Tuscaloosa, we have a problem. But a very good problem at that. Coach Nick Saban has not one, but two fantastic starting QBs on his hands. A rich person problem, I know. Alabama may just be the greatest college football dynasty ever. “The GOAT,” Nick Saban took over this Alabama program in 2007 and hasn’t looked back since. He has a ridiculous 5 national championships in 11 years, there’s no question who the best college football coach ever is. Alabama has become a staple of success for college football fans. It’s come to the point if ‘Bama isn’t the no. 1 seed, it a surprise.
There are no words for what Saban means to this program. Alabama does not only have elite college payers, but they dish out NFL talent in bunches. In just this past draft ‘Bama produced a whopping 12 players to the draft including 4 in the first round. Despite constantly losing players to the NFL, Saban still gets Alabama to the top year in and year out.
So how does he do it? I’m glad you asked.
As always, it starts with recruiting. Nick Saban is the best recruiter in the country. Saban has had many assistant coaches leave his wing (who bring in recruits), but still brings in elite classes year after year. Players hold their breath waiting for an offer when they know Nick Saban is looking at them. That’s the type of reputation Saban has built at Alabama.
Despite having immense talent on the roster this year, Alabama did not look the same as they did in years past. They started the season winning 11 games but never faced any real elite opponents. This was until they went up against #6 ranked Auburn on November 25th in the “iron bowl”. The “iron bowl” is always a great game, but this one has a little more fire to it. Alabama, the #1 seed at the time, finally had their chance to quiet all the doubters who doubted their validity. It didn’t go that way. Auburn won swiftly in a 26-14 victory over the Crimson Tide.
And so the panic started.
Is Alabama for real? Who have they even played? Should they be in the CFL Playoffs? Is the dynasty coming to an end?
The questions started piling up for ‘Bama as people started writing off Nick Saban’s squad. Lucky for ‘Bama and CFL fans alike, the selection committee didn’t write them off. ‘Bama snuck into the playoffs as the #4 seed above Ohio State, a team which people believed deserved to be in the playoffs.
It turned around the committee knew what they were doing.
Alabama destroyed #1 seed Clemson 24-6 in the first round of the playoffs, an upset no one saw coming. ‘Bama put on an absolute clinic, stunning the country in a dominant effort. They then proceeded to the national championship game against divisional rival Georgia. This was set up to be a showdown between two of the best teams in the country, who play in one of the best conferences in football (The SEC). After going down 13-0 at halftime, Alabama made a strong comeback to win in OT 26-23.
This supplanted Saban’s legacy as the unquestioned GOAT. Taking an underperforming team (by his standards) and bringing home a national championship title is one of his best accomplishments. It wasn’t just luck for Saban however, as he had one last trick up his sleeve to pull out the win against Georgia. But before we get to that, let’s take a step back.
This wasn’t your typical Alabama team. Their offense looks very good on paper at 36.4 PPG which ranks #13 in the country. This number is inflated, however, most of those huge offensive games came against mediocre teams who gave up big plays repeatedly. ‘Bama did not score more than 31 points against a ranked opponent. While no you may be thinking Alabama struggles on offense, that wasn’t entirely the case.
Saban opted for a slow-paced, grind-it-out team. This was a team dominated by defense. They were the best scoring defense by a far margin allowing only 11.9 PPGA. This was in addition to their 260.4 YPGA, which was best in the country as well.
‘Bama had one philosophy. Win the game at the line of scrimmage. They owned the best rushing defense in the league at 94.7 YPGA. This coupled with the 13th best rushing attack in the country (250.6 YPG) helped them dominate time of possession. And in case you were wondering, they’re no slouch at defending the pass either, their 165.7 YPGA ranked #6 in the nation.
This is a strategy similar to what the Seattle Seahawks have done in recent years, who employ a strong run game and even stronger defense. ‘Bama’s top-ranked defense paired with their strong run game led them to success this past year. But as everyone knows, the Seahawks’ strategy wouldn’t work without star QB Russell Wilson.
Wilson wasn’t always a star for the Seahawks, at the beginning of his career, he was rock solid QB who was just a little more than a game manager. He is a dual-threat QB who passed the ball efficiently while making very little mistakes. Alabama has a player exactly like that with QB Jalen Hurts.
Looking at Hurts’ stats you see exactly what I’m talking about. Hurts is far from a volume passer, his 255 attempts this past season is very low. Despite that, you can see the efficiency from Hurts. The 8.2 Y/A is elite and he threw only one interception…ONE! It seems impossible to drop back that many times and only throw one interception. He ended the season with an outstanding 17:1 TD to INT ratio. Hurts wasn’t just coddled by his run game and defense, however, he created big plays with his legs time and time again. Hurts led his team in rushing attempts and was 2nd on the team with 855 rushing yards and 8 TDs. This along with a solid 5.6 YPC mark.
Despite being run heavy and defensive orientated, Jalen Hurts was extremely important for their success all season long.
So Hurts is so great, right? So there’s no way Alabama would consider benching Hurts, is there? Yeah about that…
Let’s flashback to the national championship game. ‘Bama is down 13-0 in a tough game with Georgia. Nick Saban has one more trick up his sleeve. His name is Tua Tagovailoa. Nick Saban made a genius (and surprising) move to pull his struggling starting QB Jalen Hurts in favor of Tagovailoa. This after Hurts went 3-8 for 21 yards with 0 TDs in a half. Saban made a crazy (at the time) decision to replace the guy who led them the entire year in favor of a seriously unknown commodity.
