First, let me start by saying that I love both Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. They’re incredibly talented passers and football players and both seem like great kids. Second, let me also mention that the Alabama coaching staff has far more information and knowledge of the two QB’s than I do, and that Nick Saban’s track record of coaching and football-decision making is far more impressive than mine ever will be.
This should be taken with a grain of salt, but I do think there are some overwhelmingly convincing reasons for Alabama to play Jalen Hurts at quarterback full-time.
It’s unfair to just place either of the two into the buckets of “game-manager” vs “playmaker” because both are pretty clearly capable of making great throws and managing the football. However, like the general public seems to think, I do consider Hurts to be the “safer” more “trustworthy” decision-maker of the two, and Tagovailoa to be able to more consistently complete intermediate and deep passes. The trade-off with Tua, though, is a much greater likelihood of game-costing and potentially season-wrecking mistakes. As just a true-sophomore, the only real sample size we have to evaluate Tua is three quarters of non-garbage time – the second half of the 2018 CFP Final and the first quarter of this week’s destruction of Louisville.
The results are impossible to argue with – a comeback and game-winning touchdown against one of the best teams and defenses in the country, and a 12/16 for 227 yards and 2 TD’s last Saturday night. But, as is usually the case in sports, these results are far from predictive on their own, because they do not account for the process by which they were arrived at or the context under which they occurred.
Let’s start with the Louisville game from this weekend, where I believe the statistics are drastically mischaracterizing the way he played. Louisville’s defense is terrible. Like complete garbage. Last year it ranked 84th nationally in defensive S&P+, in part because they allowed touchdowns on 28.4% of their opponents’ drives. More importantly, there’s nothing that suggests this was a fluke or that they’ll be better this year.
The first of the two touchdowns is what really concerns me:
This throw is so incredibly ill-advised and reckless. On 2nd & 2 in the red-zone, with a massive advantage in the trenches, there are absolutely zero circumstances under which this ball should be thrown. Against nearly every SEC team Bama plays this year, this will be an interception, and a particularly costly one considering the field position and situation. Right now, Alabama is a double digit favorite in every game it plays until the SEC championship – as long as they play intelligent football and do not shoot themselves in the foot, they will be playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December. These are the only mistakes that they must avoid.
As for last year’s title game – I believe the horrible blown coverage on the last play of the game has overshadowed how Tagovailoa actually played. The stat-line is frankly not even that impressive without context: 14/24 for 166 yards (6.9 yards per attempt) for 3 TD’s and 1 INT. When contextualizing the touchdowns, though, I think it’s even less impressive.
I refuse to believe this touchdown to tie the game late in the 4th quarter was intended for anyone but Najee Harris. I hate the feeling that I’m continually bashing a teenager who has achieved more than most humans his age, but I cannot accept any explanation for this touchdown other than luck. Yes, the escape-ability to even make the throw is impressive, but the direction that both his helmet and facemask are pointing make it abundantly clear to me that Ridley was not the intended receiver here. This play occurred on 4th down. If I’m right about my assumption, and if Ridley did not make an incredibly instinctive run to the ball on this play to bail out Tua, the game would be all but over and the national football media would have likely spent most of the summer second-guessing Saban’s decision to switch QB’s at the half.
Even if you believe that second touchdown was completely skill-based, the sack on their first play in overtime to set-up the 41-yard game-winner is complete inexcusable.
I don’t think anyone reading this needs me to explain how horrific of a sack this is, especially given the field position and score. So all I’ll say is: this was incredibly dumb. And if not for a blown coverage the next play by a team who allowed only 13.2% of their opponent’s possessions to end in TD’s, there’s a good chance Georgia wins the Natty.
Finally, the interception Tagovailoa threw in this game was also bailed out by something out of his control.
Another horrific decision here probably should have cost Alabama the title. I understand that Tagovailoa’s skillset lends itself to taking calculated risks and trying to make big plays with his gifted arm. The throw here, however, has a HORRENDOUS risk/reward profile. The upside is maximally a first down in your own territory, the downside is your season’s over. Considering that the downside was far more likely than the upside here too, this is unforgivable. Georgia took the ball with all the momentum in the world, and less than 40-yards to go to essentially seal the game. Luckily for Alabama, Jake Fromm threw an interception on the very next play to keep the game alive.
Even if you reject my arguments above that Tagovailoa makes some horrific, potentially season-ending decisions, there should still be some level of proof required to supplant a guy who has gone 26-2 as a starter and has provided no indication that he can’t handle big moments. I realize how easy it is to make “if only this happened…” arguments in every close football game, but I do think Hurts’ poise and performance to take the lead in the 2017 Title game are massively understated.
