TUSCALOOSA — Nick Saban understands the challenges that come with starting a true freshman quarterback after handing the keys to Alabama’s offense to a then-18-year-old Jalen Hurts in 2016.
It’s because of that experience that Saban’s lofty praise of South Carolina freshman Ryan Hilinski carries a little extra weight.
“I thought the freshman quarterback played flawlessly last week for the first game he’s played in,” Saban said Monday.
Hilinski, who started in place of injured senior Jake Bentley, completed 24 of 30 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns to go along with a rushing touchdown in a 72-10 rout of Charleston Southern.
“He played great,” Saban said of Hilinski. "He certainly didn’t look like a freshman quarterback out there. He’s a good athlete and he has a good arm. He was very accurate. He made good decisions. He got the ball out of his hand quickly. And he executed the offense extremely well.
“So no disrespect, because we think (Jake) Bentley is a really good quarterback and certainly an experienced guy, but they didn’t miss a beat in this game in terms of the quarterback position.”
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp announced Sunday that Bentley, a three-year starter for the Gamecocks, will undergo season-ending surgery this week. No decision will be made about his future with the team until later in the year.
Muschamp also indicated South Carolina (1-1) could utilize fellow freshman Dakereon Joyner as a Wildcat quarterback and as a receiver in certain packages moving forward.
Saban was also complementary of the Gamecocks’ program under Muschamp, who is in his fourth year in Columbia after a one-year sabbatical as Auburn’s defensive coordinator following his ouster as Florida’s head coach in 2014.
“Will Muschamp has done an outstanding job of building a very, very good program at South Carolina,” Saban said. “They had a successful season a year ago. They’re a very well-coached team in every phase of the game. Their guys play hard. They sort of reflect the personality of their coach. This is a good football team.”
Tide officials voice displeasure with 11 a.m. kickoff
The Southeastern Conference finally announced the start times for its Sept. 21 slate of games late Monday and folks at Alabama weren’t too pleased by what they heard.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide’s next home game against Southern Miss will kick off at 11 a.m. Sept. 21, irking some in Tuscaloosa with another day game in which the timing and temperatures could inhibit fan attendance figures.
Alabama president Stuart Bell and athletic director Greg Byrne issued a joint statement condemning the morning kickoff time shortly after it was announced mid-afternoon Monday.
“We are disappointed that our game against Southern Miss has been selected as a daytime kickoff at home,” the joint statement read. “We realize we’ve played more non-conference day games at home in September than any other SEC team since 2014. There have been a number of conversations with our conference office, and they also recognize the challenges these kick times present for our student-athletes and fans.”
After seemingly criticizing students and fans in general that might have left Saturday’s 62-10 blowout of New Mexico State before the end of the game, Saban took time to acknowledge the difficulties many fans endured even to attend the game, when the heat index in Tuscaloosa eclipsed 100 degrees before the 3 p.m. kickoff.
“One thing I would like to say is I know it was a difficult day for our fans because of the circumstances surrounding the weather and I’d like to thank the fans for supporting the team and a lot of people hanging in there to try to support the team,” Saban said. “I think the players really appreciate it. We know it was a difficult circumstance for a lot of folks, and hopefully our administration will continue to work to try to play some of these games at a different time.”
Tagovailoa aims for Mortell Award as best holder
Alabama junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa takes great pride in his second job as the team’s holder on field goals and extra points.
The left-handed gunslinger joked before the season opener that he spends more time practicing his holding technique than on his throwing.
Now, it appears the Heisman Trophy front-runner and reigning Maxwell Award winner is gunning for another trophy for his mantle: the Pete Mortell Award.
“I didn’t know there was an award for holding, so that’s pretty cool,” Tagovailoa said Monday. “I’ll try to work my way up to get my name out there for the holder award. But it's pretty cool. (Junior long snapper) Thomas Fletcher talked to me about there being an award for that so I’m working my butt off, trying to get it.”
Originally a playful and made-up prize developed by its namesake and original recipient, former Minnesota punter Pete Mortell, the Mortell Award — also known as the HOTY — is presented annually to college football’s best holder on field goals and extra points every year since 2015.
Those in charge of the award’s Twitter account, @MortellAward, already consider Tagovailoa as a prime contender for the prize after tweeting that the quarterback “will now be competing for the most prestigious award college football has to offer. He also should be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Best of luck. #HOTY” after a video of Tagovailoa’s zeal about holding went viral two weeks ago.