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It’s Your Time Jalen

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst

On January 8, 2018 Jalen Hurts, the starting quarterback at the University of Alabama, had his entire world shook. He struggled in the first half of the College Football National Championship game and the Alabama Crimson Tide went into halftime losing to the Georgia Bulldogs.

It was in the locker room, losing 13-0, that Hurts learned the news that he would be watching the remainder of the game from the sidelines. It didn’t matter that Hurts had brought the team back in the past. His nearly unblemished record couldn’t get more faith bestowed upon him. Instead, he was left to watch as freshman Tua Tagovailoa led the Tide to a comeback victory, and a National Championship.

Hurts found himself in a lose/lose situation. If Alabama would’ve lost, he would be blamed regardless of how Tua played. When they won, it took mere seconds for the world to proclaim Tua as the starter coming into this season. It took Alabama head coach Nick Saban much longer, dragging the decision into the season and almost ensuring that Hurts would be stuck playing backup.

This is where the story diverges from most.

Instead of doing the logical thing and sitting out to preserve his redshirt, a move which would allow him to graduate from Alabama and transfer to another school with two years to play, he announced that he would play this season.

Then he was quiet.

He was quiet while Tua balled out. He was quiet while Tua catapulted to the top of the Heisman watch. He was quiet as onlookers bestowed this Alabama team Floyd Mayweather status (The Best Ever). He was quiet as critics took subtle shots at his play. “Tua unlocks the talent of these receivers.” “Tua gets all of these playmakers the ball.” Through it all, Hurts remained silent.

But he was also quietly working on his craft. In his limited opportunities to play this season, despite blowing many teams out, he quietly completed 74% of his passes for almost 700 yards and seven touchdowns. He quietly continued to take care of the ball. He also quietly got himself healthy.

We could see Tua had some kinks in the armor. Struggled vs pressure against Mississippi State. Struggled with health. He’s not built to take as much abuse as Hurts, and his lower body was feeling the affects.

The SEC Championship was the convergence of all those things, and through three quarters, Tua not only looked like anything but a Heisman candidate, he injured his ankle when a lineman was push back and stepped on him.

Suddenly, in the same building where Hurts’ head coach lost faith in him, facing the same team who made that coach feel as if he had to go in a different direction, he had an opportunity. Not for redemption. Two national championship births and SEC offensive player of the year spoke load enough about his ability as a quarterback and as a leader. Hurts had a chance to show that he would not only be a factor in this game, but the nation should be on the lookout for him next year.

Of course he tied the game on a touchdown pass to WR Jerry Jeudy and then won it on a signature Jalen Hurts run. In the process he made CBS color commentator Gary Danielson eat crow when he referred to Hurts as a “run first” quarterback. He was 7-9 for 82 yards and that Jeudy touchdown throw, converting critical 3rd downs in the process as well.

The question now isn’t about who plays in the playoffs. The question becomes where will Hurts be this time next year. He can’t spend another year like this. And now that every team in the nation has been reminded that he can handle a top SEC defense, what is the next logical move? What will be the final chapter in this epic college football story?

The best scenario is if Hurts calls up Gus Malzahn at rival Auburn and tells him to dust off that Cam Newton playbook for another run. He’s been the reason that Bama has continued their supremacy why not be the reason it comes to an end?

Whatever he decides, he doesn’t need to be quiet anymore. That time is over. Like Saban told him before he entered the game, “It’s your time Jalen!”
Questions? Comments?

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

Twitter: @geneclemons

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Fitzmagic is an Illusion

Don’t Buy Into the Fitz Hype

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst

Ryan Fitzpatrick has been great! There’s no denying that fact!

The Buccaneers are off to a great start behind the former Harvard star, and the passing game has been a primary reason. It has been reported that receiver Desean Jackson has endorsed the long-time veteran QB, to keep him as the starter. It makes sense coming from Jackson, who has five touchdown passes from Fitzpatrick and only one from Jameis Winston. But as much fun as it is watching Fitzpatrick dress up like an inflated Connor McGregor figurine, Jackson and Bucs fans need to pump the brakes on leaving Winston on the bench.

“Fitzmagic” is exactly what it sounds like, magic. It’s an illusion. And the idea that this illusion is somehow real, has been responsible for several other teams stunting their growth, while hoping that Fitzpatrick could bring them to the promised land. After he was barely visible in St. Louis and Cincy, he got his shot in Buffalo, and Fitzmagic was born; resulting in four seasons of personal mediocrity and below average team success.

In his next two stops as a starter, he was Fitztragic in Tennessee and Fitzbland in Houston. At 33 years old the Fitzmagic appeared again in New York and he posted his best statistical season of his career; 3900 yards, 31 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and his team went 10-6. The following season he was Fitzgarbage en route to his worse season as a pro; 2700 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions, the second worst total of his career (23 ints in ‘11).

So is a five or six game sample size at almost age 36 is supposed to be proof that the Buccaneers should leave their young prodigy on the bench? Really? Since when?

Even if you argued that Fitzpatrick was better right now, we have seen that meritocracy doesn’t mean much at the quarterback position. Kaepernick is out of a job, but so many horrible quarterbacks are employed. Josh Allen and Sam Darnold are both starting when their teams decided to trade away AJ McCarron and Teddy Bridgewater, the best options for success on their teams. Tyrod Taylor would have the Browns at 2-0 if it wasn’t for field goal kicking so bad, it made Bucs fans cringe. Instead they are chanting for Baker Mayfield. Eli Manning has been terrible for years and his job has never been in jeopardy until he was justifiably benched last season in favor of Geno Smith. The Giants were destroyed for their correct decision and not only went back to the 37-year old Manning, but doubled down on him in the offseason by not adding any competition at the position, and letting Geno Smith end up with the Chargers.

People always bring up the turnovers for WInston as proof that he may not be the answer, but they conveniently forget all of the positives about his game. In his first three seasons, Winston has accounted for more yards (12,149 to 11,814) than Fitzpatrick in his best three seasons. They both complete passes at just above 60% but while Fitzpatrick has more touchdowns (82 to Winston’s 77 total TDs), Winston’s 44 interceptions in his first three years is 10 shy of Fitzpatrick’s best seasons. All of this, and most are willing to admit that Winston has superior arm talent, mobility, and is almost 11 years younger.

The reason that most media members are onboard with benching Winston has nothing to do with his on-field performance, and everything to do with questionable decisions that the quarterback made off the field dating back to college. Many have not, and never will, forgiven him for his bad judgements. This disdain for Winston as a person has skewed their views of him as a quarterback talent, which has led these people to believe that the Buccaneers would be better off cutting ties with him.

Hopefully the Tampa Bay braintrust is smarter than making a business decision based off emotion. The idea that you should not play your most talented players because you have a personal issue with the player is not conducive to winning. I am sure the other teams in the NFC, and especially the East, would love to see Fitzpatrick continue in this role because they know that eventually he will regress to the normal Fitz.

Fitzmagic is just like any other illusion. It is fun to watch for a short amount of time, but at some point you realize that it is not real and you are ready to go home. Winston is almost home Tampa Bay. Don’t stay away too long or you may find yourself trying to find a new home.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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