The Bengals and Dolphins matchup in Week 16 has been billed as the Tua Bowl, but that may no longer be accurate.
For one thing, the Dolphins are now two games in front of the Bengals. For another, Tua Tagovailoa may not be the first pick in this year’s draft after all.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has stepped up big time in 2019. Under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Burrow has rocketed up draft boards and is considered by many to be the top quarterback in class and likely No. 1 overall pick in 2019.
So now, the Tua Bowl has to take a backseat to the matchup between these young gunslingers.
LSU vs. Alabama has been circled on calendars for weeks. Not only did it have huge implications for the College Football Playoffs, but it was a showdown between the two hottest NFL Draft prospects at the sport’s marquee position.
While Burrow came in riding high on a storybook season, Tagovailoa was making his first start after ankle surgery less than three weeks ago.
Things started off well for Alabama. Tagovailoa completed two of three passes on the team’s first drive and they got all of the way down to the eight-yard line. Then he fumbled on a third-and-goal scramble. LSU took the ball and drove down the field for a touchdown. They would never relinquish the lead.
Bama struggled for a while after that. LSU has a talented defense and their pass rushers were able to get after Tagovailoa while their secondary took away the RPO game that Bama has relied on.
However, it was not game, set, and match. Tagovailoa and Bama fought back.
Clutch on 3rd down buried deep pic.twitter.com/vOsgfnwRXv— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
Bama was down 16-7 midway through the second quarter and got the ball buried deep in their own territory. A false start on first down pushed them back even deeper.
In the clip above, they faced third-and-10 on their own 10-yard line. LSU blitzed and Tagovailoa, feeling the pressure coming from his right side, stepped up into the pocket. He delivered a great pass that Jerry Jeudy turned into a 26-yard gain.
Tagovailoa’s pass drop put him in his own endzone. Despite the pressure of facing a third-and-long in that part of the field and the pressure applied by the Tigers, he stayed focused and threw a great pass.
Dropping dimes pic.twitter.com/3II4kPAW2Z— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
On the very next play Tagovailoa threw a beautiful pass down the sideline to wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Smith had a great release and blew by the cornerback off the line of scrimmage.
Tagovailoa has shown again and again that he can throw excellent deep balls. He hits Smith in stride as he streaks down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown and brings them within a field goal.
Not sure what he is looking at here pic.twitter.com/C3ahlsS0JA— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
Tagovailoa faced a lot of adversity in this game, but some of it was self-inflicted.
LSU scored shortly before the half, and the Crimson Tide’s offense was hoping to do the same. Down 26-13, Tagovailoa made a bad read that resulted in an interception in the clip above. As a result, LSU got on the board again before the half.
The quarterback has to protect the football. While a score before the half would have been huge for Bama, they could not afford to give up this turnover.
As a result, they went into the half trailing 33-13.
Beautiful ball - dropped pic.twitter.com/2tRVWVqBk2— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
In the second half it became clear that Tagovailoa’s ankle was giving him problems, but he fought through the pain.
After a three-and-out on their first drive, Bama got the ball back, still trailing 33-13. This is where the comeback started.
The Crimson Tide got the ball on their own five-yard line, but quickly got out of that hole. A few plays later, they had second-and-10 near midfield.
Tagovailoa threw a beautiful pass deep down the middle of the field. He found Jeudy for what should have been a touchdown if Jeudy hadn’t dropped the ball.
Once again, Tagovailoa showed that he throws an excellent deep ball, but this time it is dropped.
Another 3rd Down conversion pic.twitter.com/DsOmuwFhPI— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
That brought up third-and-10.
It took some time for an Alabama receiver to get open, but fortunately the protection held up. Tagovailoa kept the drive alive by converting the third down on a 22-yard completion to Henry Ruggs III.
November 10, 2019
Later that drive, the Crimson Tide had first-and-10 on the 15-yard line. Tagovailoa rolled out to his right, then looked back to his left. Running back Najee Harris ran a wheel route out of the backfield. He had a defender running stride for stride with him, so Tagovailoa put the ball on his back shoulder and Harris made an incredible touchdown catch.
This cut the LSU lead to 13 points.
Harris carried the load on their next possession and scored on a one-yard touchdown run. Which put the score at 33-27 early in the fourth quarter.
3rd and 17— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
Game on the line
Cool as a cucumber pic.twitter.com/Gnr0hb8yAP
Bama came into the next drive trailing 27-39. Already behind on the scoreboard, a sack on 1st down put them behind the sticks as well.
On third-and-19, LSU showed pressure, but only rushed four. Still, Tagovailoa had to step up in the pocket to deliver the 26-yard strike to Ruggs for a first down.
