| NEWS Tua Tagovailoa’s Alabama Career Was a Dream Come to Life- The Ringer


Bama News

Tua Tagovalioa’s brilliant college career peaked before he ever started a game. Normally, the only way that could happen for a quarterback is if a five-star recruit went bust. That’s not the case with Tagovailoa. He began his career with one of the best national championship performances in the history of the sport, coming in as a halftime substitute and rallying an Alabama team that had scored zero first-half points to a 26-23 overtime victory. Twenty-three months later, he holds a series of career records that paint him as the greatest college quarterback of all time.

But Tagovailoa’s brilliant college career probably ended Saturday, after he went down with a dislocated hip and fractured acetabular posterior wall in a blowout win over Mississippi State. He will miss the remainder of this season, and while Tagovailoa is just a junior and still has a year of NCAA eligibility remaining, he has nothing left to prove to NFL scouts. We have almost certainly seen the last of him in an Alabama uniform, which means he’ll never accomplish so many of the things that once felt like his destiny. He never won the Heisman Trophy. His lone full season as Bama’s starter culminated in a crushing national championship loss to Clemson. He went 22-2 with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of better than 8-to-1 over the last two years, and yet it feels like he barely scratched the surface of what was possible.

After his emergence in that January 2018 national title game, I imagined Tua winning three championships in three years before becoming the no. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Nobody played like him, a left-handed touchdown generator capable of throwing to receivers at any depth in any direction. And nobody had ever made Alabama’s offense fly like him. On the one hand, expecting Tagovailoa to win three national titles was ridiculous; on the other, he brought an Alabama program that had won it all behind Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, and Jake Coker into an entirely new dimension.

Tagovailoa’s play set the bar impossibly high for himself, and Tagovailoa’s body simply couldn’t reach it. Both losses he was part of at Bama happened shortly after he’d suffered ankle injuries. Now, his college career is likely over because of a separate, much more devastating hit. Tagovailoa’s pro future could be altered as well—dislocated hip injuries are both rare and extremely difficult to come back from. There’s a reason why so many people keep mentioning Bo Jackson.

Measuring Tagovailoa’s Alabama tenure purely based on what he did and didn’t accomplish is a poor way to examine his legacy, though. Tua is a college football legend, a dynamic superstar who brought the dominant program of the 2010s in line with the predominant offensive styles of the era it dominated. His highs are higher than any college quarterback I’ve ever seen, and yet the timing of those highs makes his career feel equal parts like a tragedy and a triumph.

People get upset when the phrase “college football legend” is applied to modern players. But I find that we tend to misremember the achievements of past stars whose NCAA careers are, by rule, limited to four seasons of eligibility. Michael Jordan and Tom Brady each won six professional titles; most college legends win one. Tim Tebow won two, but he wasn’t a starter for one of them. Cam Newton became a legend on the strength of just one spectacular championship season.

So Tagovailoa really did become a college football legend in one night. We will remember that game against Georgia forever. ESPN recently ranked Tua’s comeback 13th on its list of the greatest games in college football history, which I assume was a tribute to his jersey number. After all, it should be higher. Before he took the field, Alabama was hopeless, barely threatening to pick up first downs. After he took the field, Alabama was unstoppable. Tagovailoa was the magic key that unlocked a juggernaut.

I’ll remember that night forever and a few years after that too. In 2017, I became obsessed with Tagovailoa after watching his dazzling highlights in mop-up duty of wins over opponents like Vanderbilt and Mercer. Of course, what did they matter when Alabama was already ahead by about 60 points? And because I’d only seen these plays on YouTube, I couldn’t be certain that they were real. Maybe they were deepfakes or highlights from an extremely realistic video game

But I went to the national championship game against Georgia, and saw Tua somehow recreate that magic when facing one of the sport’s best defenses in the biggest game of the season. Tagovailoa’s brilliance wasn’t a dream. Falling in love with his highlights against nobodies was like falling in love with the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen on Tinder. Watching him take over the title game was like looking up to realize the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen is walking toward your table for your first date.

