Rapid Reaction: No. 1 Alabama unleashes Tua Tagovailoa. The result? A record day and a romp over Texas A&M
Welcome to the SEC, Jimbo.
More specifically, welcome to the SEC West.
Jimbo Fisher, whose Texas A&M Aggies pushed then-No. 2 Clemson to the brink in Week 2, found the sledding signficantly tougher Saturday in Tuscaloosa in his SEC debut.
The final score — No. 1 Alabama rolled 45-23 — continued several trends. Among them: Fisher still can’t beat Nick Saban. No shame there; former assistants are now 0-13 against Saban. Alabama doesn’t lose at Bryant-Denny; the Tide extended their home winning streak to 21 consecutive games, the most in the country.
And, of course, Tua Tagovailoa is an absolute game-changer. Tagovailoa threw for a career-best 387 yards and matched his career-high with 4 touchdown throws. He directed six TD drives that covered 30 yards, 75 yards, 75 yards, 75 yards, 80 yards and 92 yards.
Texas A&M entered ranked No. 22 and brimming with confidence. Alabama shook it immediately.
Kellen Mond’s first pass was intercepted by a diving Mack Wilson. Tagovailoa’s first pass was a slightly shorter replay of his national championship winner — a 30-yard rainbow into the diving arms of DeVonta Smith in the left corner of the end zone.
A perfect start for a team that has looked every bit as perfect as its 4-0 record suggests.
Alabama scored a touchdown on its opening drive for the fourth consecutive game — and this time it needed just that one play.
Texas A&M answered, and it required an historic effort. After a punt pinned the Aggies at their 1, they drove 99 yards for a tying touchdown. Kellen Mond’s 54-yard quarterback draw was the big play, but he also completed three passes that covered 38 more yards. His last one, a 15-yard strike to Jace Sternberger not only capped the longest TD drive the Tide have allowed, it also marked the first time this season they were tied after 6 minutes of football.
They didn’t stay tied for long.
Alabama immediately answered with a 75-yard drive, making it 14-7 when Tagovailoa trotted in on a designed rollout to his left from a yard out.
Tagovailoa’s second touchdown pass — a 23-yard soft toss to Hale Hentges — extended Alabama’s lead to 21-10 midway through the second quarter. Tagovailoa set that up with a scramble on third down on the previous play.
Interestingly, Tagovailoa did most of his damage through the air throwing to his left, giving defensive coordinators something else to worry about.
By this point, A&M’s offense essentially had become whatever Mond could do with his legs. It’s a familiar strategy against Bama’s defense, which plays man coverage and often has defenders with their back to the quarterback. Mond topped 110 yards in the first half alone, but the Tide stopped him on a critical second-down attempt to help set up a short field goal.
Leading 21-13, Alabama took over at its 25 with 3:24 left in the half. A lifetime for an offense that already scored one touchdown in 8 seconds and another in 2 minutes.
The key play came on 3rd-and-7 at Alabama’s 28. This time, Tagovailoa threw to his right, to a wide open Damien Harris, who rambled 52 yards down the sideline. Three plays later, Tagovailoa rolled left and hit Hentges again, this time for a 6-yard touchdown.
The 75-yard drive took all of 2 minutes and 15 seconds and stretched the Tide’s lead to 28-13.
A&M stayed aggressive, but after a couple of successful runs, Mond got greedy. Alabama’s 5-star defensive back Patrick Surtain raced over and made a fingertip interception on a deep post. His return and a penalty put the ball back in Tagovailoa’s hands, near midfield with 19 seconds left.
The half ended with Joseph Bulovas blasting a no-doubt 47-yard field goal to make it 31-13. The crowd took note, too, erupting with approval. If Alabama is going to start making long field goals, too?
From there, only three questions remained: Could anybody keep Alabama under 50? Would Alabama start spying Mond? And would Jalen Hurts take a snap or continue smiling every time his teammates made a big play?
Yes (though Saban took his foot off the pedal). Yes. And Yes.
Bama’s first possession of the third quarter ended with a punt. Its second drive ended in the end zone. The 7-play drive covered 80 yards — and 75 of them came through the air, which pushed Tagovailoa over 300 yards for the first time. Josh Jacobs jogged in from 3 yards out to make it 38-13.
A&M had no other choice than to try to throw its way back in it. Mond paid the price. Alabama registered its fifth sack before the third quarter expired. Mond’s running lanes, so open during the first half, were sealed with a waiting defender.
The result just meant more opportunities for the Tide offense.
Tagovailoa’s 4th TD pass came on a shovel pass/jet sweep to Henry Ruggs III. The ball traveled about 6 inches in the air. Ruggs did the rest, picking up two critical blocks from Jacobs, tiptoeing down the sideline and racing 57 yards for a touchdown to make it 45-16. That possession covered 92 yards in two plays, lasting all of 29 seconds. Damien Harris started it with a 35-yard run.
That’s ended Tagovailoa’s day. He still hasn’t taken a snap in the fourth quarter.
Hurts finished up, the fourth consecutive game in which he has provided relief. Hurts has reached the cap to maintain his redshirt. It’s never appeared more obvious that his focus is on this season.
And this season is looking every bit as special as last season.