- Every record shattered and highlight reel dominated by Tua Tagovailoa this season at Alabama is a victory for a small but proud group of southpaw QBs.
College football’s most famous left-handed player wasn’t even born a lefty. Tua Tagovailoa’s father, Galu, is a lefty, and he wanted a left-handed counterpart to play catch with. So Galu converted Tua into a southpaw, he told AL.com, by putting the ball in his left hand and letting it ride.
Now, Tagovailoa represents the greatest hope for lefty quarterbacks. Roughly 10% of humans are left-handed, but out of 82 active NFL quarterbacks, zero are lefties. Across FBS football, you can count the contributing lefty QBs on two hands.
Kellen Moore, the most recent lefty QB on an NFL roster, is now the Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach. The last five lefty passes thrown in the NFL have come from three wideouts, a free safety and a right-handed QB: a Dez Bryant touchdown heave to Jason Witten, an interception tossed by receiver Tyreek Hill, safety Kevin Byard’s fake-punt touchdown and a two-point conversion from Jarvis Landry. Oh, and there was the lefty pass Patrick Mahomes, a righty, threw on Monday Night Football.
In 2015, Mark Brunell, who holds the record for single-season passing yards by a left-handed quarterback, predicted this grim future. “We’re a dying breed,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “We need someone to re-light and carry the torch for us. If we don’t find that, we could become extinct soon.”
In the midst of a historic season at Alabama, Tagovailoa is poised to be held up as the potential savior of lefty QBs at the college and pro levels. Of current Division I FBS southpaws, the gap between Tagovailoa and the pack is laughable.
FBS Left-Handed Quarterbacks in 2018
There isn’t much competition in there, but Tagovailoa is a different breed of player even when handedness is not taken into consideration. With a banged-up knee, he threw for 306 yards and four touchdowns against Tennessee. Against Arkansas, he finished with 334 yards and four scores on 10 completions. Somehow, he has yet to throw an interception. Since at least 1996, no Division I quarterback has ever thrown zero picks through his first eight games while passing for at least 1,000 yards.
And look at these darn throws:
Arkansas DL actually gets solid penetration, but Tua doesn’t panic and instead takes a side-step before stepping up in the pocket and delivering a beautiful strike on the money to Jeudy. A QB’s no fear mentality & footwork in the pocket go a long way in helping his offensive line pic.twitter.com/rxBnU6gLN7— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) October 6, 2018
Now, for the historical perspective. Let’s zoom out and see where Tagovailoa sits among the all-time lefty greats in college football:
Notable Division I Left-Handed QBs in Their First Eight Starts (Since 2000)
Tagovailoa’s numbers hold up against the very best lefties. Some, like Tebow and White, did their most damage as runners, but Tagovailoa is a threat with his legs, too.
Tagovailoa’s numbers are on track to dust those of the most notable lefty quarterbacks at the college level before 2000: Steve Young, Michael Vick, Terry Baker and Boomer Esiason. Of course, comparing different eras is tricky, between rule changes, shifting strategies and different levels of competition. But there’s no doubt Tagovailoa is on a path to college football greatness, and most of all, complete and total lefty dominance.
Tagovailoa is re-writing the record books, and we can only imagine what his numbers would look like if Saban kept him in the game longer. His 238.8 passer rating is on track to be the highest in college football history, by a wide margin (Baker Mayfield holds the record, with 198.9 last year). After the now-legendary comeback he led in last season’s national title game, Tagovailoa has upped the ante this year.
At a time when lefty quarterbacks have disappeared at the pro level, college football’s most exciting player and the 2018 Heisman favorite is a gun-slinging Hawaiian southpaw leading the sport’s reigning dynasty to even greater heights. Of college football’s lefties, he’s the only legitimate NFL prospect, with a chance to spearhead a lefty revival at the pro ranks. And by the time he gets there, he may have cemented himself as the best left-handed quarterback college football has ever seen.