Congrats to Kyler Murray, but Tua Tagovailoa deserved to win the Heisman Trophy
Last Saturday, I was walking out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium when a thought hit me.
The dust had finally settled from the instant classic that was the SEC Championship Game. It was after we had moved on from dissecting the made-for-Hollywood moment that Jalen Hurts delivered to lead Alabama back in place of the injured Tua Tagovailoa.
The conversation shifted to something that was somewhat of an afterthought with Playoff spots on the line. But while there were other things more important to Alabama’s long-term aspirations — like Tagovailoa’s health — the question still needed to be asked.
“Did Tagovailoa just lose the Heisman Trophy?”
It was perhaps even more fitting that hours after Tagovailoa limped through what was his worst game of the season, Oklahoma sent out an email titled “The Case for Kyler” to everyone in the Football Writers Association of America. In it in bold, black letters was the word “Unprecedented,” followed by a side-by-side comparison of Kyler Murray and the Alabama quarterback (you can guess which stats they decided to use to make Murray’s case).
But neither one post-conference championship email nor one bad game should have changed what we knew was true throughout 2018.
That is, Tagovailoa was the best player in college football, and he deserved to be honored as such. That, obviously, didn’t happen.
However, what Tagovailoa did this season was unprecedented. Had he won the Heisman, he would have became the first winner to go an entire regular season without an incompletion in the fourth quarter. Keep in mind that Tagovailoa played in the SEC, which boasted a record 8 teams in the final Playoff poll.
If Tagovailoa was the overwhelming favorite as recently as 2 weeks ago — so much so that oddsmakers stopped taking bets on him at one point — one game against completely different competition shouldn’t have changed that. It clearly did though. Murray played better last Saturday. There’s no doubt about that. There’s also no doubt about the fact that he faced a Texas defense that ranked No. 57 while Tagovailoa faced one a Georgia defense that ranked No. 15.
And while the side-by-side raw numbers comparison with Tagovailoa and Murray slightly favored the latter, what Tagovailoa did relative to his competition all season was why he should have been the obvious choice. Tagovailoa faced twice as many top-50 defenses as Murray, and he did his damage with fewer 213 snaps:
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) December 8, 2018
Let’s not forget that before last week, Tagovailoa helped lead Alabama to a perfect 12-0 mark with all victories by at least 22 points. Again, nobody accomplished that feat since 1888 Yale (I still don’t know how that Yale squad played that many games). And yeah, Alabama has a much better defense than Oklahoma. I get the argument of “well, Murray had to bail out his defense more than Tagovailoa.”
But the Sooners averaged 1.6 more points per game than Crimson Tide. This wasn’t like Alabama just won a bunch of games 24-0. It wasn’t your dad’s Crimson Tide offense. Shoot, it wasn’t even your older brother’s Crimson Tide offense. Alabama was outside of the top 30 in rushing this year because Tagovailoa’s left arm was the driving force behind one of the great regular seasons we’ve ever seen.
There’s a reason that we view Tim Tebow’s 2007 season, Cam Newton’s 2010 season and Johnny Manziel’s 2012 season in such high regard. They won the Heisman in large part because what they did over an entire season against SEC competition was nothing short of unbelievable. Tagovailoa had that kind of season.
This isn’t about lazy stereotypes. It’s not lazy to point out that Murray didn’t face a single Power 5 defense that ranked in the top 30 in scoring all year. Did he help contribute to that? Absolutely. But to sit here and pretend that he and Tagovailoa — who faced 4 top-30 Power 5 defenses in his final 5 games alone — played the same competition isn’t fair or accurate.
It’s interesting because the entire first half of the season, the Tagovailoa skeptics questioned the strength of schedule. Then when Tagovailoa faced those 4 elite defenses in his last 5 games of the season and his numbers were below the extraordinary high bar he set for himself (he still averaged 237 passing yards, 2.8 total touchdowns and 62 percent accuracy), that’s when the Murray conversation started.
It didn’t matter to some that in the same stretch, Murray faced defenses that ranked No. 86, No. 97, No. 83, No. 60 and finally No. 57 Texas. It probably should have mattered.
As many likely went back and forth on their vote during the week — only 11 percent of the vote came in before the conference championships were played, which is still too high — they probably wished that they could just have had the Orange Bowl as their deciding factor instead of the conference championship games. When we see the All-World gunslingers face off in Miami in a few weeks, it’ll confirm or go against the results of the 2018 Heisman Trophy voting.
Tagovailoa deserved to take the stage and address the masses as college football’s best player in 2018. It didn’t happen. Time will tell if Tagovailoa can capture the other ultimate prize in the sport … again.