Why Tua Tagovailoa is going to make Heisman Trophy voters value efficiency more than ever
I think there’s a legitimate chance that it happens.
That is, Tua Tagovailoa throws his first fourth-quarter pass of the season on Nov. 3 against LSU. CBS color commentator Gary Danielson brought that up during Saturday’s broadcast. If and when that happens, the Alabama quarterback could easily be the favorite for the Heisman Trophy.
I don’t even have to look it up to know that no quarterback has won college football’s most prestigious award having not thrown a fourth quarter pass attempt in the first 2 months of the season.
That’s the kind of efficiency we’re talking about.
Tagovailoa has been so efficient early in games that he could wind up playing essentially 75 percent of the reps that other Heisman Trophy candidates will get. Doing so would limit his cumulative numbers, which will inevitably make some people question his credentials compared to candidates who played an entire game.
I can already see the trash takes about “well, Dwayne Haskins has more yards and touchdown passes, so he deserves the Heisman.”
(That’s not a knock on Haskins, who has been crazy efficient in his own right and could wind up being the most deserving Heisman candidate by season’s end.)
But Tagovailoa is going to force voters to rethink how they value efficiency when it comes to the Heisman. He’s too good for anyone to slight him because of cumulative numbers.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The Heisman that usually winds up in the arms of a quarterback who wins a ton and piles on the numbers. Barring a year where a Power 5 running back gets Derrick Henry-like volume, that’s usually the case.
If you go back and look at every quarterback who won the award in the 21st century, they all had at least one of the following things:
- 230 completions
- 300 pass attempts
- 20 rushing touchdowns
Actually, Troy Smith, Cam Newton and Eric Crouch were the only Heisman-winning quarterbacks in the 21st century who didn’t finish with at least 350 pass attempts. Newton and Crouch obviously made up for any lack of passing totals with their rushing and Smith was the star of the No. 1 team in the country at Ohio State.
All signs point to Tagovailoa also being the star of the No. 1 team in the country, but if he keeps up his current pace even in a 13-game season (that’s with Alabama appearing in the SEC Championship), here’s what his cumulative numbers would look like:
- 189 completions
- 260 pass attempts
- 6.5 rushing touchdowns
But anyone who watches Tagovailoa play and says he isn’t worthy of being considered for the nation’s top award should be laughed out of the room. If he continues his fast start — at least some regression should be expected in SEC play — we’re talking about some potentially historic numbers in terms of efficiency.
Baker Mayfield won the Heisman last year and finished with the all-time FBS single-season record with 11.5 yards per attempt (minimum of 14 pass attempts per game). Through 4 games, Tagovailoa leads the nation at 12.9 yards per attempt. In other words, Tagovailoa can be the new record-holder even if that regression comes.
There’s also the scoring efficiency stat that blows me away. Tagovailoa, who has yet to throw an interception, has 12 touchdown passes on the season. On the surface, an average of 3 touchdown passes per contest isn’t that incredible.
Consider this, though. When Sam Bradford won the 2008 Heisman after throwing for 50 touchdown passes, his mark was 9.7 attempts per score. In fact, here’s that mark for every Heisman-winning quarterback in the 21st century:
- 2017 — Baker Mayfield, 9.4
- 2016 — Lamar Jackson, 13.6
- 2014 — Marcus Mariota, 10.6
- 2013 — Jameis Winston, 9.6
- 2012 — Johnny Manziel, 16.7
- 2011 — Robert Griffin III, 10.9
- 2010 — Cam Newton, 9.3
- 2008 — Sam Bradford, 9.7
- 2007 — Tim Tebow, 10.9
- 2006 — Troy Smith, 10.4
- 2004 — Matt Leinart, 12.5
- 2003 — Jason White, 11.3
- 2002 — Carson Palmer, 14.8
- 2001 — Eric Crouch, 18.9
- 2000 — Chris Weinke, 13.1
Through 4 games, Tagovailoa is throwing for a touchdown pass once every 6.7 attempts.
The odds that he’ll sustain that pace? Slim. Again, we’re still talking about 4 games here.
But if you actually add up Tagovailoa’s career numbers dating to the start of 2017 — he’s up to 155 career pass attempts — guess what his pass attempts-per touchdown ratio is.
A measly 6.8.
That’s absurd. A career mark of 10.6 yards per attempt with 68-percent accuracy suggests that even if certain defenses adjust, Tagovailoa still won’t have any problems scoring at a high rate.
The next 4 teams that Tagovailoa will face before that LSU game are Louisiana, Arkansas, Mizzou and Tennessee. The Vols are the only team that ranks among the top 50 in FBS defending the pass, though suffering a pair of blowout losses in their only games vs. Power 5 teams likely skewed the Vols’ numbers because of game flow.
In other words, a healthy Tagovailoa will have an opportunity to continue to put up some big numbers even if he’s out for the majority of the second half in every game leading up to LSU.
OK. Last stat. I promise.
If you just take Tagovailoa’s 4 first quarters this season, he has 510 passing yards, 7 touchdown passes, 2 rushing touchdowns and Alabama leads 73-14. No wonder the dude’s day is done so early.
Tagovailoa is putting up video game numbers when he’s on the field. It’s because of his dominant starts that he’s unlikely to finish the season with more passing touchdowns or yards than other Heisman candidates. Shoot, Jordan Ta’amu and Drew Lock might prevent Tagovailoa from even having the highest marks in the SEC.
But Heisman voters should be taking note of just how efficient Tagovailoa is. The oddsmakers already have. That’s why Tagovailoa is the current Heisman favorite with 2/3 odds. The next closest to him are Haskins and Kyler Murray at 5/1. As long as Tagovailoa’s historic efficiency continues, that shouldn’t change anytime soon.
Even if his first fourth-quarter pass isn’t until November.