Tua Tagovailoa

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How much does Tua Tagovailoa’s injury actually impact Alabama and the College Football Playoff? Not as much as you’d think

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Since the moment Tua Tagovailoa went down with a season-ending injury on Saturday, the focus of the bigger College Football Playoff picture has been hotly debated. Should Alabama be given the benefit of the doubt? Would Alabama with one loss and no SEC title and no Tua be more deserving of a playoff shot over a one-loss Pac-12 champion? How does a potential 1-loss Alabama compare to some other 1-loss teams in the country right now, including Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Penn State and, of course, Georgia?

We are in the time of the season when hypothetical scenarios are the most fun to rationally discuss debate with great intensity explore for the fun of it, and this new Alabama situation is a wrinkle we haven’t exactly seen since the inaugural College Football Playoff with Ohio State. As it turns out, Ohio State is the prime example Alabama fans and defenders will point to as one of their top arguments. Of course, 2014 Ohio State and 2019 Alabama are still very different situations.

In 2014, Ohio State lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller to an early season-ending injury but managed to get through the regular season with just one early loss with J.T. Barrett stepping in to guide the Buckeyes offense. But Barrett was injured in the regular-season finale and Cardale Jones had to keep things rolling. Ohio State demolished Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game and convinced the College Football Playoff selection committee they were still worthy of a playoff bid over a pair of 1-loss Big 12 champions (Baylor and TCU) even with their injury concerns at quarterback. This precedent would seem to favor Alabama. Although the Tide may not be as deep at quarterback as Ohio State certainly was, there is an embarrassing amount of riches around the rest of the roster thanks to top recruiting class after top recruiting class being signed by Nick Saban.

There is just one major problem for Alabama. They aren’t likely to get a shot at playing for the SEC championship and prove their case one final time. LSU would have to lose its final two games in order to open the door to the SEC Championship Game for Alabama, and that assumes Alabama wins at Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Alabama (and Ohio State) have made the playoff without winning their divisions before, but this year’s field could be a bit too crowded to allow for that possibility to happen again.

Alabama is in the toughest spot it has been in during the College Football Playoff era. The only team to play in each College Football Playoff, Alabama still has a shot at playing in the playoff once again. At least one team currently ranked ahead of them is going to lose. If it’s Georgia and Alabama stands firm on its ranking, that could see Alabama slide into the fourth spot. But if the season ends with undefeated champions in the ACC (Clemson), Big Ten (Ohio State) and SEC (LSU) and 1-loss champions in the Pac-12 (Oregon or Utah) and Big 12 (Oklahoma or Baylor), how exactly would Alabama compare with no more than one top 25 win? With or without Tua, Alabama should be in some danger of being left out of the playoff for the first time.

And that doesn’t even account for the scenarios that see Penn State beat Ohio State and both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes end the year with one loss. In that case, Ohio State would still be more worthy of a top-four spot than Alabama, and they may not even make it under these conditions. And if Georgia beats LSU in the SEC title game and both teams end the year with one loss, they’d each get in the playoff before Alabama.

Simply put, Alabama’s playoff odds are probably not as drastically impacted by Tagovailoa’s injury as it is being presented. Alabama would still probably need some help no matter if Tagovailoa or Joe Namath was playing quarterback. It may not be too much help that is needed, but some help would absolutely be welcome in Tuscaloosa.

On Tuesday night, however, we’ll get our first taste of just how this injury to Tagovailoa impacts Alabama in the playoff race. The selection committee will release its third set of rankings this season and determine just where Alabama sits in the pack. Alabama fell to No. 5 after their loss to LSU, firmly keeping the Tide in the hunt. They still managed to control their game against Mississippi State this weekend, but other contenders had good performances as well (see: Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma). Alabama is also still lacking a top 25 win the way a few other 1-loss teams now own (see: Oklahoma, Penn State, Minnesota).

How will the committee react? We’re about to find out Tuesday night.

