How Alabama’s Offense Changes — and Thrives — with Tua Tagovailoa
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tua Tagovailoa
- Alabama's offense looked as dominant as its defense usually does in a 51-14 win over Louisville on Saturday.
- Tua Tagovailoa looked poised and explosive, creating impossible mismatches for defenders with his decision-making, quickness and arm strength.
- Can anyone beat Alabama with Tagovailoa under center? Our Mike Johnson breaks it down.
After an offseason that felt like it lasted a decade, Week 1 of the college football season is officially in the books. And while it’s been four days since the Alabama Crimson Tide took the field, I still haven’t picked my jaw up off the floor.
As if Nick Saban’s Alabama teams haven’t been dominant enough, it now looks as if there is an offense residing in Tuscaloosa that will be just as overpowering as the defenses he’s trotted out for the past 11 seasons. After an offseason of questions surrounding the QB position at Alabama, it turns out there really wasn’t much of a decision to make here after all.
Tua Tagovailoa announced himself on that grandest stage of all last year, bringing Alabama back from the dead in the national title game after a first half when Bama’s offense struggled to move the ball possession after possession.
Could he keep that up as a full-time starter? Well, it wasn’t exactly a national title game, but the answer after Week 1 is a resounding yes. Leading the offense on touchdown drives on five of the six possessions with him under center, Tagovailoa seemed like he was playing against air.
Let’s take a look at just how incredible some of the Bama stat lines were Saturday night against Louisville in Orlando.
- Tagovailoa: 12 of 16 for 227 yards, 2 TDS passing, 1 TD rushing
- 21 first downs
- 10 of 15 on third down
- Total yards: 519
- Rushing yards: 222
- Passing yards: 297
Why is Tagovailoa so lethal as Bama’s starting QB? Is it accuracy? Is it his incredible ability to read defenses and fit throws into tight windows? Is it his ability to move around in the pocket and still make throws downfield?
All of the above.
Tagovailoa commands the offense with an unmatched sense of urgency that reminds me of Drew Brees from the pocket, mixed with an Aaron Rodgers-style of movement in the backfield. At no point does he allow himself to feel comfortable. The ball must come out. The quicker the better. And to this former offensive lineman, that game plan is music to my ears.
For years now, Bama’s offense has used its wide receivers and running backs to run quick bubble screens into the flat, a scheme that both frustrates defensive linemen while taking advantage of the incredible size and speed combination Bama’s offense has had on the perimeter.
One key to these plays working, however, is the ability to hit these skill players in stride to allow them to make defenders miss and pick up extra yardage. For the last two years, it’s been almost painful at times to watch Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster and Bo Scarbrough adjust to balls being thrown at their feet or slightly behind them.
These issues, at least for the time being, seem like a thing of the past. Play after play, Tagovailoa used quick decision-making and a lethally-accurate throwing arm to unleash this offense’s full potential, using the entire width of the field to continually throw body blows to the defenders lined up across from it.
Michael Locksley, the new Alabama offensive coordinator, also used a set of run-pass option plays that, when run correctly, almost didn’t seem fair to Louisville. These plays feature a set of rules that force linebackers or edge rushers to be in two places at once.
This is probably my favorite RPO of the game. Post snap read. Tua knows before the snap that it's Cover 0. I think that as soon as he sees the defenders are flat footed he pulls it because he knows the post will be open. pic.twitter.com/aocXpxG3T8
— Ben Litvin (@Ben_Litvin) September 2, 2018
Using the running backs to hammer runs up the middle while also sending playmakers streaking all over the field left the Cardinals’ linebackers and secondary in no-win situations. And Tagovailoa’s sense of urgency with the football is what makes these plays so lethal.
Let’s be honest here. Saban could’ve named his score Saturday night. Not only did Tagovailoa’s ability to hit receivers in stride open up the passing game to new possibilities, it also opened massive holes for the running game.
Damien Harris, if given the opportunity, could have probably rushed for 200 yards against a Louisville defense that saw meaningful rushes from no less than six Alabama running backs.
Harris, after rushing seven times for 55 yards, is still a dark horse Heisman contender in my eyes. Najee Harris is a star in the making as well, rushing eight times for 30 yards and bruising a number of defenders each time he touched the ball. A pair of new linemen on the right side, Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills, also seemed to fit into this offense seamlessly.
So who in the SEC is going to stop this unbelievable mix of explosive offensive skill players and a defense that seems hellbent on hurting every person carrying a football?
Ole Miss had an excellent debut in its own right, knocking off Texas Tech in impressive fashion. LSU made a statement, going from a coach on the hot seat to the toast of Louisiana by knocking off No. 8 Miami.
Auburn, the team that handed Bama its lone loss a year ago, also came home with a huge Week 1 win, while getting the monkey off its back from a number of bad losses away from home a year ago.
But as well as the SEC West played in Week 1, none of those teams would be favored against Bama.
So the question remains: Who can beat Alabama with Tagovailoa under center? The answer is simple: Nobody.
The only team that can beat Bama right now is Bama, through complacency and mistakes.