The historically great 2016-2017 Alabama defense subsequently gave up a game-winning drive to Clemson, but if they were able to hold serve, I think Hurts would be perceived quite differently. This run, and the well-orchestrated drive that preceded it, were rendered meaningless because of something that was completely out of his control. This is very obviously dumb, and a great example of why it’s so important to separate process from results when evaluating performances in sports (and most other things).
And then there’s this interview:
Honestly, there’s no stats or logical argument for why this should be involved in Saban’s decision. I just really fucking love this kid and think he has “ice in his veins” lol.
With teams like Alabama and Ohio State, who have out-sized talent advantages in every game they play, the perfect QB archetype is one who takes care of the ball, lets his talented skill plays make plays, and steps up in big moments when it matters. I can’t think of a better example of this in the country than Jalen Hurts.
There are only three meaningful quarters of tape for opposing coaches to scout Tagovailoa. Two of them came against a team who did not prepare for him at all, and one came against a horrific defense. As he plays more and more, I believe some of the vaunted defenses in the SEC will find ways to exploit the flaws I explained above, and that Saban should start to preemptively prepare for this.
In short – Bama just needs someone to not fuck up their season until January. And if Hurts truly is not capable of taking down a team like Clemson in the CFP, well, then we literally just saw 8 months ago that they can swap QB’s when needed and beat an elite team. But they won’t have the luxury to make this swap if they don’t get there in the first place.
I don’t hate Tua.
I think his ceiling is higher than Hurts’.
I think he makes dumb decisions at times.
Hawaii is my favorite place in the world.
Every week, for both CFB and the NFL I’m going to share some random things I found interesting from the weekend. Here they are for week 1.
If you hold Michigan State 10/1 to win the Big Ten like myself, do not worry about the close score on Friday. Utah State is legitimately good, and the game had some weird plays in it. Above is one of my favorite plays from the weekend.
- LJ Scott makes a perfectly adequate block on a late blitz from the outside
- Brian Lewerke makes a great shuffle and spin out of the pocket before throwing a DIME.
- Felton Davis III runs a perfect route and makes an amazing play on the ball along the sidelines.
- Just sick performances all-around, even by the defense too. Great coverage and blitz.
- I would seriously caution anyone who thinks Wisconsin’s ceiling involves them winning the conference (the division is a different story). The defense is INCREDIBLE and only Alabama matches them in terms of gang-tackles and cohesion. Jonathan Taylor is amazing outside of fumbles and they have the best offensive line in the country. But Alex Hornibrook is truly a liability. On the drive before the half this week he was consistently wasting 5-6 seconds on every play before snapping the ball to spike it. I understand you cannot afford any procedural or illegal formation penalties, but anything more than a second or two of wasted time is unacceptable. He is so goddam erratic as a passer too.
- Stanford’s offense is much more than just Bryce Love – JJ Arcega-Whiteside is a legit stud – 6 rec, 226 yards, 3 TDs this week.
- Oklahoma’s defense was one of the most impressive units of the whole weekend to me. FAU’s offense is no slouch – holding them to nothing but two garbage-time touchdowns is very impressive. Defensive End Ronnie Perkins in particular stood out to me – he was playing read-options PERFECTLY which is especially helpful in that conference. Tough to quantify this too but I thought their entire front-7 all looked really big (might be a comparison bias against their competition).
- I mentioned Texas Tech’s #1 receiver was a great NFL prospect in our Big 12 pod. I forgot his name, but TJ Vasher made sure I remembered it on Saturday with the catch of the weekend:
- I honestly had no clue who Ole Miss’s QB was before this weekend, but he randomly kinda stood out to me as talented. Not that meaningful, though, because I think Texas Tech’s defense makes all QBs look like that.
- I am more confident than ever that Ed Oliver is the most talented player in the country
- South Carolina’s front-7 is extremely quick
- Amari Rodgers is a very underrated Biletnikoff award candidate
Auburn’s front is almost as undisciplined as it is talented. Which is really saying something.
- The biggest concern – o-line – looked fine. In particular the center, Kaleb Kim, stood out to me. Auburn almost choked away the game with some pretty terrible play-calling – they need to be playing up-tempo all game.
- I don’t think Jake Browning is good
Some will question Michigan’s defense after giving up 24. I will not.
- Some 50/50 penalties in crucial moments extended ND drives and the Finke TD was a bit flukey.
- Devin Bush in particular is fucking incredible – talented, competitive, fun. One of my favorite players in the country to watch
Mississippi State’s entire defense looks like a basketball team. They are all SOO tall at every position
- Jefferey Simmons is a rare case of a freak athlete who has also dedicated himself to perfecting technique. He is going to be special for years to come. Learn the name.
OK that’s it. Not much to overreact to from this week. If I have to pick one thing to change my mind on, it’s that Oklahoma’s defense may not be shitty after all.
I am SOO stoked to have football back, and please never hesitate to ask questions about teams/players. I watch a lot of football and the notes above are just the things that especially stood out to me this weekend.