When Nick Saban replaced starting quarterback Jalen Hurts with freshman Tua Tagovailoa in the second half of the national title game, it helped Alabama in the short-term as the Crimson Tide offense was jumpstarted by his three-touchdown performance, en route to an overtime victory over the Georgia Bulldogs. It also helped Alabama in the long-term, as Tagovailoa recently admitted that he was very close to leaving the school had he not gotten the chance to play last season.
The revelation is actually a confirmation of something former Alabama assistant (and Tua’s recruiter) Lane Kiffin said on The Dan Patrick Show back in January.
“If this second half doesn’t flip like this, and Alabama is moving the ball and doesn’t change (quarterbacks), people that really know what’s going on would tell you that Tua was leaving. Because Tua thought that he should be the starting quarterback and had outperformed him in practice and coach never gave him an opportunity.”
The five-star recruit committed to Alabama over USC, Ole Miss, and UCLA. However, per Hawaii News Now, Tagovailoa admitted during a presentation at his old school that he was already exploring a possible transfer to USC before the epic title game performance.
“I called my dad and asked him if my offer to the University of Southern California was still available,” Tagovailoa told the crowd of seventh and eighth graders. “I wanted to leave. I told my dad I wanted to go to a school where I thought it’d be easier for me and wouldn’t challenge me so much.”
“Even throughout my football season, I wasn’t the starter,” Tagovailoa continued. “I wanted to leave the school. So I told myself if I didn’t play in the last game, which was the national championship game, I would transfer out. If I gave in, I don’t think I would have seen the end blessing of where I am now.”
Of course, Saban probably didn’t know about Tua’s intentions, nor would he let them influence the way he coaches his football team, but it was a fortuitous decision to insert the young quarterback into the game for multiple reasons.
Tagovailoa enters 2018 as the presumed starter for Alabama but from here on our his legacy will be partially defined by the what-could-have-been nature of what happened in the national title game. Had Hurts played better than he did, perhaps Alabama still would have won but they almost certainly would have lost Tagovailoa. If he ends up leading the Tide to another title (or two), that’ll be a looming question. Not to mention, if USC can’t find quarterback success in the coming years, they’ll be wondering about it, too.