in 2016, and Brian Daboll did the same in 2017. After all, the team was winning, and pulling the plug during a title run would be crazy.

But Saban did pull the plug. At halftime. Of the biggest game of the year. What's more, he inserted a true freshman with very few meaningful snaps and trusted him to save the day.

Translation: He doesn't trust Hurts anymore, and Hurts did nothing to earn it back on Saturday.

He was erratic with his passes, was indecisive in the pocket and took too many sacks -- although sacks in spring games are rather hard to define when quarterbacks aren't "live." Third string quarterback Mac Jones, on the other hand, looked as sharp as a knife, completing 23-of-35 passes for 289 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was so good that Saban was caught on a hot mic praising Jones while Hurts was running with the first-team offense.

"The third-team quarterback can move the team right down the field throwing the ball," he said in the background of the ESPN broadcast.

Hurts looked lost, the coaching staff lacks trust in him, his father Averion made things even more difficult this week by calling him one of the biggest free agents in college football history if he transfers and there's no sign of reversing what increasingly looks like a downward trend. To complicate matters even further, Tagovailoa's brother Taulia -- a four-star prospect in the class of 2019 -- committed to the Crimson Tide shortly before kickoff. 

The dots aren't that difficult to connect. Tua Tagovailoa is Alabama's starting quarterback, as long as his hand injury doesn't linger into fall camp. Hurts is good enough to start somewhere, but his time at Alabama is coming to an end. At this point, it's a matter of when, not if.

The most promising development of the spring game from a quarterback perspective is that Jones looks like a very reliable option as a backup.

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

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