Jalen Hurts shouldn’t play Saturday against South Dakota.
But he will.
That’s what happens when the,”But it’s always been done that way,” camp sets up. It’s cousins with the same football thinking that keeps coaches from “going for it” on fourth down and distant cousins with the thinking of the need to practice twice a day in the summer and running lots of “hitting” drills to get “tougher.”
Jalen Hurts will play Saturday because Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley wants Hurts to be sharper, to see a different look, to have a bit of pressure on him – any number of things, all of which are true, but really Hurts will play because that’s what coaches have starting quarterbacks do.
Even when it’s not necessary.
No matter how you look at the situation, no matter what’s to be gained and no matter what the ultimate upside is, none of it is worth the risk of injury. Not against this team.
This isn’t a losable game. It’s not even vs. Kansas. And while Saturday is an opportunity for Hurts to hone his game in what still is a new offense for him, it’s going to be in an offense that isn’t exactly set up to be dynamic against South Dakota. This won’t be a game where Riley opens the playbook. It will be a conservative approach played while the coaching staff watches through their hands, hoping no one gets injured. Hurts could very well just turn and hand off 20 times, leave the field and put his feet up.
But get Hurts out there for a half, they say. You know, for some real game reps. OK, a quarter. How bout a drive or two? Why? Hurts directing a scaled-down offense against an overmatched opponent doesn’t do anyone any good and just about all of it can be simulated, against a better opponent, in practice.
No, Hurts won’t get hit in practice. And yes, anyone can get injured in any situation, for sure, but if you have the chance to mitigate the ability to get injured, you do it. Your car could very well get stolen, but you lock it, limiting the possibility for damage, making it as hard as possible for it to happen.
So, make it as hard as possible for Hurts to get hurt.
Sean McVay has done it the past two seasons with Jared Goff and the Rams, keeping his star quarterback from even a single snap in the preseason. Why? Because it’s not worth the risk of injury. Goff is too valuable.
There’s a difference between preseason NFL and an actual college game, but what we’re looking at Saturday is barely a college game, yet the risk for injury is absolutely real and Hurts is too valuable.
There’s nothing for Hurts to prove. The dossier on Hurts is spectacular. He doesn’t need game time on Saturday to cement his spot as a starter. If Hurts plays well, it’s expected. If he plays poorly, it’s not as though he’ll get benched. The 26 SEC wins Hurts has do a good enough job of showing proof of Hurts’ abilities. Give the minutes to the guys who need the minutes, not to the guy who could very well take this Oklahoma team back to the playoffs.
Hurts could get better against South Dakota. Sure. Or Riley could figure out how to get Hurts better through practice.
Lincoln Riley is a forward thinker. He’s a great offensive mind, has. mastered the art of Twitter and recruiting. Saturday Riley has another chance to evolve the standard line of thinking. Likely, Hurts will play, but won’t play long.
And the benefit won’t outweigh the risks.