Alabama QB has done it all for dom­i­nant Tide

San Francisco Chronicle - - PAGE 2 - By John Zenor John Zenor is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

MONT­GOMERY, Ala. — Tua Tago­v­ailoa hasn’t pro­duced a so-called Heis­man mo­ment this sea­son.

He didn’t have one in the SEC cham­pi­onship game. Hurt and not quite him­self, the Alabama quar­ter­back was side­lined for the cli­mac­tic fi­nal min­utes of the topranked Crim­son Tide’s come­back, 35-28 win Satur­day over No. 6 Ge­or­gia in At­lanta.

So Tago­v­ailoa, ham­pered by a high an­kle sprain, didn’t pro­duce a defin­ing play or per­for­mance in the big­gest game of a sea­son that Alabama has mostly dom­i­nated.

To Tago­v­ailoa’s team­mates, that shouldn’t mat­ter.

Though ob­vi­ously some­what bi­ased, they might be right.

He was among the Heis­man fi­nal­ists an­nounced Mon­day evening, along with Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray and Ohio State quar­ter­back Dwayne Hask­ins

“Tua’s the best foot­ball player in the coun­try,” Alabama tail­back Damien Har­ris said af­ter the ti­tle game. “I don’t think he needs a Heis­man mo­ment. That’s some made-up thing, cri­te­ria, that peo­ple have in­vented to try to get peo­ple an award if they nec­es­sar­ily de­serve it or not.

“Tua’s the most de­serv­ing of the Heis­man and I hope every­body sees it that way be­cause what he’s done for our team, for our univer­sity, for our com­mu­nity, for our fans, for every­body, is just ir­re­place­able. I hope that every­body re­al­izes that.”

Truth is, Tago­v­ailoa started 2018 with a Heis­man mo­ment — just in a dif­fer­ent sea­son.

The sec­ond-half come­back and win­ning, 41-yard touch­down pass to DeVonta Smith in over­time just hap­pened to come at the end of last sea­son in the na­tional ti­tle game.

It gave the sopho­more from Hawaii na­tional name recog­ni­tion and made him the bet­ting fa­vorite for the Heis­man even be­fore he started a game. He has lived up to the hype .

Tago­v­ailoa de­liv­ered pos­si­bly the most dom­i­nat­ing sea­son of any quar­ter­back at Alabama, which has not had a Heis­man win­ner at the po­si­tion. He was named AP’s SEC Of­fen­sive Player of the Year on Mon­day and was a unan­i­mous pick as the first­team quar­ter­back.

Tago­v­ailoa has led the Tide back to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off and a matchup with Mur­ray and Ok­la­homa in the Or­ange Bowl on Dec. 29.

It was a sea­son of ter­rific per­for­mances when Alabama was so dom­i­nant that Tago­v­ailoa threw only three fourth-quar­ter passes dur­ing the first 12 games. There were plenty of dy­namic plays from the left-han­der, start­ing on the sea­son’s open­ing drive when he threw for a touch­down af­ter spin­ning away from one Louisville de­fender and launch­ing an off-bal­ance, midair touch­down pass just be­fore tak­ing a hit.

Tago­v­ailoa has passed for 3,353 yards and a school­record 37 touch­downs against just four in­ter­cep­tions. Two of those picks came near Ge­or­gia’s goal line in the SEC ti­tle game in At­lanta’s Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium.

He came into the game as the na­tion’s most ef­fi­cient passer and widely re­garded as the Heis­man front-run­ner but rolled his left an­kle early and mostly strug­gled. Tago­v­ailoa was helped off the field af­ter an of­fen­sive line­man landed on his right foot in the fourth quar­ter.

Jalen Hurts, who had started the past two years be­fore Tago­v­ailoa’s emer­gence, ended up be­ing the game’s fo­cal point in a role rev­er­sal from the na­tional ti­tle game in the same build­ing against the same op­po­nent.

Tago­v­ailoa’s day ended with a 10-for-25, 164-yard, one-touch­down stat line. It re­mains to be seen how much it weighed into the de­ci­sions of Heis­man vot­ers.

It also re­mains to be seen how swiftly he’ll be able to prac­tice af­ter hav­ing the an­kle scoped, a process head coach Nick Sa­ban per­haps op­ti­misti­cally said could take about two weeks.

Tago­v­ailoa hasn’t talked to re­porters since the game, but team­mates voiced hopes that their quar­ter­back would be judged more on the first 12 games.

“I feel like he’s one of the best play­ers in the coun­try,” tight end Irv Smith Jr. said. “He showed it all sea­son long. He went through some ad­ver­sity (Satur­day) night with some in­juries and he couldn’t re­ally ex­tend the plays with his legs. But he still did a great job.”

Tago­v­ailoa piled up five 300-yard pass­ing games this sea­son and ac­counted for a school-record six touch­downs — five pass­ing, one rush­ing — in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale against Auburn. De­spite all that, Har­ris calls him “the most hum­ble guy that I know.”

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Im­ages

Tua Tago­v­ailoa has passed for 3,353 yards and a school­record 37 touch­downs against just four in­ter­cep­tions, and has five 300-yard pass­ing games this sea­son for the top-ranked Crim­son Tide.

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