- While its night wasn't perfect, Alabama didn't show much sign of championship hangover as a strong performance by Tua Tagovailoa led a blowout of Louisville.
From the moment Tua Tagovailoa threw a game-winning overtime touchdown to win the national championship against Georgia, Nick Saban has been bombarded and most definitely annoyed by the repeated questions about his quarterback conundrum.
At every turn, it’s been Tua or Jalen Hurts? Jalen or Tua? For the last nine months. Constantly. Do you ride the hot hand who pulled victory from the jaws of defeat or do you go with the steady hand that had won 26 of his 28 collegiate starts?
And while Alabama ended up playing both in the Camping World Kickoff against Louisville, conventional wisdom would tell you they need to settle on a quarterback sooner rather than later if the Tide is to make it to the College Football Playoff for a fifth consecutive year.
Alabama’s title defense began by barely breaking a sweat with a 51–14 thumping of Louisville.
It was no surprise that Tagovailoa came out with the first-team offense for the game, and the start was rewarded when he drove Alabama right down the field on the opening possession, resulting in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy.
Tagovailoa used a combination of slant routes, screen passes and deep throws to reveal an offense that will give every opponent fits. He also used his legs in key spots to offset the backfield’s running by committee.
The Tide rolled from there, going up 21–0 early and allowing Hurts to get some mop-up playing time.
Hurts came in with eight minutes left in the second quarter and did nothing in his two first half drives at the helm. He had 11 plays, with the offense gaining 52 yards as both drives ended in punts.
Tagovailoa came back in on cue with less than a minute to go in the first half and immediately took to the air, throwing a 25-yard strike to Jeudy to pace Alabama to a 28–0 halftime lead. Hurts returned in the third quarter after the game was well in hand.
Saban would be wise to stop playing games and ride Tagovailoa, who went 12 for 16 for 227 yards and two touchdowns while adding 26 rushing yards and a score, from here on out or until he sees evidence that Hurts can take the reins back again. Saban, for his part, said after the win that he still likes both quarterbacks and believes both can help the Tide.
The biggest shoes to fill in the game belonged to Louisville’s Jawon Pass, who had the almost impossible task of replacing all-everything quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman winner and first-round NFL draft pick.
Pass, a 6’4” sophomore, showed some poise and flashes exposing the Alabama defense in the middle of the field, finding receivers running scot free through the secondary.
But he was not helped out by costly penalties and no running game to speak of. Bobby Petrino’s playcalling became a moot point after being down by four touchdowns. Pass finished with 252 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one being returned for a pick-six late in the fourth.
Pass and the offense have ample opportunity to redeem themselves before the ACC slate, as the Cardinals take on Indiana State and Western Kentucky before opening conference play by going to Virginia and ending the month with Florida State.
Dominant despite turnover
Alabama, perhaps better than any program, has the ability to offset losses by graduation or the NFL draft by simply reloading and restocking, bringing in one top recruiting class after another.
There are also six new assistant coaches on the staff this season and the Tide returned only eight starters from that championship squad, including replacing their entire secondary.
While the cornerbacks experienced the brunt of the growing pains on Saturday with bad angles on receiving and poor tackling, the rest of the team showed no hangover from that championship run. Despite being up by five touchdowns, Saban lit into his defensive unit every chance he got.
The kicking game and special teams could also be an issue—as it seems every year for Alabama—as they missed an extra point and a chip shot 27-yard field goal and allowed a 61-yard kickoff return.
But looking at the upcoming schedule, there isn’t a single opponent that poses a threat to what looks like an unimpeded run to another trip to Atlanta and beyond.