ORLANDO – Neither Jalen Hurts nor Tua Tagovailoa had fielded questions publicly since Alabama’s media day nearly a month before. Both had the chance to deliver a message Saturday.
Tagovailoa earned the start in Alabama’s season opener against Louisville and led six drives, while Hurts made his first appearance in the second quarter and led four total drives.
“I talked to the quarterbacks before practice on Thursday and they both knew exactly what the situation would be in the game,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “That’s how we practiced on Thursday. We wanted Tua to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 plays, then we were going to put Jalen in the game. It didn’t matter how it went, didn’t matter what the score was.”
The first career start for Tagovailoa produced a handful of highlights. He finished the game 12-for-16 passing for 227 yards. He had two passing touchdowns with a 9-yard rushing touchdown.
Both of Tagovailoa’s touchdowns went to sophomore receiver Jerry Jeudy. The first, an 11-yard strike that came after Tagovailoa spun out of pressure, set the tone for the rest of his day.
“That’s just natural for Tua,” Jeudy said. “You know Tua is used to doing all that spinning and stuff.”
Beyond the sparkle that came with the spin move, it also showed technique that not all quarterbacks have.
“Tua does a really good job of keeping his eyes down the field when he scrambles in the pocket,” Saban said. “The first touchdown was pretty amazing, to be able to move in the pocket that way and still keep your eyes downfield and throw the ball.”
He had another 25-yard touchdown pass to Jeudy in the second quarter. Tagovailoa placed a 32-yard pass to tight end Irv Smith Jr. on the sideline in the third quarter. He also got Alabama out of a jam on its first drive, completing a 14-yard pass to Damien Harris on third-and-13.
There were also errors from the young quarterback that Saban saw. Tagovailoa played loose with the ball at times in the pocket and under pressure.
“Those are the kinds of things that I’m talking about, they don’t get you until they get you,” Saban said. “So you have to fix it before they get you.”
Hurts took control for two drives in the second quarter. Each drive picked up one first down, then stalled. Hurts re-entered in the third quarter with the score 41-7 and pushed the offense into field goal range. He had a fourth drive in the final quarter, but redshirt freshman Mac Jones took over in the middle of the possession. Hurts finished 5 of 9 passing for 70 yards and just missed a long touchdown pass to Jeudy that drew a pass interference penalty. Jones missed on his only pass, a throw across the middle to tight end Miller Forristall in the end zone.
Neither Hurts nor Thagovailoa was made available for interviews after the game.
“We’ve got to be able to execute and do what you’re coached to do,” Saban said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. We’re going to continue to have both these guys be weapons for us on offense, because I think they can. I hope both guys can do a good job of preparing and managing to get ready for the game so they can contribute to our team in a positive way.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.