Tua Tagovailoa sets Alabama all-time pass TD record as No. 1 Crimson Tide handles No. 24 Texas A&M

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Any thought about No. 25 Texas A&M (3-3, 1-2 SEC) scoring a big upset at home against No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) was quickly washed away by another dominant effort by the best team in the country. Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw four touchdowns and rushed for one more in a record-setting day for the Heisman Trophy hopeful as Alabama left Kyle Field in College Station with a 47-28 victory.

Tagovailoa became Alabama’s all-time touchdown pass leader with his first touchdown pass of the day, a 31-yard pass to Jaylen Waddle on Alabama’s first offensive series of the game. That touchdown tied the game, and Tagovailoa’s second touchdown gave Alabama the lead for good. The Crimson Tide never trailed after going up 14-7 and the closest Texas A&M would get the rest fo the game was on the ensuing possession. The Aggies cut the lead to 14-10 with a field goal, and the Crimson Tide scored the next 33 of 43 points to run away with the game.

Next up on Tagovailoa’s list of accomplishments at Alabama? All-time passing yards.

In the box score, Texas A&M actually hung with Alabama in terms of overall offensive yardage, but Tagovailoa had a batch of receivers to help him have a much more efficiently productive output compared to Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond. Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, and Najee Harris all caught touchdown passes for Alabama, in addition to the previously mentioned Waddle. Jalen Wydermyer was the only Aggie to catch a touchdown pass (he actually caught two in the game). Devonta Smith was tossed from the game late in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch at a Texas A&M player at the end of the play. No penalty was assessed to Texas A&M despite Smith’s punch being in retaliation to a punch thrown at him. Expect the SEC office to review that situation.

Harris also rushed for over 100 yards for the Tide. Mond was the leading rusher for Texas A&M. It was another reminder of just how much talent and skill Alabama has accumulated over years of recruiting and a reminder of where Texas A&M hopes to be one day under head coach Jimbo Fisher.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban remains undefeated against his former assistants. Saban improved to 18-0 all-time against head coaches that previously worked on his staff. Fisher is now 0-3 against Saban, including one matchup while Fisher was the head coach at Florida State. Fisher has now lost to Alabama in his first two games as head coach of the Aggies. Since Johnny Manziel stunned the Crimson Tide in the first meeting as SEC West opponents in 2012, the Aggies have lost to the Crimson Tide in seven straight meetings.

Alabama will return home next weekend to face traditional rival Tennessee. The Vols picked up a win in SEC play with a victory over Mississippi State earlier in the day but will be a heavy underdog in Tuscaloosa next week. Alabama has won 12 straight games in the series dating back to 2007. This should be the seventh time in that span Alabama will be the top-ranked team in the matchup, and the 12th time in 13 games Tennessee will not be ranked in the top 25.

Texas A&M, now 1-2 in SEC play with losses at home to Auburn and Alabama, will get a chance to regroup in the next couple of weeks. First up is a road game at Ole Miss next Saturday. The Aggies have won the last two meetings with the Rebels, including last season’s 38-24 victory in Oxford.

Three touchdowns from Tua Tagovailoa have Alabama leading Texas A&M 24-13

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There was no doubt Texas A&M was fired up for their home game against top-ranked Alabama, but an early touchdown by the Aggies was not nearly enough to knock Alabama off its game. Alabama leads the Aggies 24-13 at halftime in Kyle Field.

Kellen Mond punched the ball in from the one-yard line at the end of a 15-play drive to start the game, giving Texas A&M and their fans an early adrenaline run, but it was short-lived. Alabama then did what they do best and that meant making key plays with their superior talent advantage. Alabama was thriving on third-down plays in the first half too.

Alabama’s first three touchdowns of the game all came on third-and-long situations. Jaylen Waddle scored on a 31-yard pass from Tua Tagovailoa on 3rd & 7 to the tie game at 7-7. Devonta Smith scored on a  47-yard pass on 3rd & 10 on Alabama’s next drive. Najee Harris did the honors on a 16-yard pass from Tagovailoa on a 3rd & 7 on Alabama’s third possession, putting Alabama up 24-10.