While this move like this would generally cause panic, Saban has built up a reputation. Fans gave him the benefit of the doubt, and rightfully so. Tagovailoa put on an absolute clinic the rest of the game. He threw for 166 yards with 3 TDs to 1 INT against an elite Georgia defense. Alabama pulled out a 26-23 comeback victory in overtime behind the stellar play of Tua Tagovailoa.
This victory supplanted Nick Saban’s status at the GOAT. Fans couldn’t be any happier, the celebration in Tuscaloosa began. And short after…controversy. Soon after, Alabama fans became anxious to see who would be leading their team next season. The upcoming battle between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa has everyone sitting on pins and needles.
Let’s start with Hurts. Jalen Hurts stands at a modest 6’2” 218 lbs, solid height, and size for a starting QB. Hurts excels in this Alabama offense throwing the ball accurately on simple routes such as hitches, screens, dump offs, check downs, slants, etc. Hurts does not have a weak arm however, he is an opportunistic deep ball thrower. He hits his receivers in 1 on 1 opportunities down the field. Hurts will hit the big play if its there, without forcing bad passes.
Hurts’ biggest strength is his legs. His 40 times is an electric 4.48 seconds. Insane for a QB. As a point of reference, Cam Newton ran 4.59 and Russell Wilson ran 4.55. So yeah, Hurts is really fast. Hurts is adept at escaping from the pocket and gaining big chunks of yardage on the ground. There was a ton of designed runs and QB option plays for Hurts, Saban knew how to utilize his star QB.
More important than all of that, however, is his decision making. Hurts had the insane 17:1 TD to INT ratio, an absolute elite mark. This more impressive because ‘Bama plays in the tough SEC. Hurts never forced bad passes and almost never made mistakes. This was extremely valuable to an Alabama team that built on their the run game and defense. ‘Bama needed to win the turnover game and Hurts helped them do that.
While a conservative nature is good, the other side of the coin is he could not create for this offense. In Alabama’s one loss all season, Hurts struggled in the passing game. Despite not throwing a pick, Hurt’s conservative style did not help them win the game. Hurts went 12-22 for 122 yards and 1 TD. That’s a pedestrian 5.1 YPA. The result? A 26-14 against their biggest rival. That’s when Saban realized what he has in Hurts, a QB who doesn’t make mistakes but won’t be able to create by himself. Which brings us to Tua Tagovailoa.
When Saban decided to bench the struggling Hurts for Tagovailoa, the whole country was surprised. Almost no one knew who he is. But Tagovailoa quickly showed the country what he’s made of. But the question remains, who is Tua Tagovailoa, really?
The rising sophomore from Hawaii stands at 6’1” 218 lbs, very similar physical measurements to Jalen Hurts. While Tagovailoa is not the speed demon that Hurts is, he is still a fantastic runner, as he was no. 1 on the ESPN top 300 for dual-threat QBs in 2017.
As soon as Tagovailoa got in the game you saw why he was no. 1. He has the “it” factor, he wants to win. Tagovailoa has a serious skill set. He has a fabulous arm with great zip on the ball. He has the ability to hit tight windows for his receivers. More important than ability, he has the confidence and fearlessness to make the tough passes time and time again. Check out the last play of the national championship.
The ice in his veins. Tagovailoa throws a perfect strike on target to DeVonta Smith down the field. Tagovailoa sees Georgia with a single high safety, Tagovailoa looks off the safety, then throws a bomb to Smith. This is a mature, NFL type play.
‘Bama still has the luxury of running a similar offense with Tagovailoa as they did with Jalen Hurts. Tagovailoa may not be as fast as Hurts, but he is a more punishing runner.
You see here on this play. Tagovailoa scrambles out of the pocket and scrambles down the field. He hits a few jukes then gains 13 yards and ends with a punishing hit at the end. You see him lower his shoulder and truck the defender #26 to the ground in violent style. While not sliding may worry NFL scouts, this enlightens the fans at Alabama who can see the toughness of Tagovailoa.
Despite being a gunslinger, Tagovailoa is not turnover prone. He had an elite 11:2 TD to INT ratio with a solid 8.3 YPA. Tagovailoa will hit tight windows and create big plays, but still isn’t turnover prone.
So the question comes down to who will give Alabama a better chance to win another national championship. While Jalen Hurts is the safer option who does not make mistakes and can create with his legs, Tua Tagovailoa has the higher ceiling and can take this team farther with his playmaking ability.
Much like the Seahawks learned with Russell Wilson, you can’t just rely on your defense and run game. Quarterback is the most important position on the roster. Wilson’s ability to create by himself aided by a strong run game and defense led the Seahawks to a Superbowl victory. Having a QB with an expanded skill set is always a benefit.
To me, the decision is simple for Nick Saban. While it may be hard not to go with his vet, Jalen Hurts, Tagovailoa gives them the better chance to win. While he may make a few more mistakes than Hurts would, the good outweighs the bad. Tagovailoa’s ability to create offense will very much outweigh the few turnovers here and there. On opening night we should see Tagovailoa leading this ‘Bama offense, the best QB on the roster.