That was something. We finally got to see Tua Tagovailoa play for the first time since the walk-off touchdown in January, and he picked up right where he left off. In about a half of a play, Tagovailoa went 12-16 for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns while adding 26 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
It was one heckuva debut as a starter, and the offense just hums with electricity with him back there.
3rd and 13: Alabama is already facing third and long after a whiffed block led to a second down sack. Tagovailoa (#13) is in the shotgun with Damien Harris (#34) on his right hip. They have trips left with a lone receiver wide right. Louisville rushes just four, dropping seven into coverage. Tagovailoa sees the right cornerback trail the receiver on a deeper route and quickly checks down to Damien Harris in the flat. The ball is perfectly placed for Harris to catch it in stride. He gets upfield, picking up 14 yards and the first down.
2nd and 3: Two plays later, the offense has trips right with TE Irv Smith (#82) inline on the left; and Harris is on the right. They run a simple RPO here. The offensive line run blocks; and Tagovailoa can give the ball to Harris or pull it. He reads the weakside linebacker, who crashes to stop the run; so he pulls. DeVonta Smith (#6), the outside receiver, is running a quick slant; and Tagovailoa slings it to him. Once again, the throw is right on the money; and Smith catches it and takes off. Henry Ruggs (#11) provides a helpful block, and Smith goes for 28 yards.
2nd and 2: Tagovailoa is in the pistol with Damien Harris behind. On the right, Jerry Jeudy (#4) is in the slot; and DeVonta Smith is out wide. Irv Smith motions from wide left to H-back. Tagovailoa fakes the handoff and starts to roll to his right, but the defensive end is right in his face. He spins around while keeping the ball a little too dangerously far from his body, but he recovers and keeps his eyes downfield. Tagovailoa spots Jeudy, who had run an out route to the goal line, with separation; and he heaves it deeper into the endzone as a linebacker is diving at him. Jeudy adjusts to the ball and brings it down for an amazing touchdown. It is a bit of a risky throw, but the corner had his back to him and his momentum was carrying him towards the sideline.
3rd and 10: Another third and long for the offense. Tagovailoa has trips right with Damien Harris in the backfield; and DeVonta Smith is the receiver on the right. Unlike the last third and long, Louisville decides to dial up the pressure and brings seven, leaving all their defensive backs in one-on-one match-ups; and Tagovailoa knows it. The offensive handles its blocks well, and Damien Harris does an excellent job picking up a free rusher. Tagovailoa calmly uncorks it through a narrow passing lane to hit Smith on a deep out route. In addition to being unfazed by the pressure, Tagovailoa had the ball out before Smith was a step into his break; he just threw it to where he knew his receiver would be.
1st and goal: We get another RPO from this trips right formation. Tagovailoa knows there won’t be safety help against Jeudy’s little post route. He reads the linebacker, who plays Jeudy but is slow to turn and run. This is going to leave Jeudy wide open, so Tagovailoa pulls it when he could’ve given it to Harris, who would’ve had a chance to run it in. Tagovailoa puts just a little too much on it, and the pass is incomplete.
2nd and goal: It’s the next play, and it’s one they ran earlier in the first. There are three receivers to the right, Irv Smith on the line to the left, and Damien Harris also on the left. Louisville has five defenders shaded to the trips side and only two on Alabama’s left. And it’s a designed run for Tagovailoa to the left. Jonah Williams (#73) and Lester Cotton (#66) double team the defensive end, so Irv Smith and Harris are each left with one man to block. Smith walls his man out beautifully; and Harris smashes into his defender, knocking him off balance. Tagovailoa cuts inside of Harris and scampers into the endzone for an easy touchdown.
1st and 10: Tagovailoa’s in the gun with two receivers on either side and Najee Harris on his left. The top two are Henry Ruggs and TE Hale Hentges (#84), and the bottom two in a stack are Jeudy and WR Jaylen Waddle (#17). The Cardinals have one deep safety. Tagovailoa pump fakes to the left to Ruggs on a screen, keeping the safety towards that side for a beat. Jeudy comes on a crossing route, and the safety sits on that route. This leaves Waddle one-on-one on his post route, and he gets open. This takes time to develop, and the offensive line does its job against a four man rush. Tagovailoa slides up into the pocket and rifles it downfield. Waddle has to extend to catch, and he isn’t able to stay on his feet after hauling it in.
3rd and 10: Waddle’s 31 yard punt return gave the offense one more chance to score before halftime, but it’s third and long now. Ruggs is wide left while Jeudy is in the slot on that side, and DeVonta Smith is wide right. Tagovailoa keeps his gaze to the middle of the field, and the deep safety plays the middle. Tagovailoa knows this leaves Jeudy one-on-one on a go route, and he places a beautiful (I know I keep using that adjective, but it’s so true) ball that Jeudy runs under for a score right before halftime.