College Football Hall of Famer Mark May is merely the latest to be blown away by the play of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
May, the former Pittsburgh All-American, Super Bowl-winning Washington Redskins offensive lineman and ex-ESPN analyst, was in Mobile Monday to speak to the C Spire 1st & 10 Club. He compared Tagovailoa to current NFL greats Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, saying the Crimson Tide sophomore can “make moves like Russell and passes like Drew.”
“Watching this young man play — he’s got the heart, he’s got the character, he’s got the mind,” said May, who now hosts The Crowd’s Line College Football Show alongside long-time collaborator Lou Holtz. “He’s got the athleticism and can make plays with his legs. When you can beat the LSU defense with a run like that, it’s like ‘whoa.’ He’s got the total package. That strikes fear in a lot of defenses. You see the Harris guys (Damien and Najee) running the ball, the wide receivers in their offense — who do you stop? If you’re fortunate enough to stop the running backs and receivers, he can take it off and run 40, 50 yards on you.”
The run May referenced was Tagovailoa’s 44-yard dash to the end zone in the third quarter of a 29-0 victory at LSU this past Saturday. Tagovailoa also passed for 295 yards and two touchdowns in the game, bringing his season totals to 2,361 yards, 27 touchdowns and just one interception.
In improving to 9-0, Alabama not only shut out third-ranked LSU, but held the Tigers to 12 yards rushing. May said the performance was not even as well as the top-ranked Crimson Tide is capable of playing.
“I think it was their B or B-plus game, because they made a lot of mistakes early and they were still dominating in the game,” May said. “That’s what really impressed me. You knew they were going to win the game and they were probably going to win convincingly, but … you saw them uncharacteristically make mistakes they haven’t made before. But the thing is, they’re just so good, they can overcome things like that. The offense wasn’t 100 percent, but the defense just goes out and stones LSU for nothing. It’s like throwing popcorn at a battleship, holding someone like that to 12 yards rushing. It’s impressive.”
May said should Alabama win out and claim another national championship, the 2018 Crimson Tide will go down as one of the greatest college football teams of all-time. Alabama has three regular-season games remaining, at home against Mississippi State, the Citadel and Auburn before the SEC championship game vs. Georgia on Dec. 1.
Win those, and it’s off to the College Football Playoff for a fifth straight season. May said it’s almost certain that Clemson will be waiting on the other side just as it was the last three years, though Oklahoma — led by a dynamic quarterback of its own in Kyler Murray — is another team that could challenge Alabama.
“I want to see them play Clemson in the championship game, because that’s when I want to sit back with the popcorn and see what happens,” May said. “I think the only other team that could possibly get them is Oklahoma, the way they can score. Their defense isn’t that great. … If you look at their offense, they just find ways to score. Kyler Murray’s that kind of quarterback that can make plays with his legs and his arm. Alabama hasn’t been in that position yet. … Just about every other team, if the opposition puts points on them, they’ve got to find a way to come back and score. A lot of those teams can’t. Oklahoma can and you definitely know Alabama can.”
May said he doesn’t figure Michigan and Notre Dame are serious challengers to Alabama, for reasons including “speed, depth and quality depth.” The fifth-ranked Wolverines, in particular, he said, have yet to play a “dynamic offense.”
As for Ohio State, an offseason filled with turmoil has masked some roster issues for the Buckeyes, who lost in a blowout to Purdue three weeks ago. Ohio State played its first three games without coach Urban Meyer, who was suspended by the school for being slow to act regarding domestic violence allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith.
“Particularly when they travel, you should see some of the (fan) signs. They get hammered,” May said. “That’s tough on the players. … You don’t know what’s going to happen. Apparently the president wanted him gone and wanted a longer suspension. … They’ve got issues there. You watch them play, they have holes on the offensive line. They still struggle on defense. Even without (injured defensive end) Nick Bosa, the depth and the talent they have on defense, they’re supposed to be better than they are. The explosive plays they’ve given up this season … after the Purdue game, they’d given up more explosive plays than they had all of last year. That’s a lot.”
There have been rumblings about Meyer’s future in recent weeks, with the coach announcing publicly that some of the same health issues that cut short his tenure at Florida seem to have arisen again. Meyer has vowed that he’ll be back next season at Ohio State, but May said the Buckeyes coach could be a candidate at a West Coast blueblood program with an embattled head coach — USC.
The Trojans are 5-4 this season and in a three-way tie for first place in the Pac-12 South. Last week, head coach Clay Helton fired offensive line coach Neil Callaway, demoted offensive coordinator Tee Martin and took over the play-calling himself.
“You never know at Ohio State,” May said. “They’re a different fan base and all they want to do is win. With Urban, if his health stays together, who knows? If he wants to pack it up and go, he’ll probably be sitting in Los Angeles at USC.”