Louisville Football: Alabama QB Battle Key for Cards Vs. Tide


Bobby Petrino and the Louisville football staff will have to prepare for both Alabama QB’s, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. Does either QB give the Cards the better chance to win?

Whether or not Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban wants to acknowledge or believe it, there is absolutely a “quarterback controversy” taking place in Tuscaloosa, as the Tide prepares to take on Louisville.

Not wanting to show his hand, Saban likely won’t announce who the Alabama starting QB will be., leaving Bobby Petrino and the Cards to find out when the Tide take the field for their first series.

Whether it’s former SEC Offensive player of the year, and two time National Champion Jalen Hurts, or last year’s hero Tua Tagovailoa, Brian VanGorder and the Louisville defense will have their hands full stopping the Alabama offense.

Experience vs Talent

While Bama’s quarterback is mostly tasked with “doing just enough to win,” both guys have the ability to break big plays with their arm or legs at any given moment.

While there’s not much film on Tua Tagovailoa or a lengthy resume for the true sophomore, what is out there is enough for many to believe he’s the guy to lead Alabama back to the National Championship. Although Jalen Hurts has been the starter for two years, taking Alabama to the championship each of those seasons, is he the guy who can do more than just “manage” a game?

Saban didn’t seem to believe so, choosing to roll with a player who had lost the job just six months earlier and had limited experience leading the Tide. The outcome showed exactly why Nick Saban is one of the greatest football coach in history.

Coming in ice cold, Tua put together arguably the greatest Alabama QB performance in the Saban era.

But is that enough to win the job outright? Should Saban go back to the guy who did everything he asked for-for two years, including taking his benching like a man? Or is the better decision to stay with the guy who clearly presents more upside, even with a higher risk, and can make big (and I mean big) plays through the air and on the ground?

Those are questions for Alabama’s coaching staff to figure out. What Louisville fans want to know is, which QB gives Louisville the better chance to win.

Is Alabama Willing to Play High-Risk, High Reward?

There is absolutely no “blueprint” out there on how to beat Alabama, given that it has only happened three times over the last three years. But what we do know is that if you have any chance of taking down the modern day Goliath of college football one thing in particular has to happen. Forced turnovers.

We know for certain that one of the litany of reasons Alabama has been successful during the Nick Saban era is because they take care of the ball. With a reliance on setting the tone with a pounding run offense, the QB has traditionally been tasked with playing it smart, making the right reads, and relying on play action and short plays to win games. That’s exactly what allowed Jalen Hurts to be successful during his two year stint as the starter in Tuscaloosa.

In Alabama’s three losses over the last three years (Ole Miss, Clemson, Auburn) they have had at least two turnovers in those games, mostly on the ground. However, in 2015 against Ole Miss, Jake Coker and Cooper Bateman combined for 3 total interceptions in the team’s 37-42 defeat.

Last season Jalen Hurts accounted for 2,936 total yards and 25 touchdowns (both running and passing) while only turning the ball over an incredible 3 times. This helped Alabama finish 1st in the country in passes had intercepted, a statistic that can be pointed to time and time again for their dominance.

But there is always an opportunity cost for everything. The Tide finished 91st in the country in terms of total passing offense, which is likely the biggest reason Nick Saban pulled the plug on Hurts for Tua in the second half of the national championship.

During that one half of action Tua Togavailoa went 14/24 for 166 yards (58.3% completion) for 3 touchdowns, with one of those being the game winning throw to Devonta Smith. Tua Togavailoa was absolutely electric during that game, putting together one of the most memorable performances in recent National Championship history. But those numbers don’t necessarily tell the full story.

When I look at the interception in the third quarter, I see the risk that comes along with starting Tua and the potential game plan for Louisville. With 6 minutes to go, Tua took a snap out of the shotgun, rolled out and had quite a bit of pressure coming from Georgia’s front seven. Instead of taking the sack, something his counterpart has become a pro at, Tua tried to throw the ball into tight coverage (he may have very well been trying to throw the ball away) having it picked off by Georgia’s Deandre Baker.

Image result for tua interception gif
Image result for tua interception gif /

After that, Georgia continued to blitz in attempt to get pressure on the young quarterback, something that should become the custom if he is named the 2018 starter for the Tide. Though he made the right plays a lot of the time, there were several errant passes that got away and were lucky not to be picked off.

Much like Lamar Jackson during his freshman season, Tua showed why he had been the back up to that point: He was risky. Yes, he made a lot of GREAT plays, but he was one tipped pass, or full out blitz away from throwing several more interceptions while giving extra possessions to a team 100% capable of beating the Tide.

This play was the perfect example of the inexperience of Tua.

It’s 1st and 10 in the overtime period. Georgia does a great job of getting pressure from all angles after the RB is sent out wide. Tua drops back and immediately his first option is covered outside. He makes a few defenders miss while keeping his eyes downfield, but eventually begins to work his way backwards in attempt to evade the rush and make the big play to win the game

Instead of throwing the ball away or dumping it off- heck even taking a sack right away- Tua loses what looks to be about 8-12 yards before making the game winning throw the next play.

The look that Georgia gave Alabama’s offense is something that you can get used to seeing quite a bit this year. Under Brian VanGorder, expect a lot of blitzing.

Fresh Faces for the Tide

There’s been a lot of talk about VanGorder’s scheme this offseason. His defensive strategy is one that he called “aggressive,” but could be confusing to opponents. His ability to use a traditional 4-3 base along with 4-2-5 nickel coverages that feature blitzes mixed with man and zone coverages could cause some confusion in a young, inexperienced quarterback.

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Tagavoiloa will be hearing plays from another new offensive coordinator. Though he had the game of his life, we must remember that Tagovailoa has thrown just 77 career passes, most of which have come in blowout wins. How would Tua respond to being hit a few times? Maybe throwing an interception or coughing up a fumble is a possibility knowing that a two-year starter is waiting in the wings behind him. That’s what we don’t know, and won’t know until it happens. But it is a big risk for the Alabama staff to take.

Hurts is a solid quarterback, unlikely to force anything that could lead to a turnover, while having the ability to dink and dime Louisville all over the field.

Tua Tagovailoa seems to be the QB who gives Louisville the best shot to do the unthinkable.

How Does the Cards’s Defense Match Up?

Louisville’s defense, led by Jonathan Greenard, will feature big physical lineman up front. The Cardinals defensive front should be able to hold their own against the dominant and massive Alabama offensive line allowing blitzers to have a better chance of getting pressure on Tua.

In the middle of the field, the Cards will have several speedy and sound linebackers including converted safeties CJ Avery, PJ Blue, and Nick Okeke who present unique blitz opportunities and trap coverages.

If the newly constructed secondary- which features big, physical, ball hawking corners- can hold their coverage against up and coming stars in Jerry Jeudy and Devonta Smith, forcing turnovers will absolutely be a possibility.

Tua is a big-time play maker, and a new weapon that an Alabama offense has been missing in their arsenal. However, he always has an itch to make the big play. Unless he learns to be smart, Louisville can capitalize by mixing in a lot of blitzes and confusing the inexperienced sophomore.

Jalen Hurts has proven that he has a high football IQ, and is far less mistake-prone than Tagovailoa to this point. He’ll throw the ball away, dink and dime the opponent, and is the safest play for the Tide.

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All of this would lead one to believe that Tua Tagovailoa is the player that Louisville fans should be wanting to see take the majority of snaps this Saturday.