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2019 Alabama Crimson Tide Spring Football unit preview: Quarterback — the best player in the country

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Enjoy him for 15 more games.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Superstar

This Tua Tagovailoa kid is pretty good. I think we should keep him. He didn’t throw an interception until the 9th game of the season, a road win over LSU, which was also the first time he had to actually play in the fourth quarter. Along the way, playing mainly in the first halves of games, Tua completed 355 of 455 passes (69%, nice) for 3966 yards, 43 passing touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. He didn’t have a multi-pick game until the SECCG. And, while a testament to his escapability as much the offensive line’s excellent play, he only had one game where he took more than one sack (MSU 4). He chipped in another 5 scores on the ground, rushing 57 times for 190 yards. And, importantly, Tua led a ‘Bama offense that scored almost 50 points per game and became the first team since the 1988 Yale Elis to beat all of its regular season opponents by 20+. While his first half could have gone better against Clemson — to put it mildly — he still had a complete game that would otherwise be quite acceptable against an elite defense: 294 yards, 65% completion percentage, 2 TD, 2 Ints, just one sack taken.

People were impressed, and his trophy case grew fat:

  • Sporting News College Football Player of the Year; CFPA National Performer of the Year
  • Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, National Quarterback Club College Quarterback of the Year
  • Heisman Trophy runner-up
  • First-Team All-American, First-Team All-SEC, Consensus All-American
  • SEC Offensive Player of the Year

SEC (also are school records):

  • QBR (199.4. Surpassed Baker Mayfield’s 2017 FBS record)
  • Yards per attempt (11.2); yards per play (10.1)
  • Passing TDs in a season (43)
  • Single-season passing yardage (3,966)

Alabama

  • Total TDs (48)
  • Touchdowns in a game (6, Iron Bowl); T-most passing TDs in a game (5, Iron Bowl)
  • Most 4-touchdown games in a season (6)
  • Most 300-yard passing games in a season (6)

Following Saturday’s closed scrimmage, Nick Saban named Tua Tagovailoa the Tide’s starting quarterback for 2019.

Thanks for ruining the surprise there, coach. I have no idea what to write over the summer now.

Tua was robbed of his deserved Heisman Trophy by a combination of ‘Bama fatigue, ESPN trying to manufacture a race where there was none, second halves spent on the bench, and a bad SECCG game played on one leg — the latter particularly harmed him, but the others arose because he was simply too good. I get the feeling we see a more pitiless Nick Saban in 2019 and even more obscene statistics from Tua: this team has a chip on its shoulder, Steve Sarkisian has never seen a forward pass he didn’t love, and there’s not a former SEC Player of the Year on the bench to split reps with.

Let the #TankForTua movement begin. And the Miami Dolphins are well underway; they began in January.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee
Miss you too, Jalen
Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Backup...for now?

Mac Jones (RS Sophomore)

Mac, what happened, my dude?

He was always going to be a developmental player: plenty of talent, but even more work to do. And, between Year One and Year Two, he had improved, having a very good spring and fall camp in 2018. But, when pressed into service last season, he looked every bit the raw prospect he was out of IMG Academy-by-way-of-Nowheresville, Kentucky. Mac went 5 of 13 (38.55) 1 TD/0 INT against a depressing slate of Ole Miss, ULL, Arkansas State — and, when injuries were overwhelming, Mississippi State. Among notable efforts, he completed 1 of 3 passes against Ole Miss (for 30 yards); 3 of 6 against ‘State (for 5 yards); and his shining moment — the one that inflated his QBR to 148 — a 94 yard touchdown pass against ULL to Jaylen Waddle (that guy makes a lot of nice catches become great ones.)

What we’re saying is that Jones was not ready for prime time. No shame: it takes some guys a while to put it all together. Jay Barker was a war crime as a Freshman, and then won a Unitas Award as a Senior. But, his game will have to improve tremendously, not only for the team — we are one twisted ankle away from Alabama’s fortunes perhaps falling on Jones’ shoulders — but also to keep his job: Taulia Tagovailoa has already been practicing with the second team some this spring. Perhaps competition will bring out the best in Jones.

By all accounts it has helped; he had a very good first scrimmage.

The Looming Battle

Taulia Tagovailoa

See that list of accomplishments up there for Tua? Meet his little brother, Taulia (‘Lia); a player that NFL teams were planning on becoming a First Round draft pick as a Junior...in high school. Purported to be even better than his older brother, Lia has a tall task in front of him, but perhaps even more potential talent: same size, same speed, same escability, and a bigger arm. And that is not faint praise, considering that Tua has been called “the quarterback of the present and the future...one who will revolutionize the position.”

Lia’s impact was immediate: Thompson had gone 5-5 in the season before ‘Lia. As a Jr. starting QB for the Warriors, Lia led Thompson to a 12-1 record and a 7A runner-up season. And he had a great year doing so (3820 yards, 66% comp., 36 TD/8 INT, 30 carries for 155 and 5 TDs.) As a senior, he posted a comparable season, though he ran a bit more and was able to drop his interceptions (3684, 62%, 35/5, 64 for 428 and 6 TDs.) After dropping a 31-12 decision to national power Hoover as a junior, ‘Lia was able exact some revenge in 2018, staging a late two-touchdown rally and upending Hoover 31-28 for the 7A title. He was named the national high school player of the year, to go with his national high school QB of the year award.

It remains to be seen if the mental part of his game is where Tua’s was at this stage in his career. But, the fourth quarter against Thompson is encouraging — we love our comeback Tagovailoas. And, halfway through Spring, ‘Lia is already turning heads, having vaulted to the second team with Mac Jones, as well as manning the third team. So, we’ll definitely see him on A-Day. But, his goal this spring will be to learn the offense as fast as possible to try and get a little separation Paul Tyson and gain on Mac Jones for the backup spot.

Paul Tyson

Lia’s competitor on the depth chart is Paul Tyson. More than the great grandson of Paul “Bear” Bryant, Tyson is an outstanding QB in his own right. Like ‘Lia, Tyson was an Elite 11 4-star QB prospect. He has a surprisingly athletic and physical side to his game, and the prototype size and quick release you like to see in a drop-back passer.

Competing with Taulia is nothing new, though. The two committed at roughly the same time. Tyson was a second-team 7A selection...behind ‘Lia. And the two had a nationally-televised slobberknocker on ESPN2 where they put on an absolute show — over 100 points scored, over 1200 yards of offense, and a Taulia-led comeback win for Thompson...despite falling down 28-0.

Seriously, this is the best 15 minutes you’ll spend this week.

Much like Tua and Jalen before them, Tyson and ‘Lia have a close relationship — and this will be an outstanding competition to watch over the next two seasons, if their prior meeting is any indication.

For now, Tyson is practicing on the fourth team — someone has to do it. But, competition against Lia has brought out the best of Tyson in the past, so don’t expect him to surrender the third team job to Tagovailoa without a fight.

We will cover the complete roster as we get closer to Fall and spitball a depth chart (Layne Hatcher, for instance, is an intriguing player on the roster, though not perhaps for this Spring — he was, after all, given a redshirt last season and he remains on scholarship in 2019, despite four other scholarship players on the roster at his position.)

But, for now, we have seen the future, and it is good...as good as the present.