Despite the odds being against him, Tagovailoa converted this third-and-extra-long situation.
3rd and 1 pic.twitter.com/SK8AhR0Ijg— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
Two plays later, Bama had third-and-one. Instead of running for the first, the Crimson Tide elected to run a play-action pass. Despite tight coverage on Smith, Tagovailoa zipped the ball in for a completion and again of 21 yards.
4th down pic.twitter.com/hVNRV7BGGh— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
Bama was unable to pick up a first on the next three plays, but trailing they decided to go for it on fourth-and-four. The Tigers had taken away the slant route for most of the game, but not on this key down.
Smith got a good release and was inside of the LSU defender. The safety drove down to fill the void in the defense, but Tagovailoa got the ball off quick enough that it didn’t matter.
The result was a nine-yard gain and a new set of downs.
4th Down— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
Once again, they would need all four downs to score. After Jeudy dropped a would-be touchdown on third and two, Alabama faced another fourth down.
Critics of Tagovailoa point out how talented his receivers are. Although this is true, that third down marked Jeudy’s second key drop of the game. Tagovailoa was able to overcome this and did not lose trust in his receiver which was demonstrated on the next play.
On fourth down, he looked back to Jeudy.
Jeudy lined up as the No. 2 wide receiver on the right side. He ran an arrow to the flat while the No. 1 receiver ran an in-cutting route underneath him.
Jeudy had leverage on the defender to the outside and Tagovailoa put the ball on the pylon, preventing the defender from having any chance of making a play on it. This time Juedy made the catch and the Crimson Tide came within a score of the Bayou Bengals.
They trailed 34-39.
Tua Tagovailoa on 3rd/4th down: 8-for-11 for 127 yards, 6 1st downs, 1 TD.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 10, 2019
Mixed bag overall from Tua vs. LSU, including several critical mistakes. But his impact on money downs was an impressive takeaway from this game.
Bama needed to convert two fourth downs to score on that drive. This was not the best statistical performance of Tagovailoa’s life, but he stepped up in key situations and was clutch on third and fourth down passes.
LSU scored again and went up 46-34.
Whoever the Bengals have at QB, I want him throwing the ball to DeVonta Smith pic.twitter.com/YRD1b26Bne— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 10, 2019
Alabama got the ball back with 1:31 to play and needed a miracle. Then on the 1st play of the possession, Tagovailoa hit Smith on another vertical route on the outside.
This was another great pass that Smith took 85 yards for a touchdown. It should be pointed out that Bama had the ball on the right hash and Tagovailoa threw this ball down the left sideline. The ball was completed a little over 35 yards down the field, but considering the width of college hashes the ball traveled significantly farther than that in the air. Once again, Tagovailoa showed off his arm strength and accuracy on deep balls.
This put the score at 41-46, but Bama was not able to get the ball back so that is where it would remain.
Burrow and LSU won the long awaited matchup between these two candidates for the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Not only did Burrow lead his team to victory, but he beat Tagovailoa statistically. Burrow completed 31 of 39 attempts (79%) for 393 yards and 3 touchdowns. He did not throw an interception and ran the ball 14 times for 64 yards.
Tagovailoa completed 21 of 40 passes (52%) for 418 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also committed 2 turnovers (1 interception, 1 fumble) and had negative yards rushing.
Still, this game raised my opinion of Tagovailoa more than it did of Burrow.
Why? Because Burrow was everything I expected him to be, but Tagovailoa showed me something I hadn’t seen in him.
Burrow was highly accurate and showed the ability to extend plays with his legs while keeping his eyes down field.
That is great, but he has been doing it all season. It is good to know that he can do what he does against talent like that of Alabama, but I felt pretty confident prior to this game that he could do all of the things that he did in this game.
Tagovailoa, on the other hand, dealt with a lot more adversity than he is used to. Playing on such a talented and successful team is often seen as a negative for Tagovailoa.
His success is often credited to his supporting cast and coaches. In this game, Alabama met their match and were playing from behind the entire game.
Tagovailoa showed that even when things are not going well for him and his team, he will keep competing. In fact, he led his team to a touchdown on each of their last four drives. Unfortunately, it was just not quite enough,
The comeback started too late and Tagovailoa’s red zone fumble and interception which led to a score came back to bit them.
In the end they fell short, but Tagovailoa stepped up despite injury and a defense that took away the RPOs that Bama loves to run.
While both quarterbacks were impressive, seeing what he is capable of doing on a bad night raised Tagovailoa’s draft stock in my eyes.
With any luck, the football gods will see fit to give us a rematch in the College Football Playoffs, before the winner goes off to lose the Buckeyes in the National Championship.