ATLANTA -- Jalen Hurts got his moment, and boy, was it a big one.
Maybe the most well-liked backup quarterback in Alabama football history, Hurts finally got to do more than cheer and smile at all those great plays by Tua Tagovailoa.
When Tagovailoa got hurt Saturday, Hurts came off the bench and rescued his Crimson Tide's unbeaten season. Tagovailoa went to the sideline after getting his ankle stepped on by a teammate, aggravating an injury he suffered earlier in the game, and Hurts led top-ranked Alabama to two touchdowns in the last six minutes and a 35-28 win over No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
After taking Alabama to the national championship game two straight years, Hurts didn't play a meaningful down all season until Saturday.
Tagovailoa had subbed in last year's title game against Georgia, engineered a comeback and roared into history. He took Hurts' job in the process, but Hurts gained respect throughout college football for how he handled the demotion.
Except for chiding his coaches about a lack of communication in a preseason interview with reporters, Hurts never acted like an unhappy quarterback. He didn't pout. If he had, he could've torn this team apart.
Hurts didn't ask to sit out the season so he could retain his year of eligibility and use it somewhere else as a transfer. When Tagovailoa was ready to let Hurts keep the No. 1 spot in the quarterback line during practice, it was Hurts who told him that he should take it because he earned it.
In that moment, Hurts gracefully stepped out of the spotlight and gently reminded his teammates that they needed to support the guy who was going to start.
By all reports, Hurts stayed partly because he wanted to learn from new Alabama quarterbacks coach Dan Enos, and it became apparent Saturday that Hurts paid attention to him.
When Tua went down Saturday, Hurts was ready.
Hurts’ passes looked crisp and confident, a big change from the second half of last season. He tied the game with a 10-yard pass to Jerry Jeudy when he threw into an opening too tight for 2016 and 2017 Jalen Hurts. His decisive scramble for a 15-yard touchdown won it.
In the past, he struggled on third down, as if that made him tighten up. Against Georgia, he faced third down five times and got a first down every time. Alabama probably would've lost had he missed on even one.
Afterward, Saban described Hurts as having “character and class” and called him a great example of someone “not running off” when things don't go well.
When ESPN releases the College Football Playoff field, Alabama seems like a lock for the No. 1 seed — and the Tide is gobbling up this chance to thank Hurts for it.
-- Mark Edwards is sports editor of The Anniston Star.