OPINION: Trevor Lawrence is great with more upside, but in 2019 I'd prefer Tua Tagovailoa
BATON ROUGE, La. — First off, it is a difficult assignment.
"Do a column on why Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is better than Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence."
OK. No. 1, I do not consider myself an expert on good college quarterbacks, having covered so few, having covered LSU since 1998.
In this century, the Tigers have had exactly two quarterbacks finish in the top five in the nation in passing efficiency, which is among the best measurements in the game as it groups several statistics for the rating. Those were Zach Mettenberger in 2013 at No. 4 with a 171.4 rating based on 192-of-296 passing for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns with eight interceptions and JaMarcus Russell in 2006 at No. 3 at 167.0 on 232-of-342 passing for 3,129 yards and 28 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Along the way, Jordan Jefferson finished 92nd in the nation and last in the SEC in efficiency at 114.6 in 2010, and Anthony Jennings checked in at No. 83 and No. 13 in the SEC at 118.3 in 2014.
In 2018, Joe Burrow was a respectable — by LSU standards — 65th in the nation and fourth in the SEC at 133.2.
And, No. 2, Lawrence was one of the best quarterbacks to come out of high school in history last year, and he was superb in his freshman season, finishing 12th in the country in passing efficiency at 157.6 on 259-of-397 passing (65%) for 2,727 yards and 26 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He is also a computer printout of a quarterback at 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds and rarely gets rattled.
But Tagovailoa (6-1, 218) had significantly better numbers as the Bama Tua Machine finished No. 1 in the nation in efficiency at 199.4 as he completed 245 of 355 passes (69%) for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns with a mere six interceptions. And that was after Clemson destroyed his game in the 44-16 demolition of a national championship game with Tagovailoa throwing a career-high matching two interceptions, including a pick six on his third pass of the game. Entering that game, Tagovailoa's efficiency quotient was an incredible 205.1.
He got rattled in that game, but he did have knee and ankle injuries. And Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables had his players confuse Tagovailoa by expertly making zone defenses look like man-to-man.
Tagovailoa will be better in 2019 because of his first taste of failure against Clemson and will likely not face a defense or defensive coordinator this season as good as Clemson and Venables unless he plays Clemson again.
"Towards the end of the season, we turned the ball over a little bit more than in the first half of the season," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday at the SEC media days in Hoover. "I'm sure that he wants to make sure that the decision making that led to some of those turnovers are something he can improve on. Tua is a great competitor, so he's going to try to make a great play every play. And sometimes those things have worked out extremely well, and other times, they've led to some disasters."
Still, Tagovailoa's precision is amazing and better so far than that of Lawrence, who was also surrounded by better receivers and backs overall than Tagovailoa.
"He's obviously been as productive as anybody in his position in the country," Saban said of his guy. "So hopefully, we can build on that."
Tagovailoa is a junior this season, but he has had only one season as the starter. So it is not a reach to say that he will get even better. Of course, so will Lawrence, who started 11 of 15 games as a freshman.
Lawrence is clearly the better prospect because of more upside. He will likely be the better NFL quarterback. But as far as 2019, I'm taking Tua.
Glenn Guilbeau covers the LSU Tigers and New Orleans Saints for the The Daily (La.) Advertiser and the USA TODAY Network.