Even now that Alabama is 1-0 with Tua Tagovailoa as its starting quarterback, Nick Saban might not say he’s settled on a long-term QB. He said he wasn’t all throughout the offseason, mulling it over between sophomore Tagovailoa and 26-2 junior Jalen Hurts.
Saban wouldn’t name a starter even in the last moments before kickoff of his team’s 51-14 romp against Louisville on Saturday. When ESPN’s Maria Taylor asked him seconds before kick, Saban smirked and said she could wait another 30 seconds. He was ruder with her after the game, curtly telling her to “quit asking.”
The Tide can continue to list Tagovailoa and Hurts as co-starters. They might even play both QBs every week, as they did against Louisville.
But Tagovailoa is now Bama’s unquestioned starter, to little surprise. Any window for Hurts to keep the job he held for two years slammed shut with the way both played on Saturday.
To grasp Tagovailoa’s superiority, just look at Bama’s drive chart.
When Tagovailoa was the quarterback, these were Bama’s drives:
- Seven plays, 65 yards, touchdown
- Eight plays, 63 yards, fumble by another guy
- Six plays, 55 yards, touchdown
- Six plays, 75 yards, touchdown
- Three plays, 25 yards, touchdown
- Four plays, 63 yards, touchdown
Average drive: 5.7 plays, 57.7 yards, 5.8 points.
When Hurts was the quarterback, these were the drives:
- Five plays, 19 yards, punt
- Six plays, 33 yards, punt
- Six plays, 37 yards, field goal
- 13 plays, 70 yards, missed field goal
Average drive: 7.5 plays, 39.8 yards, 0.8 points.
And that’s being generous. Hurts only handled about the first half of that last drive, which came in garbage time. At that point, the Tide got third-stringer Mac Jones, a redshirt freshman, into the game for his first career action. The game was over by halftime.
Total stats tell the same story.
- Tagovailoa: 12 of 16 for 227 yards, two TDs, no interceptions, and a 235.4 rating
- Hurts: 5 of 9 for 70 yards, no TDs or interceptions, and a 120.9 rating
Tagovailoa ran five times for 26 yards and a TD, or four times for 20 yards (with a slight dent into his passing yardage) if you filter out a 6-yard loss on a sack he took.
Hurts ran three times for 9 yards.
That Tagovailoa was more prolific on the ground is also significant, because conventional wisdom has long held that Hurts’ powerful running is his biggest advantage.
Tagovailoa also used his legs to set up his first touchdown pass, when he eluded two rushers and ran around in a circle before finding Jerry Jeudy in the end zone:
OH MY GOD!! What a play by Tua! pic.twitter.com/VZT7lMk3PT— Prime Bam Childress (@fearthe_beard11) September 2, 2018
Tagovailoa returned on the next series after being shaken up on the play.
Or just look at some clips of both QBs attempting downfield throws.
This might have been Hurts’ most ambitious attempt to stretch the defense vertically: an offline pass that Jeudy didn’t have much chance to catch.
Tagovailoa took several successful deep shots, but this 32-yard lob to big tight end Irv Smith Jr. was one of his sharpest of the night. He dropped it in perfectly:
I’m cherry-picking, but I wouldn’t do that if these throws didn’t give such telling snapshots of the nights both quarterbacks had.
Alabama has already proven it can run over teams without an accurate downfield passer. Now that the Tide have Tagovailoa to put the ball into tight windows far from the line of scrimmage, the unfair have only gotten less fair.
Choose whichever barometer you want.
None will lead you (or Saban) to any conclusion other than that Tagovailoa is now the man. The QB controversy that started when he replaced Hurts at halftime of the national championship game against Georgia on Jan. 8 is essentially over.