Tagovailoa did make a mistake late in the half with an interception in the endzone (by Demani Richardson). It was the first interception thrown this season by Tagovailoa (after 26 touchdown passes had been thrown).

Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle headed to the locker room shortly before halftime. There was no update on his status.

Tua Tagovailoa breaks Alabama school record for career touchdowns

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Move over AJ McCarron, because there is a new all-time leader sitting on top of the Alabama school records. Tua Tagovailoa set a new record for career touchdowns with his 81st career touchdown. It came on a seven-yard run that gave Alabama a lead on Ole Miss.

Touchdowns responsible for includes rushing touchdowns, passing touchdowns and touchdown receptions (as well as special teams and defensive scores, although Tagovailoa doesn’t have any of those). McCarron set the Alabama record of 80 between 2009 and 2013. Tagovailoa came into this week with 17 passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. In the first half against Ole Miss, Tagovailoa accounted for four touchdowns through the air and one more on the ground to bring his career total up to 84 career touchdowns responsible for. And we’re not even in October yet.

The game has evolved to rack up the stats for top quarterbacks, but Tagovailoa may be putting together quite a record at Alabama that will be difficult to match.

In other Alabama school records being broken news, wide receiver Devonta Smith has broken the single-game touchdown record with four touchdown receptions. the previous record was three.

Tale of the Heisman Tape: Trevor vs. Tua

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The 2018 season ended with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence emerging as the next big college football star destined for greatness. Despite being a true freshman, Lawrence had his way with Alabama in the national championship game after leading the Tigers past Notre Dame in the semifinal of the College Football Playoff. Lawrence’s glory led to a disappointing ending to the season for Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, who was among the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy before the 2018 season started. Now, a year later, Tagovailoa is once again being tabbed as one of the Heisman Trophy favorites, with Lawrence riding in the same boat as the top picks to take home the trophy this fall.

Preseason Heisman Trophy favorites can sometimes be a total guessing game, but both Lawrence and Tagovailoa are young and experienced enough at a high level of competition to prove worthy of the preseason hype as college football’s best players. Although Tagovailoa had a rough end to the 2019 season, there is enough reason to believe he will have a solid season in 2019 while leading Alabama right back to the College Football Playoff. Lawrence should do the same with Clemson as they look to defend their national title from a year ago. If all goes according to plan, they will meet in New York City when the most iconic individual award in sports is awarded. And if the oddsmakers are on the ball, one of these two young quarterbacks will be going home with the award.

So how do these two quarterback phenoms stack up against each other in 2019? Let’s see if we can dig in a little bit and determine if there is a clear edge one way or the other.

Who passes for more yards?

As a freshman, Lawrence passed for 3,280 yards in 15 games. Of course, Lawrence didn’t become the full-time starter until after the fourth game of the season, replacing Kelly Bryant at the end of September. Had Lawrence been the full-time starter instead of splitting time, perhaps the freshman would have climbed higher than 22nd in the nation in passing yards. Alabama’s Tagovailoa finished the season with the 5th most passing yards, just shy of joining the 4,000-yard club last season (Tagovailoa finished the season with 3,966 passing yards).

Each of the last two Heisman Trophy winners, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, managed to cross the 4,000-yard mark for the entire season, although it is not necessarily the difference-maker in the Heisman Trophy race. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson had 3,543 passing yards in 2016, although Jackson piled up stats in other offensive categories as well to help his case. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota threw for 4,454 yards in 2014. It should be noted, however, that these passing yard totals also include postseason games played after the Heisman Trophy has been awarded. Last year’s season passing leader, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, was merely a Heisman Trophy finalist and he ended the season with 4,831 passing yards.

Who has more touchdowns?

