Doug Martin saw all of Alabama’s lethal qualities up close and in person. New Mexico State’s coach pointed out the overall team speed, the balance in personnel and scheme and the accuracy from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
When asked further about Tagovailoa specifically, Martin’s eyes went from Tagovailoa’s arm to Tagovailoa’s head.
“You can see him, they’re giving him more to do, it looks like, and he’s handling it really well,” Martin said. “It just looks like he understands the game really well.”
Tagovailoa’s physical talents are certainly part of his hot start to the 2019 season, one that has seen him climb the UA record books and poised to do much more of it, one that has him sixth in the nation with a 204.34 quarterback rating. He has done it all in an offense that is mentally demanding and will continue to demand more as the opponents get tougher.
The next task for him and the No. 2 Crimson Tide (2-0) is at South Carolina on Saturday.
“Tua has gotten more knowledge and experience of the offense right now,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I think he’s more confident in understanding not only what to do but why it’s important to do it, and I think he has a lot more knowledge of what the defense is actually trying to do and how they’ll respond and react to certain things. That should help him in his decision-making and judgements.”
Toying with opposing defenses led to one of his three touchdowns against New Mexico State. On the touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy at the end of the first quarter, Tagovailoa moved a linebacker to the outside by setting his feet and eyes in the direction of DeVonta Smith, running a comeback on far side of the field; Jeudy was gifted an opening in the middle of the field, which Tagovailoa struck for a touchdown.
However, Tagovailoa showed such moves earlier in his career: second-and-22 may come to mind. It’s likely his knowledge of opposing defenses goes even deeper now and will continue to do so over time. He expects as much, with an assist from the coaching staff and the new offense he manages.
“I think our coaches help us with a lot of that. Last year was similar, but I just didn’t take into consideration going really into detail about things,” Tagovailoa said. “I’d say it’s only because how we were going last year as an offense: scoring so fast, getting so high on the scoreboard on these teams. That was pretty much the mindset last year for me as a quarterback for our offense last year: let’s get up and hopefully by halftime we’re out, guys.”
The details are Tagovailoa’s primary focus in sharpening his mental game. In his second year as Alabama’s starter — running an offense that several players have said is nearly identical to last year’s, despite the offensive coordinator change — the minutiae is where Tagovailoa seems room for growth.
“Yeah, I think sideline adjustments,” he said. “What’s embedded in me is the things we’ve worked on in practice throughout the week and when they end up doing something different, just having it in the back of my head that okay, this might come up again so have this in the back of your head, that kind of mentality. That’s not how I how I approached it that last game, so I think I need to do a better job of that.”
Tagovailoa and Saban still drive home the general point of taking what defenses give them, not forcing downfield throws and, as Tagovailoa put it, “work within the rules and boundaries of our offense.”
Both agree Tagovailoa still has room to grow in that department and others. Tagovailoa plans on judging his mental development based on how he accomplishes the task for this season, not on what he’s done from August to now.
“It’s still early, I’d say, for me to tell because we’ve only played to play two teams,” he said. “I think you could come back and ask me that question, you know, maybe towards the ending of the season, and I’ll probably have a better answer for you.”