Not many college football players get the chance to play for a national title. Even fewer get the chance to make an impact on a championship team as freshman. Only one person has ever been tasked with carrying the load for national championship team as a freshman, all while doing it in one half. That person, currently, goes by one name: Tua.
Since walking onto campus in Tuscaloosa as the number one rated QB in his class, Hawaiian born Tua Tagovailoa — who attended the same high school as former Oregon Ducks QB and Heisman winner Marcus Mariota — has had high expectations for the Crimson Tide and none more loftier than what he did on the biggest stage in college football. A back up to then starter (and current a Heisman candidate for Oklahoma) Jalen Hurts, legendary coach Nick Saban trusted his star true freshman to lead the Tide back down 13-0 at the half against Georgia in the National Championship game. What happened next is the stuff of legend.
Coming into the game for the second half, Tua struggled at first and threw an interception in the third quarter. But as he settled into the game, he went on to lead the Tide back to tie it up at 20, forcing overtime. After Georgia’s drive ended with a field goal, Tua was sacked for a 16 yard loss on the first snap of the drive. It looked like that vaunted Georgia defense was going to get it done for the Bulldogs. However, the next play resulted in a 41 yard touchdown pass to give Alabama the 26-23 win in OT. The play lives on in Alabama history, having been dubbed the “2nd and 26” play by the Crimson Tide faithful. From there, a legend was born.
Winning a national championship cemented Tua’s place on the depth chart and in his first full season as the starter he put up the kind of numbers many assumed he was destined for. Throwing for 3,966 yards on 43 touchdowns and an NCAA FBS record 199.4 passer rating was more than enough to earn him his first Heisman nod en route to another National Championship game appearance. Although he’d lose the award to eventual first overall pick Kyler Murray and in the championship game to Clemson, it wasn’t enough to lower expectations for this season.
A lot of people pinned the loss in the championship game on Tua being banged up toward the end of last year, and with him healthy under center it was all but certain Alabama would be the preseason number one team. Vegas tabbed Tua as the favorite to win the Heisman, which seemed obvious to many. It’s almost a given that at least one Alabama player will be up for the award, but there has never been a quarterback of the caliber of Tua playing for Alabama.
A year after setting the record for single season passer rating, Tua is on pace to break it once again with a current average of 212 through the course of seven games. His 95.6 QBR is the best in the country and his 27 TDs to 2 INTs is rivaled by only a few other quarterbacks this season. If not for missing Alabama’s last game against Arkansas due to a high ankle sprain, his numbers would be almost exactly the same as LSU QB Joe Burrow.
Tua and Burrow will square off this Saturday in Tuscaloosa, in a game that has a ton riding on it, including the SEC championship, the national championship and the Heisman trophy. Both players are putting up similar numbers and their respective offenses are both averaging over 48 points on 500 yards per game. For the first time in recent memory, an LSU/Bama will come down to quarterback play. While either team has a good shot at winning, we know there’s one QB who doesn’t shy away when the lights are at their brightest.
If he were to win the Heisman, Tua would (surprisingly) become just the third player in school history to win the award — the third since 2009 (Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry in 2016 ) — and the first QB to do so. And if multiple draft experts, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., he would become the first Alabama QB to be taken number one overall in next year’s NFL draft. He has been described as a franchise changing player and if his play for one of the all time great college football schools is any indication of what he can do at the next level, GMs should be salivating at the chance to tank their season and give him the keys to their team.
Regardless of what happens this Saturday and beyond, it’s hard to argue that Tua is probably the best QB in the long and storied history of Alabama football. However, you could also argue that if he were to clean up with the Heisman and another National Championship, he should be considered the best player in Alabama history. After all, isn’t that whay we all thought when he won against Georgia in 2017? Or when he broke every Alabama passing record the next year? He set a bar high enough that maybe he can’t even top, but if he were to stick the landing it would be the most impressive three year run any quarterback has had at the collegiate level.
Dec 8, 2019; Grapevine, TX, USA; College football playoff selection committee chairman Rob Mullens speaks to the media during selection Sunday at the Gaylord Texan hotel. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports