Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa did not have one single-defining moment in 2018 while leading the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record and fifth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff.
Tagovailoa enjoyed that moment last year with a game-winning touchdown pass on second-and-26 for a 26-23 victory against Georgia in the national title game. That’s one he might never top for the rest of his career.
Tagovailoa, however, enjoyed a full-fledged breakout season as the sophomore quarterback of the Crimson Tide. He finished with 3,353 passing yards, 37 touchdowns (to just four interceptions) and a 202.3 quarterback rating. He didn’t throw his first interception until November, and threw just eight passes in the fourth quarter all season. For his efforts, Tagovailoa is the 2018 Sporting News Player of the Year.
Where is that moment, however?
“It’s kind of true but that’s just because (Alabama was) so dominant,” SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow told Sporting News. “Usually that moment is in a close game in a fourth quarter and someone will say it’s an amazing highlight play people will remember forever.”
Tagovailoa’s last moment — where he left the SEC championship game with an ankle injury — opened the door for Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray to win the Heisman Trophy in a close race. The two quarterbacks can settle that when No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 4 Oklahoma in the national semifinal at the Orange Bowl.
Perhaps Tagovailoa can add that defining moment there. In the meantime, Tebow can think of two.
“If you had to pick one, I would go with his first drive of the season against Louisville where he spun around and threw a touchdown or his run against LSU to seal the game,” Tebow said.
Of course, Tagovailoa had to win the starting job first. He beat out Jalen Hurts in fall camp and set the tone for the season on the opening drive against Louisville. His first touchdown pass, where he spun away from a defender and heaved an 11-yard touchdown to Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, marked the beginning of an incredible year for Alabama’s offense. The Crimson Tide ranked second in the FBS with 47.9 points per game.
That dominance continued through October when Tagovailoa led the Crimson Tide to a 58-21 victory against Tennessee, which included a perfectly placed 77-yard touchdown connection to Jaylen Waddle. Tagovailoa raved about the offense after that victory.
“I’m very confident,” Tagovailoa said. “It makes it more fun. Things are so much more fun when you don’t have one person to throw to. When you have guys at running back that can make plays for you as well, I mean this is — this is — this is just fun out here.”
Then there’s Tagovailoa’s 44-yard run against No. 4 LSU on Nov. 3, which clinched a 29-0 victory — and left a lasting impression on LSU safety Grant Delpit.
“I was blitzing on some plays, he saw me and wasn’t even worried about me, already knew I was coming,” Delpit told SN. “He’s just a student of the game and probably the best quarterback I’ve played against so far.”
Of course, Tagovailoa dealt with knee, thigh and ankle injuries in the last month of the season, and Hurts came on in relief in a 35-28 victory in the SEC championship game. Tagovailoa should be ready for the Orange Bowl, however, and that will be a chance to show his regular-season body of work wasn’t a fluke.
He’ll have another chance to produce that elusive “moment” in the Playoff: the one where he holds up the championship trophy.
“You can look at the numbers and see what he’s done,” Alabama running back Josh Jacobs said. “They speak for themselves. He’s an amazing player. He’s surrounded by a group of amazing players. So, when you combine all of that, it’s special.”
Sporting News’ Zac Al-Khateeb contributed to this report.