GAMEDAY: And then there were twoBy Tyler Waldrep | 08/31/2016 11:23pm
On Sept. 19, 2015, a hum filled the student section inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium as the crowd watched Alabama quarterback Cooper Bateman walk out onto the field to take the first offensive snaps against the Ole Miss instead of Jake Coker.
It didn’t take long until the crowd’s uneasy murmurs turned to cries of dismay.
In the second quarter, Bateman, under pressure by two nearby defenders, sent the ball 40 yards downfield where it was intercepted by Rebels defensive back Trae Elston.
“You can't make the plays that lose the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the second fall scrimmage. “You know, we've played here with quarterbacks on good teams that didn't necessarily do anything to win the game, they just didn't do anything to lose it.”
As of Monday, only two candidates, Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, have avoided losing their shot to start for the Crimson Tide against No. 20 Southern Cal. One-time competitor David Cornwell was ruled out due to an injury he suffered over the offseason, and experience seemed to be one of the deciding factors when it came time to eliminate one of the remaining three competitors.
“I think the big thing [is] Cooper has a great knowledge of the offense,” Saban said. “Really manages things well when he's out there because of his knowledge and experience. I think he's continued to improve his passing ability and we have a lot of confidence in him.”
Now, it seems the mistake that effectively knocked Bateman out of the 2015 competition might also be the reason he is in a position to win the job this season. Since that interception, Bateman has appeared to take relatively good care of the ball compared to his younger competitors, Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts.
But, what the freshmen lack in decision-making they make up for in raw athleticism.
Last season, coaches said Barnett’s work as a scout team quarterback helped the defense prepare for talented mobile quarterbacks, such as Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, who Hurts was asked to simulate for the team prior to the national championship.
“I feel I had a part in preparation, yes I did,” Hurts said on National Signing Day. “I’m not going to sit here and say ‘All glory goes to me.’ That’s definitely not the case. But I felt like I put a toe in.”
After Monday's announcement, simulating opposing quarterbacks might be the closest Hurts gets to Alabama’s gameday preparations, but there still might be a chance Hurts can get back in the competition as the season progresses.
“Jalen Hurts has tremendous ability,” Saban said Monday. “We are not giving up on that ability and hopefully we'll be able to develop it that at some point this season he's going to be a productive player for us.”
Whether that means Hurts has a shot at seeing the field instead of redshirting remains to be an unknown, but one thing is clear: Saban is willing to wait on a player to step up and win the job, however that might play out.
“I can't tell you how they're going to play in the game,” Saban said. “Especially the guys that have never played in a game. Cooper has played some in a game here, which I think that experience is certainly a benefit to him, but I don't know how these other guys are going to play in a game. Some of these guys go in a game and they play a lot better.”