NEW ORLEANS — Tua Tagovailoa seemed shocked Saturday when a reporter suggested that Tagovailoa might be the most popular player on Alabama’s campus. While it isn’t unusual for the backup quarterback’s Q Rating to surge, it’s an especially touchy subject given the recent criticism of starter Jalen Hurts.
Hurts has only gone 24–2 as Alabama’s starter, but since his last game was a loss to Auburn—and since this is Alabama—he has received the bulk of the blame after averaging 4.5 yards per pass attempt against the Tigers. (For the season, Hurts averages 8.7 yards per pass attempt and has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only one interception.) Tagovailoa has heard the same noise, and he’s even discussed it with Hurts. “It does come up,” the true freshman from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, said at Saturday’s Sugar Bowl media day. “Yeah, we see it. We talk about it, and we just laugh.”
Tagovailoa would rather not see himself get pitted against Hurts—especially as the Crimson Tide prepare to face Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal. He would prefer that everyone support Hurts. If the Tide need Tagovailoa for any reason, he’ll be ready. “If the roles were flipped, I would want the same thing,” Tagovailoa said. “Jalen is my teammate. I love him like an older brother.”
The good news for the Tide is that thanks to several blowout wins, Tagovailoa has gotten a chance to operate the offense for extended periods and should be capable of taking over should Hurts get injured. He has played quarterback in seven games—he also held for a kick against Texas A&M but did not play with the offense—and has completed 35 of 53 passes for 470 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. It is the quality of those completions that have contributed to Tagovailoa’s popularity.
If the quarterback thing doesn’t work out for Tagovailoa, he may have a fallback. He can play ukulele, guitar and piano. He started playing the ukulele in sixth grade to contribute to family singalongs, and he now can duplicate almost any song he hears. Tagovailoa’s pipes aren’t bad, either.
He also has adjusted to some of the craziness that comes with playing quarterback at Alabama. Like the rest of us, he marveled at this message board poster who apparently missed the news that Hawaii was a state.
“I was like ‘Wait. Is this real?’” Tagovailoa said. It was indeed real. It’ll probably get crazier for Tagovailoa next spring when he’ll compete with Hurts for the starting job. That will happen, because no job is safe at Alabama. “It’s not just Jalen and Tua,” co-offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “That’s the benefit of being at a place like Alabama. Every day you come, you’ve got to bring your A game because there are good players here in this program. That competition is what motivates a lot of these guys. … The quarterback position is no different.”
But for now, Tagovailoa will be prepared to play if asked. If he isn’t, he’ll help Hurts in any way he can. “You just always have to be ready. You never know when your number is going to be called. I’m pretty confident that I could step in,” Tagovailoa said. “But I’m just here to support Jalen. I’m just here to do what the team needs me to do.”