During its Week 6 destruction of Arkansas, Alabama did what fans of teams with two good QBs have proposed their teams do for years: put both on the field at once.
Tua Tagovailoa has emerged as Bama’s unquestioned starter, but Jalen Hurts and his 26-2 record and downhill running skill are still useful. So on back-to-back plays on one scoring drive against the Razorbacks, the Tide put both their star QBs out together.
In Week 7 against Missouri, Bama used the Tua-Jalen package again.
But Bama has the potential to be a whole different thing, because it’s Bama.
Screwing with defenses is the main point of the package.
That’s not me talking. That’s Nick Saban talking.
“We had a few more things that we were going to do out of it, but we didn’t do it. That’s the way the game went. But I think because of these two guys’ skill set, it could present some problems for defensive teams,” he told reporters. “That’s why we’re doing it.”
1. Tagovailoa throwing to Hurts, who uses his big frame as a receiver.
This debuted against Mizzou:
Tua to Hurts— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) October 13, 2018
The connection pic.twitter.com/fzWsNbRFgk
2. A Tagovailoa handoff to Hurts, who motions from the slot
This went for a leisurely 5 yards on first-and-10 — a successful play, though nothing special by Alabama’s standards or against this defense.
But it’s easy to see how this concept could be really annoying for defenses. Hurts can take a sweep handoff and throw it, especially if Bama runs this motion in the opposite direction, with the right-handed Hurts going to his right. It’s common for teams to have motioning receivers or running backs throwing out of sets like this one. When ULM was doing its two-QB thing under Todd Berry about five years ago, we saw it work with a second QB:
The Tide have long used jet motion to constrain edge defenders, and the knowledge that Bama is comfortable giving Hurts sweeps means that defenders will inevitably face conflict. Do they crash toward Hurts or stay deep to defend a possible pass? How Alabama’s receivers behave on these plays could throw more chaos into the equation.
3. A handoff to Hurts that becomes a pass to someone else
This kind of thing only works because Tagovailoa and Hurts are both dual-threat QBs. Tagovailoa could easily hang onto the ball instead of giving it to Hurts and, if the numbers are right, just plunge forward. And Hurts has thrown the ball more effectively this year than he did before Tagovailoa unseated him as the starter.
Bama getting tricky! Tua hands it to Hurts, Hurts throws it to Damien Harris! pic.twitter.com/2imnIcJKpB— New Account (@ftbeard_17) October 13, 2018
4. Hurts taking the snap with Tagovailoa flexed out at receiver
This was the formation there, with Arkansas devoting a cornerback to Tagovailoa in single coverage and Hurts running a pretty standard QB-run RPO from the shotgun:
He decides to keep it and goes really far.
Hurts gives a glance to a running back heading out to the flat, but Arkansas appears to have the RB covered with a safety charging toward him. So Hurts takes off behind two pulling offensive linemen and runs for 27 yards, mostly untouched.
This one’s less complex. Alabama’s probably not going to have Tagovailoa run a serious route, because it’s not good practice to expose your all-world, Heisman-favorite quarterback to heavy hits by defensive backs and linebackers. But Tagovailoa’s something of a diversion even standing near the sideline, because he could catch a lateral and throw.
Most Bama plays work. This package has worked, too.
Bama will probably keep using it semi-regularly, and even if not, it could pay off by having frustrated opposing defensive coordinators. Against a Bama offense that’s already varied in personnel and style, it’s no small thing to put another thing on the other team’s prep plate.
The Tide have a top-five offense this year. It’s the most dangerous offensive they’ve ever fielded under Saban. And when both of their touted QBs are on the field at the same time, they’re marginally more frustrating to face than they already were. That’s saying something.