After Alabama won that game, Tagovailoa represented limitless potential. Then, remarkably, he lived up to it. Tagovailoa was flawed while leading Bama past Georgia for the championship. He threw 10 incompletions in the second half, averaged less than seven yards per attempt, and had a brutal interception in that game. He even took a backbreaking 16-yard sack in overtime—sure, it set the stage for his 41-yard walk-off touchdown, but still. As a sophomore and junior, Tagovailoa was so much better than he’d been against Georgia. His deep balls were more accurate; he got sacked less often than just about anybody in the sport; his decision-making almost entirely eliminated interceptions like the one he threw against Georgia. He attempted 534 passes over the 2018 and 2019 seasons and threw just nine picks; that’s fewer than Jameis Winston (18), Deshaun Watson (17), Johnny Manziel (13), Vince Young (10), Andrew Luck (10), and Lamar Jackson (10) threw in their respective final college seasons alone.

When I wrote that Tagovailoa holds a series of career college football records, I was understating things. He didn’t just break previous marks—he destroyed them. Tagovailoa had a passer efficiency rating of 199.5; before 2019, no player had even had a rating of 200 for a season, and Tagovailoa nearly hit that for a career. Tagovailoa averaged 10.9 yards per attempt, a full yard better than the previous career record of 9.9. Tagovailoa threw touchdowns on 12.7 percent of his passing attempts; the old record, set by Sam Bradford, was 9.9. Tagovailoa was 30 percent more likely to throw a touchdown on a given throw than any player in the history of the sport.

He was perfect. Whether delivering a strike across the middle or floating a bomb deep downfield, Tagovailoa ensured that his receiver wouldn’t have to break stride. Tua started 31 games, and had more touchdowns than incompletions in four of them. He was not a force of nature capable of dominating physically, but had a mystifying way of wriggling free from sacks. And he was somehow capable of throwing on-target passes from angles that seemed impossible considering his movement and positioning in the instants before. He could move forward and hurtle a pass sideways.

But while his overall performance improved, he never matched that breakthrough moment. He rewrote the record books and revolutionized the way that we think of Alabama’s program—do a Google search for “game manager quarterback” and see whose image shows up—but he didn’t again prevail in the final game of the season. The three biggest contests of Tua’s career after becoming Alabama’s starter were the 2018 SEC championship game against Georgia, the 2019 national title game against Clemson, and this year’s matchup against LSU. Those were the three worst starts of his career. Alabama lost to Clemson and LSU, and Tagovailoa left the Georgia rematch with his team trailing. It always came down to injuries: He hurt his ankle against Georgia, the title matchup against Clemson happened when he was still recovering a month later, and the LSU game took place a few weeks after doctors performed tightrope surgery on his other ankle. Tua’s Alabama career probably just ended with another injury, and unless backup Mac Jones is capable of replicating his play, the Crimson Tide could miss the College Football Playoff for the first time in the event’s existence.

At Alabama, Tagovailoa was a dream come to life, but dreams, by their nature, are fleeting. Eventually, we have to wake up. We can judge Tua for failing to accomplish everything that once felt possible. I prefer to focus on the miracle that was a dream existing in college football at all.
I know if he is a first rounder he’s gone but with the injury last year and the ankle and hip this year , reckon there is any chance that If his draft stock isn’t where he wants it and he returns to show he can stay healthy a full season .
I am not as old as a lot on here, but I have never seen a quarterback as great as Tua. They love pumping Trevor Lawrence sunshine to cover their #1 ranking, and they always talk about Vince Young, and others, but I have never seen the accuracy, yardage, a lack of errors/turnovers/mistakes and simple precision that Tua has brought to Alabama. Realized I was watching something unbelievable, but now that it's likely over at Alabama, I have realized mine truly was the greatest quarterback I have ever seen.
I'm still at a loss for words. Just a crazy story, I would have never guessed he'd have a crazier story than Jalen Hurts.

I know if he is a first rounder he’s gone but with the injury last year and the ankle and hip this year , reckon there is any chance that If his draft stock isn’t where he wants it and he returns to show he can stay healthy a full season .

The last two years should provide enough examples that returning would be a terrible business decision.

Honestly, I'd be more concerned with going to an NFL team with an offensive line versus getting drafted in the top 5.
I am an old timer but do not remember the 60's so can't compare Tua against Stabler and Namath. I saw a lot of good ones but none as good as Tua as a pure QB/Passer. Hate it likely is ending this way. Would have loved to see a few more games to see him work his magic. I guess I will have to see it in the NFL.
Top Bottom