What's Behind the Sudden Negative Talk About Alabama Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa?
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Yes, they hear the noise.
They might not pay attention to a lot of it, but there’s not much out there being said about the University of Alabama football team that doesn’t get back to the Crimson Tide one way or another. From the poignant to the ridiculous, it comes with being part of the only program in college football history to win five national titles in a decade.
That goes double for the quarterback who nearly won the Heisman Trophy last year, and oddsmakers have as the 2019 favorite at the midseason point.
“Not too conscious of it,” Tagovailoa said. “I hear it here and there, but…”
In this case, the junior was talking about the #TankForTua talk regarding the 2020 NFL Draft, which might have reached a new high, or low depending on your point of view, with last week’s Miami Dolphins vs. Washington Redskins. One of the worst matchups in recent memory, the Redskins won the game 17-16, but many Dolphins fans were still celebrating.
“It’s flattering, but we have a season to worry about now,” Tagovailoa said. “Everyone is saying ‘Tank for Tua’ now, but if we end up losing the rest of the season, all our games, they won’t be there saying it then. We just have to worry about what’s in front of us now, worry about the games we have to deal with now.”
It's easier said than done, especially considering Alabama’s schedule. Last weekend’s win at then-No. 24 Texas A&M was the first matchup against a ranked opponent, plus the Crimson Tide still has three weeks before its showdown against LSU.
Alabama needs to only hear 44-16, the score of last season’s loss to Clemson in the National Championship Game, for inspiration, yet Saban is already playing the “avoid distractions” card on a regular basis. This week he’s also using Georgia’s loss to South Carolina as an example of what could happen if the players lose focus and don’t keep improving.
Alabama’s defense, with four true freshmen in the front seven, is also still coming together. It can’t afford not to take every opponent seriously (well, at least for a half).
Overall, Tagovailoa is 134-for-182 (73.63 percent), 2,011 yards with 27 touchdown passes and one interception. He’s on pace to top most of his numbers from a year ago: 245-for-355 (69.0 percent), 3,966 yards with 43 touchdowns and six interceptions, when he set the NCAA record for passing efficiency, 199.4.
His passer rating has been incredibly steady this season at 214.3. By quarter, it’s 226.9 in the first, 208.7 in the second, 207.1 in the third, and 210.4 in the fourth.
By down, he’s just effective on third down as he is on first, 207.4 compared to 207.1, respectively, and when the run-pass option is most unpredictable on second down it’s 252.4.
His rating in the red zone is the exact same (214.3), although he only has eight touchdowns inside the 20. That means he has 19 from everywhere else on the field. He’s also led 57 drives this season with 46 resulting in scores, including 39 resulting in touchdowns.
Yet for some reason the noise has been getting louder, mostly from anonymous or unclaimed sources.
The rhetoric includes things like his wide receivers are making Tagovailoa look good. He’s holding on to the ball too much. His numbers aren’t as good when he plays tougher defenses.
Tagovailoa took exception to one in particular and commented on it after the Texas A&M victory, that Alabama’s quick slant routes are cheap completions.
“We don’t practice slants every time,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s just that’s what the defense gives us. If people say, ‘They’ve got to stop running this. It’s weak that they’re running this.’ I mean, stop it. Then stop it.”
A shovel pass is a cheap completion and should be considered a running play. A slant is definitely not.
"Cheap routes?” sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Waddle said. “I wouldn't say that. It's a route, it's in the route tree. It's just as good as a dig (or) go in the route tree."
Junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith’s 47-yard touchdown against the Aggies is a perfect example of both how tricky a slant can be to execute and how difficult it is to stop. Should a linebacker step back it can result in an easy interception, but the key is usually the safety. Texas A&M blitzed on the play and Tagovailoa read it.
He put the ball right in the vacated hole as quick as a blink, hitting Smith in stride — which is not an easy throw, especially when considering that every receiver runs the route at a different speed. The cornerback covering him had no chance to stop the touchdown.
"A catchable ball,” Waddle said is all he looks for on those plays, “which he's pretty good at."
Is it ignorance? Wishful thinking by SEC rivals or smear tactics by those wanting him to drop in the draft?
It sort of has the same feel as the last presidential election with the Russians and others doing everything they could to discredit candidates, but obviously not as extensive.
This year’s Crimson Tide offense been almost unstoppable, and it’s also been Saban’s answer to years of rule changes that were supposed to make things tougher on Alabama. He’s now beating, and pounding, those teams that pushed for them at their own game.
He went out and got the quarterback, the receivers and maybe the perfect offensive coordinator for this, Steve Sarkisian.
“The offense is super,” said Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt during the weekly SEC coaches’ teleconference with reporters on Wednesday, “maybe one of the best offenses in the history of college football.”
But it begins with Tagovailoa, who has improved dramatically as a quarterback in making reads and going through his progressions.
But if you’re still wondering about what some of those critics are claiming, consider the following:
• In his 21 games as a starter, the Crimson Tide has totaled 6,302 yards passing and is averaging 300.1 yards per game with 79 touchdown passes (3.76). Alabama’s offense has scored 990 points, 47.1 points per game.
• He’s averaging a touchdown pass every 6.7 attempts or 14.8 percent of his total attempts (182). During his three seasons in an Alabama uniform, Tagovailoa has thrown 81 touchdowns across 614 career passing attempts, which averages out to a passing touchdown every 7.6 attempts or 13.2 percent of his career attempts.
• Tagovailoa already has the Alabama records for passing touchdowns (77) and touchdowns responsible (90).
• He set the NCAA record for passing efficiency when throwing downfield more.
He’s not perfect. Tagovailoa even said he “stared the guy down” on his interception at College Station, and his timing with Jerry Jeudy was off for most of the game.
He still had four touchdown passes.
Just keep talking …
"I'm behind him 100 percent," Waddle said.