This can’t wait any longer. We just have to talk about Tua Tagovailoa.
More specifically, we have to talk about his stats. I’ve never seen anything like them. You haven’t either.
If you ever asked yourself, in one of your more masochistic moments, “I wonder what it would be like if Nick Saban had the best quarterback in college football,” wonder no more. Hell, he might not only have the best quarterback of 2018 — he might have the best QB of the decade. There have been a lot of good quarterbacks this decade!
To the Ain’t Played Nobody chorus, let’s head this off in advance: I know.
He’s only faced one defense that ranks in the Def. S&P+ top 50 (Texas A&M’s is 23rd), and he’s faced two in the bottom 20 (No. 112 Ole Miss, No. 125 UL-Lafayette). Everybody torches Ole Miss. I know. But still.
Tagovailoa is completing 75 percent of his passes at 19.7 yards per completion. He has 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating is 258.4. That’s 60 points higher than Baker Mayfield’s 2017 passer rating, which was the best ever.
Will it come down when Bama takes on some of the better defenses on the schedule? Probably.
But even if we cherry pick data from other QBs, Tua tops them.
Here are the stats from Tagovailoa’s first six starts, compared to the best six games (per passer rating) of the season for each Heisman winning quarterback since 2008. Lots of these games were against weaker teams, too:
Tua first six games vs. Heisman winners’ *best* six games
|Tua Tagovailoa (2018)||75%||19.7||17.8%||0.0%||258.4|
|Baker Mayfield (2017)||72%||20.2||15.5%||1.4%||242.3|
|Lamar Jackson (2016)||63%||17.5||12.9%||3.7%||189.8|
|Marcus Mariota (2014)||72%||16.9||14.6%||0.7%||220.0|
|Jameis Winston (2013)||76%||16.6||12.6%||1.9%||220.2|
|Johnny Manziel (2012)||71%||14.8||9.3%||1.2%||187.3|
|Robert Griffin III (2011)||76%||16.5||14.3%||1.2%||226.3|
|Cam Newton (2010)||68%||18.1||16.2%||1.7%||222.4|
|Sam Bradford (2008)||72%||17.2||14.7%||2.4%||219.2|
Only cherry-picked Jameis Winston can top Tagovailoa in completion rate, and only cherry-picked Mayfield can top him in yards per completion. Tua’s touchdown rate is the highest, and uh, he has yet to throw an interception.
Only one of these cherry-picked (and spectacular) QBs comes within rating 30 points of Tagovailoa.
Granted, Tua’s only had to throw 101 passes in this sample because his team has been destroying opponents so quickly. Midway through the damn season, he has yet to throw a fourth-quarter pass. Even the run-heavy QBs in this sample — Cam Newton in 2010 (117), Lamar Jackson in 2016 (163) — threw more than that in their easy six games. But that’s not really a critique, is it? That if he’d thrown fewer first half touchdowns, he’d be around more to throw them in the second half?
This is nuts! We have truly never before seen what he is doing right now.
And because he plays for Saban’s title-winning death machine, I fear we are almost underestimating him. He’s the far-and-away Heisman favorite at the moment, but we still aren’t appreciating enough what he is doing right now.
He’s got help, of course. Every season’s Heisman favorite does. Those sophomores who all helped him engineer a comeback in last year’s national title game are thriving — Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs III have combined to catch 56 of 74 passes (76 percent) for 1,178 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tight end Irv Smith Jr., who caught 14 balls in 2017, already has 16 for 344 and four touchdowns. Blue-chip freshman Jaylen Waddle has 15 for 313 and two more scores.
Honestly, the biggest critique you can make of the Alabama offense right now is that it’s so good, it might be screwing its defense a bit.
Here’s how the average Alabama touchdown drive has taken shape for each year of the Saban era:
The average Bama scoring drive (2007-18)
|Season||Avg. plays||Avg. Yards||Avg. TOP||Seconds per play|
|Season||Avg. plays||Avg. Yards||Avg. TOP||Seconds per play|
Despite playing at basically the same tempo as the last three or four Bama teams, the average Crimson Tide touchdown drive is averaging just 2:07 of possession and fewer than 5.5 plays. That has resulted in more snaps for the opponent — 67.8 per game so far, the most of the Saban era. And that’s with things slowing down in garbage time.
So Tua’s not getting quite as much help from his defense as you might assume.
Even removing garbage time data, this Alabama defense has been merely very good, not the soul-crushing unit that we typically expect. The offense has perhaps distracted us from some defensive struggles.
Well, “struggles” by Bama’s standards, anyway.
Alabama is 18th in Def. S&P+, which filters out garbage time. Since 2008, the Tide have only once finished worse than sixth. They are fine from an efficiency standpoint (seventh in marginal efficiency), but they’re glitchy.
They rank just 75th in marginal explosiveness, and a rebuilt secondary hasn’t necessarily been the primary culprit. Despite losing their top six tacklers from last year’s DB corps, they’re fourth in passing marginal efficiency and 39th in passing marginal explosiveness.
No, the problem has been in the run game, where they’re 35th in marginal efficiency and 107th in marginal explosiveness.
- Arkansas’ Rakeem Boyd rushed 15 times for 102 yards (6.8 per carry) this past weekend.
- UL’s Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell rushed 27 times for 196 yards (7.3).
- Arkansas State’s Warren Wand and Armond Weh-Weh rushed 15 times for 105 yards (7.0).
- Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams never really got going (eight carries, 31 yards), but a 54-yard burst from quarterback Kellen Mond set up the Aggies’ first touchdown.
A lot of this damage has been done in garbage time, of course, and when “Our defense doesn’t defend the run very well when we’ve got a 50-point lead” is your biggest problem, you’re probably doing alright.
We’ll learn if this is a serious problem soon enough — Missouri (13th in rushing marginal efficiency) and Mississippi State (sixth) will be visiting Tuscaloosa soon, and while Auburn’s offense is a mess right now, head coach Gus Malzahn often has tricks stored up for the Iron Bowl. But even if upcoming opponents are able to move the ball a little bit, they still have to stop the Tide from doing the same.
Thanks to Tagovailoa and this receiving corps, that might be impossible.
Luckily for the rest of college football, Tua’s only got one more year after this before he’s eligible for the NFL draft. So while the Saban Death Star might be as dominant and unforgiving as ever through 2019, it’s always possible that Alabama suffers a little bit of regression after — oh goddammit, Tua’s got a younger brother.