Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa gets out-Tua'd by Trevor Lawrence in national title game
Who says the sequels are never better than the original? It’s all depends on perspective, apparently.
The great storyline from a year ago was written by a true freshman quarterback who rallied his troops to a win in the National Championship Game. It was something that hadn’t been done in more than 30 years, so Tua Tagovailoa coming off the bench to lead Alabama past Georgia 26-23 in overtime was a huge deal. It was a performance for the ages.
Fast forward 12 months to Monday night’s National Championship Game. And there it was, all over again. But this time in was Trevor Lawrence who stole the show in No. 2 Clemson’s stunning 44-16 win over No. 1 Alabama. An Alabama slammer, for sure.
It would be a vast understatement to say that Lawrence completely outplayed Tagovailoa. It wasn’t even close. Lawrence, tagged as the No. 1 recruit in the country this year, stole the show in the romp. He passed for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns. A true freshman, stealing the show.
Just like Tua did last year.
But Monday night was all about Tua getting out-Tua’d. It takes something special to beat Alabama and it takes something really special to spank them by 28.
This is, of course, a team game, so it wasn’t like these two quarterbacks were playing against each other. So what’s really true is that Lawrence outplayed Tua because the Clemson receivers were better than Alabama, and the Clemson offensive line was better than Alabama.
The Tua story has been something to cherish in Tuscaloosa. His two quarters against Georgia last year made him legend enough, but so did all of this season, really. Every game his play bordered on perfection. Week after week, he’d post nearly perfect passing numbers. Struggles, if they came at all, came and went quickly.
There were struggles in the SEC Championship Game, or course, and we’ve been through that ad nauseum. Tua, already struggling with a bad knee, injured an ankle as well against Georgia. He wasn’t very good, but Jalen Hurts came off the bench to save Alabama.
Monday night, Tua just wasn’t good.
And it started on the first drive of the game. Just three plays in, Clemson’s defense fooled Tagovailoa on a simple out route. He read the blitz properly, and threw right into it. But he never saw cornerback A.J. Terrell jumping the route, and he took it to the house from 44 yards out. Just like that, it was 7-0 Clemson.
Alabama, which came into the game as a 5.5-point favorite, committed the cardinal sin in a big game. They let the underdog think they had a chance with that early turnover that led to immediate points. It gave Clemson some swagger, and it continued. Lawrence made things happen all night long. He helped convert 10 of 15 third downs, something that had never happened to an Alabama defense under the coaching legend Nick Saban.
Tagovailoa threw a second interception that was just as ugly, firing a ball into triple coverage that had no chance of being caught. And it just never got any better. There were several fourth-down failures and one miscue after another after Alabama once led 16-14. Clemson would score the final 30 points of the game.
“We just weren’t executing, couldn’t punch it in,” Tagovailoa said afterward. “There were a lot of things we could have done better.”
There was a lot they all could have done better. At Alabama, unless you win a national championship, the season is a failure. So, certainly, losing by 28 really erases a lot of what they accomplished all season. Tagovailoa threw only 6 interceptions all year, but two came Monday and 2 more came in the SEC title game against Georgia. It wasn’t the ending that we saw coming, not after how perfect he was during a regular season where the Crimson Tide won every game by at least 21 points.
The one saving grace, of course, is that Tua can come back and get himself another title next year. They’ll probably still be preseason No. 1 next year, or very close to it.
But all this talk about the greatest season, it can disappear now, just like that. And greatest quarterback ever? We need to hold our roll on that, too. Tua proved he was human on Monday, and that he can make mistakes after all.
Now we see where he goes from here.