USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg on the biggest risers, fallers and surprises from Week 8 in the top 25 of the Amway Coaches Poll.
USA TODAY Sports
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – It has all come so quickly, and maybe after the way last season finished – literally, we mean the actual finish – we thought something like this could happen. But this fast? This fantastic?
Tua Tagovailoa shakes his head and smiles.
“I couldn’t have envisioned it this way,” he says, “the kind of success we’ve been having with our offense.”
But really, who could have? Two-thirds of the way through the season, life is unquestionably good for Alabama’s sophomore quarterback. He’s the clear Heisman favorite. And if eight games in, the Crimson Tide is ranked No. 1 again, and the overwhelming favorite to win yet another national championship, it is not simply the same old formula.
Alabama’s offense is easily the best and most explosive of Nick Saban’s dynastic tenure.
The numbers are ridiculous. The Tide lead the nation in scoring (54.1 points), total offense (564.3 yards), passing efficiency (226.29) and third-down conversions (56.2%). They’re near the top in several other categories.
BOWL PROJECTIONS: Ohio State retains spot in playoff field after loss
HEISMAN WATCH: Tagovailoa, Murray pulling away from rest of field
And Tagovailoa is the biggest catalyst.
We first got to know him during the national championship game last January, when he replaced starter Jalen Hurts in the second half and led the Tide to a win in overtime. That touchdown dagger he tossed on second-and-26 ended the season with an exclamation point, and fueled anticipation for what might be possible this season.
But this? His performance that night against Georgia, he nods in agreement, was uneven. One example: On the play before the winning touchdown, Tagovailoa took a terrible sack. But there have been no visible growing pains for a young quarterback.
“Tua’s been incredible,” says Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams, perhaps understating things a tad.
There are plenty of glittering statistics to choose from: a 70 percent completion rate, 25 touchdown passes without an interception – that’s none, as in zero. We could go on, but try this one on for size:
In eight games, Tagovailoa has quarterbacked 61 possessions. Forty-one have finished with touchdowns, five more ended with field goals. Only 15 did not result in points.
“It takes everyone to make this offense so good,” Tagovailoa says in response, and then he lists the wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and offensive line – oh, and the coaches, too.
“It takes everyone,” he says, and he’s not wrong in this: He’s surrounded by astounding talent.
But with Tagovailoa, Alabama has morphed from mundane into monstrous. His passing ability is the reason the Crimson Tide has devastated opponents before halftime – usually, by the end of the first quarter – and why he has not yet played in a fourth quarter.
Saban, who is not given to hyperbole, simply refers to an old football axiom: Along with abundant talent, he says, Tagovailoa simply has “it,” the intangible quality that defines the best quarterbacks.
“It’s hard to get anybody to define exactly what ‘it’ is in a quarterback,” Saban says. “It’s not just about athletic ability or arm talent or any of those things. There’s an instinct to playing the position, to being able to make quick decisions based on a lot of moving parts – your guys, their guys – and know where to go with the ball based on what’s presented to you. … Tua has a really good capacity and is very instinctive in terms of making those decisions, and he’s very accurate with the ball.”
Told he’s the runaway leader on every Heisman Trophy list (including USA TODAY Sports’ weekly survey), Tagovailoa essentially shrugs.
“It’s one of those things that you just appreciate,” he says. “Very appreciative that people think highly of me. But my main focus right now is just to win games for our team. And we just want to win another national championship as a team. If (the Heisman) does come along the way in December, then it comes. But aside from that, I’m just focused on winning games with my team and getting better.”
Yeah. He’s trying to improve, apparently because he has been slightly shy of perfect. Tagovailoa says his decision-making needs work. And there’s been some luck involved in the performances, too.
“There’s been about a handful of times where I believe I should have gotten picked off,” he says – but then he grins. “The other team just didn’t want to catch it, I guess.”
But when he talks about improving his focus in practices, or better translating it into games, he sounds like any other Alabama player through the years who has bought into Saban’s “Process.” Likewise when he insists he’s simply trying to meet the Alabama standard. But then he acknowledges something surprising:
This offense and this quarterback have raised Alabama’s standard. “When the expectation is met, it’s one of those things where, ‘Oh geez,’” Tagovailoa says, “now we set the expectation a little higher for ourselves, because we’ve got to meet it every time we go out there on the field.
“It’s not something that we really would have expected coming into the season.”