Second-guessing the king

tua

By MIKE HERNDON

We are a nation of Monday-morning quarterbacks, even on a Tuesday. It’s probably not even an American thing, just an innate impulse we carry as humans to second-guess anything of which we think ourselves capable.

And we seem to think ourselves capable of a lot.

We seem to think ourselves capable, for instance, of telling Nick Saban what he should have done with his quarterbacks this season.

After watching Tua Tagovailoa lead the Crimson Tide back from a 13-0 halftime deficit to beat Georgia in overtime in the national championship game on Monday, the second-guessers have been out all week.

Why didn’t Tagovailoa play more during the regular season, so he’d be game-tested if called upon? Why didn’t Saban put him in during the first half? Why, as Central Florida’s Scott Frost has suggested, did it take Saban 12 games to figure out who his best quarterback was?

The differences between Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts were obvious on Monday. After a first half in which Hurts threw for only 21 yards and generated zero points, Tagovailoa came in and completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the 41-yard game-winner to Devonta Smith in overtime.

Of course, this was by far the worst performance of Hurts’ career. There were obvious deficiencies in his passing – one reason some Crimson Tide fans had called for Tagovailoa to start earlier in the season. But Hurts was 26-2 as a starter and his running ability gave Alabama’s offense a dimension that all other Saban-led Crimson Tide teams had lacked. He also took care of the football, throwing just one interception this season.

One can certainly understand the impulse to stick with a known quantity, a player who had taken you within a few seconds of winning a national championship the previous year, instead of throwing an untested freshman to the wolves. Even when that known quantity had himself been an untested freshman thrown to the wolves just a season earlier.

But did you see Tagovailoa’s arm? Did you see how he froze the safety with his eyes on the game-winning touchdown, and how quickly the ball rocketed its way into Smith’s hands in the end zone? He is very obviously a gifted passer and far superior to Hurts throwing the football. Surely, Saban saw some of that in practice.

Saban probably also saw some other things in practice too – like the interception Tagovailoa threw when he thought the play call was a pass instead of a run. This is a coach who values ball security.

So why not at least put him in some situations during the regular season where the game was still in doubt? Let him face live fire, so to speak, instead of the lowered intensity levels of mop-up duty during blowouts.

It’s a valid question, but Saban may have also seen something else in practice – that maybe Tagovailoa didn’t need to be tested in that way. When he came into the biggest game of his life in the third quarter, he certainly didn’t look like somebody who wasn’t ready. That confidence – the thing you hope you can build in a player by getting him some game action during the season – was already there.

The bottom line, and what seems to get ignored with all these questions, is this: What Saban did worked. Alabama is the national champion. What more do you want?



Categories: College football

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