Aided by being the full-time starter for his team from the start of the season, Tagovailoa easily had more touchdown passes than Lawrence last season. The Crimson Tide QB tossed 43 touchdowns on the year, with 37 coming before the Heisman Trophy ballots were due. Tagovailoa was picked off just four times all season prior to the College Football Playoff, but two of those came in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. As far as timing is concerned, throwing half of your picks in the season in the conference championship game is far from ideal for most Heisman Trophy candidates.

Lawrence connected for 30 touchdowns to just four interceptions all season long. When the Heisman Trophy votes were counted, the freshman had 26 touchdown passes in the books and he had not thrown an interception since Nov. 11 at Boston College. Those stats were not nearly good enough to jump into the Heisman Trophy race for those concerned about the stats over the wins as a newcomer on the scene. Similar numbers in 2019 may not be as much concern unless other quarterbacks are outpacing those stats for playoff contenders.

Murray threw 40 touchdowns before the College Football Playoff. So a race to 40 touchdowns may be worth paying attention to.

Who rushes for more yards?

Does a running quarterback have a leg up in the Heisman Trophy competition? Not necessarily. Kyler Murray was a 1,000-yard rusher last season with 12 rushing touchdowns, but Baker Mayfield had just 311 rushing yards and five touchdowns the year before. But production on the ground can certainly help, as it did for Lamar Jackson in 2016. Jackson rushed for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns to compliment his 3,543 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes for the entire season. Neither Lawrence nor Tagovailoa should be expected to put up that kind of production on the loaded teams they are a part of.

In fact, neither quarterback should be expected to do a ton of damage with their legs. Last season, Lawrence ended the year with 177 rushing yards and one touchdown and Tagovailoa had 190 rushing yards with five touchdowns. As far as these two candidates are concerned, the Heisman Trophy race likely won’t be decided by what they do running the ball. Each team will have solid running backs for these players to hand the ball to when the action stays on the ground.

Who has more Heisman Moment opportunities?

SANTA CLARA, CA – JANUARY 07: Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts against the Clemson Tigers in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi’s Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

This is where the difference could be made for Lawrence and Tagovailoa. For voters who are looking for a defining moment in which a Heisman Trophy candidate lifts the team up in a pivotal point, the search for Heisman Moments will be important in swaying a ballot or two one way or the other. What will these great quarterbacks do when the pressure is ultimately on?

Lawerence may have a great opportunity to make some early highlights with games against Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Syracuse to start the season. The schedule after that could potentially turn into a bit of a drag with Clemson being a lopsided favorite the rest of the year. Could Lawrence actually be punished for Clemson’s dominance while other candidates such as Tagovailoa may have some more marquee matchups in the spotlight?

While Lawrence gets a good start to the season with the schedule, Tagovailoa may have a chance to pile up some big numbers early before the nitty-gritty of the Alabama football schedule kicks in. Tagovailoa will lead Alabama on the road to Texas A&M (a chance to compare results with Lawrence due to a common opponent) and a potential top-10 matchup with LSU on early November could carry some significant weight down the stretch. Throw in a possible opportunity to go up against a highly-ranked Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, the edge in notable showcase games as the Heisman Trophy race winds down probably leans in favor of Tagovailoa.

The flip side of that is Tagovailoa needs to shine in those game sin order to take advantage of the spotlight, and the magnifying glass that goes with it if the race is close. Tagovailoa struggled in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia last year when he completed just 10 of 25 pass attempts for 164 yards with just one touchdown to two interceptions before being replaced by Jalen Hurts. A better showing may not have changed the final outcome in the Heisman voting enough to dethrone Kyler Murray, but Tagovailoa’s performance in Atlanta didn’t help his case.

So, who’s it going to be?

It is difficult to see how Lawrence loses steam this season. A chance to jump out to an early lead with some big games to start the year gives Clemson’s young phenom the perfect opportunity to back up his hype as the preseason Heisman favorite, and the chance to rack up stats the rest of the year could be enough to stay ahead of the pack. History would suggest Lawrence will not win the Heisman Trophy though because rarely does a player start the year as the favorite and end up winning it. They can’t all be Marcus Mariota, right? Lawrence may be in a good position to pull it off though.