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  • Nick Norris

Tua is to Bama QBs as Julio was to receivers

Remember the old Alabama? It was a program built around a hard-nosed rushing attack and an overpowering defense. That philosophy worked for a century.

One day, though, it just didn’t work as well anymore. Other teams started playing faster and scoreboards began reflecting basketball-like numbers. The game evolved, and the lure of a new high-scoring offense pulled Alabama away from its roots. Still, it was not until a certain dual-threat quarterback flew from Ewa Beach, Hawaii to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when this plan came to total fruition.

Today, thanks to dominant performances by Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama has found a new identity, and the program will likely never be the same again. Funny enough, Alabama fans witnessed a similar trend a little over a decade ago.

Think back for just a moment to the bizarre college football landscape that was 2007. LSU had just won a national championship, despite having two losses on its record, both of which came in triple overtime. Notre Dame, Miami and Nebraska had a combined record of 13-23. And Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide lost 21-14 at home to Louisiana Monroe.

Sure, it was Saban’s first season on the job. And yes, some losses were expected in this transitional year, but getting upset by a Sun Belt team that had lost earlier in a 24-7 game to the neighboring Troy Trojans was humiliating, nonetheless.

This was the third straight loss for Saban and another would come in the Iron Bowl the following Saturday. After this season, Saban decided finishing 7-6 would not be the standard. His team needed talent, someone explosive who could open the offense up and keep defenses in check. For Alabama, running the ball had always been the name of the game, but the game had evolved. If Alabama wanted to thrive, it had to learn to air it out.

Enter Julio Jones.

Julio Jones (#11) catching a pass from Matt Ryan in 2013.

On February 6, 2008, the no. 1 high school receiver in the nation announced his intention to attend the University of Alabama. This was a defining moment in college football history.

Few Southeastern Conference teams, if any, had ever signed a receiver as naturally talented and developed as Jones. Though Alabama had some brilliant receivers in the past such as David Palmer, Tyrone Prothro and D.J. Hall, none were in the same league as Jones. This was certainly a first for the Crimson Tide.

This grab also displayed Saban’s remarkable recruiting abilities, as Jones seemingly had no glaring reason at the time to choose Alabama over some others that were expected to better utilize his talents like Florida or Oklahoma. The season prior, Alabama’s returning quarterback, John Parker Wilson, completed just 255 of 462 passes with 12 interceptions. At the time, this was considered pretty good for the Tide.

But Jones changed the atmosphere in Bryant-Denny Stadium forever. He started the season opener as a true freshman, the first Bama receiver to do so, and he never stopped improving. In his three years in Tuscaloosa, Jones had 179 receptions for 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns.

When passes were too high, he would soar through the air and bring them down. When they were low, he would sacrifice his body by diving for every catch. And when they were right on the money, he would outrun everyone to take them to the house.

Jones did some incredible things during his time at Alabama. He set several records, fought through a hand surgery to get back on the field and was instrumental in helping Bama find its 13th national championship. However, the most important thing Jones did in Tuscaloosa was set a standard.

A wave of exceptional receivers has come to Tuscaloosa in Jones’s wake. Names like Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, and many others witnessed what Jones accomplished by coming to play for Saban and followed in his footsteps. Now, the Tide’s current receiving core is commonly regarded as the best in the nation, possibly in college football history, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Tua Tagovailoa preparing to take a snap in 2018.

Tagovailoa has set a similar precedent with Alabama quarterbacks.

The Hawaii-native has been nothing short of phenomenal from the moment he first stepped foot in the continental United States.

By now, everyone knows the story. Alabama struggled to get it done against the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship, so Saban brought in the true freshman. And he delivered, bringing his team back from a 20-7 deficit to win 26-23 in overtime.

The Tide won its 17th national championship and Saban earned his sixth. Tagovailoa received every start over veteran QB Jalen Hurts the following season, and Alabama never looked back.

In 2018, Tagovailoa went 245-of-355 for 3,996 yards and 43 touchdowns. So far this season, he has been just as electric, completing 113 of 148 passes for 1,718 yards, 23 touchdowns and no interceptions through five games.

Now, Alabama is essentially QBU after adding highly-sought recruits in Tagovailoa’s younger brother, Taulia, and Paul “Bear” Bryant’s great-grandson, Paul Tyson. These high school QBs were some of the most intriguing in the nation and even faced off on the gridiron when Tagovailoa’s Thompson High met Tyson’s Hewitt-Trussville High in 2018.

Both quarterbacks had impressive performances, with the dual-threat Tagovailoa rushing for 152 yards on just 12 carries and throwing for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Meanwhile, Tyson, the pro-style passer, threw for 275 yards and three scores of his own. It was Tagovailoa and the Thompson Warriors, though, who ultimately came out on top in the 63-49 shootout.

As if this did not set up enough future competition for the quarterback position, five-star recruit and dual-threat quarterback Bryce Young from California recently announced his intentions to attend Alabama in 2020, making the future QB battle even more fascinating.

What was once a one-dimensional, clock-burning, run-it-down-defenses’-throats styled offense, is now an unrelenting air attack with a deep roster of exceptional passers. The run game is still there, but it now serves to complement the passing game rather than compensate for a lack of one.

Like Julio Jones, Tua Tagovailoa has already put together an incredible resume with the Tide, but his most remarkable feat will be forever transforming the culture of Alabama Football. TGM

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