NASHVILLE – It was really more of a test drive, but Tua Tagovailoa got handed the keys on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
He did more than take care of the car and motor safely around the block. He also revved the engine and shifted gears a few times.
Alabama’s backup quarterback marched onto the field with Alabama well ahead, four minutes into the second half, and got his chance to sling it around against a defense that came into the game ranked No. 1 in the country in overall, scoring and pass defense.
And he pretty much shredded it.
The left-handed freshman from Hawaii completed 8 of 10 passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns before shutting things down to allow the Crimson Tide to grind out the rest of the 59-0 victory.
Vanderbilt came in yielding just 95.3 yards per game in the air and holding opposing quarterbacks to a 45-percent completion rate.
Granted, the Commodores were probably more than a little demoralized by the time Tagovailoa took the field, having been trampled by Alabama’s running game. But he still did his thing, at least for a couple of scoring drives.
And he was grateful for the opportunity. He thanked starter Jalen Hurts, who went 9-for-17 for 78 yards in leading Alabama to a 38-0 third-quarter lead.
“Thank you for what?” Hurts asked.
“Thank you for putting (the lead) up early so I can get in and play,” Tagovailoa said.
Tagovailoa capped his first possession under center with a 34-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Jerry Jeudy.
Hurts saw it coming. When he heard the play call, he told defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick it was going to be a touchdown.
“I knew it, I knew it, I knew it,” Hurts said. “I just caught a feeling.”
Tua hooked up with DeVonta Smith for a 27-yard score, circling around to avoid the pass rush before unloading the ball. The fancy footwork caught the starting quarterback’s eye.
“I was not shocked, but I was like, wow, jaw-dropped,” Hurts said.
Head coach Nick Saban pronounced himself pleased enough with the passing game.
“Probably could’ve thrown it even more if we’d needed to,” he said.
Hurts might have had a couple of touchdown passes of his own had Calvin Ridley not dropped one in the end zone and running back Bo Scarbrough not turned too early and left the ball on the ground on a swing pass with a lot of open field in front of him.
“I cheated my lineman and (linebacker Oren Burks) came in and I knew I had it and I got too, probably, overexcited and whatever happened,” Scarbrough said.
Hurts shook it off.
“It happens,” he said. “You know, I miss some throws. There are going to be some dropped balls. I understand it happens.”
Ridley caught five balls for 43 yards. Jeudy snagged three for 68. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. Caught a couple of passes for 14 yards.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.