Tua Tagovailoa sets school record in Iron Bowl win

Published 7:31 pm Saturday, November 24, 2018

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

TUSCALOOSA – A night after little brother Taulia Tagovailoa led the Thompson Warriors back from a two-score deficit in the final six minutes against powerhouse Hoover to send his team to the state championship, older brother Tua Tagovailoa led the Alabama Crimson Tide to a dominant 52-21 victory against rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl thanks to a second-half surge of his own.

It took a strong second half from Tagovailoa as his team led just 17-14 at the half in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 24, but it ended with a record-setting performance.

After throwing for 116 yards and one touchdown and rushing for another touchdown in the first half, Tagovailoa and the offense seemed to lack something on that side of the ball despite the three-point lead.

“Don’t ask me why, but it doesn’t seem like we had the right kind of energy in the first half,” head coach Nick Saban said after the game. “I don’t know if it was anxiety or what it was.”

If that was the case, all of the anxiety wore off during the halftime break.

In just 2:03 of the second half kicking off, Tagovailoa led Alabama on a five-play drive that was capped off by a long 46-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy.

The pass was launched deep down the left sideline nearest the Alabama Bench and dropped beautifully into Jeudy’s hands, who walked into the end zone for an easy score that put Alabama up 24-14.

“We saw that they were always looking to the sideline, so we knew if we hurried up the tempo, we’d have an opportunity to take a shot and before they got set, we were able to run the play,” Tagovailoa said.

And what had seemingly been a stale game by the Crimson Tide’s offense, quickly flipped a switch as that one drive in the half put a different look on the player’s faces and gave them the energy needed to spark a dominant second half.

“It started with execution. We didn’t execute the way we wanted to in the first half,” Tagovailoa said. “We got that fixed at the half and knew what we wanted to do coming into the second half. We really did a great job of executing on all cylinders on that first drive of the second half and that got us going.

Alabama went on to score four more times in the half behind touchdown passes of 33, 40 and 22 yards from Tagovailoa and another one for 53 yards from the arm of Jalen Hurts.

In the third quarter alone, Tagovailoa had three touchdown passes and 174 yards. His 33-yard bomb went to running back Josh Jacobs, his 40 yarder to Devonta Smith and his final of the game just 31 seconds into the fourth quarter went to Henry Ruggs III for his second touchdown reception of the game.

Tagovailoa set the single-game touchdown record with the performance thanks to his six total touchdowns—five passing and one rushing. He totaled 324 yards through the air completing 25 of his 32 passes, while adding 21 yards on the ground.

His five passing touchdowns also were a career high for the sophomore and matched the all-time Alabama record for touchdown passes in a game.

“He was outstanding in that second half,” Saban said of his Heisman candidate quarterback. “I think it was really important that we were able to get two big plays early in the second half to score quickly and go up 31-14. He was obviously responsible for both of those explosive plays and I think that was a real turning point in the game.

Saban was asked about Tagovailoa’s Heisman chances, and said his quarterback has what you need in a player capable of winning the Heisman, but went more in depth about his will to get better no matter how great his performance is, which makes him a leader amongst his teammates.

“He doesn’t ever seem to get flustered. He always seems to respond exactly like you would want a quarterback to respond,” Saban said. “His leadership is something I think is really important to the team and they have a lot of confidence in him. He’s not motivated by wins or losses, but being the best player he can be. That’s what it takes to be great.”

Tagovailoa was able to get several receivers involved as five different players had at least 53 yards receiving in the game. Jeudy led the way with 77 yards and a touchdown, while Jaylen Waddle added 73 yards and a touchdown. Smith was the third receiver with 70-plus yards posting 72 yards and one touchdown.

Ruggs posted 62 yards and had a team-high two touchdowns. Running back Josh Jacobs also added a touchdown and 53 yards receiving on four catches out of the backfield.

Now, Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide will have their chance to go up against Georgia in the SEC Championship on Saturday, Dec. 1, in Atlanta, Georgia’s Mercedes Benz Stadium.

“We’ve seen some film on Georgia because they’ve played a lot of teams we are playing,” Tagovailoa said. “We haven’t looked into it too much, but I do know that coach Kirby (Smart) has been under Saban and will have some similar calls.”

While they are prepping for that game, younger brother Taulia will be practicing to help Thompson bring home its first state championship since 1982 in a game that will take place just four days later in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn stats

Jarrett Stidham finished the game 13-of-30 for 127 yards and one touchdown, while throwing one interception. Auburn was led out wide by Darius Slayton who hauled in two receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. He was the only receiver with more than 30 yards for the Tigers. JaTarvious Whitlow led ground game with 61 yards.

Ryan Davis went down with a difficult injury in the second half after a targeting penalty from Jared Mayden, which will keep the Alabama defensive back out of the first half against Georgia in the championship game. Davis walked off the field, and ended the game 1-of-1 passing for 23 yards and a touchdown, while adding four receptions for 15 yards in his final Iron Bowl.