Where EAST meets the Northwest
TERRIFIC TUA. This fall, college football fans are watching a historic season
from the University of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (pictured), the best Asian
quarterback since Marcus Mariota led the 2014 Oregon Ducks to a 13-2 record and
won the Heisman Trophy. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
PRODIGIOUS POLYNESIAN PASSER. Alabama and starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa
have dominated this season. The team tied a college football record by crushing
all 12 of its regular-season opponents by at least 20 points. The last team to
do that was Yale, in 1888, back when few other schools even knew how to play the
game. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)
From The Asian Reporter, V28, #23 (December 3, 2018), pages 9 & 11.
Tua Tagovailoa’s season for the ages
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
It’s not often that an Asian quarterback emerges on the college football
scene, but when one does, he’s special. Timmy Chang, who has Hawai‘ian and
Chinese ancestry, played for the University of Hawai‘i and set the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) record for most career passing yards in
2004. Samoan Marcus Mariota led the 2014 Oregon Ducks to a 13-2 record and won
the Heisman Trophy by one of the highest vote totals ever, but failed to win a
This fall, college football fans are watching a historic season from the
University of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, the best Asian quarterback since Mariota.
Like Mariota, Tagovailoa is Samoan and a graduate of Saint Louis School in
Hawai‘i (also Chang’s alma mater). But unlike Mariota or Chang, Tagovailoa has
already won a national championship — though not as the starting quarterback.
Ironically, Tua’s team’s overpowering success this season could hamper his
Tua rose to prominence in last season’s national championship game, when
Alabama trailed the Georgia Bulldogs, 0-13, at halftime. Alabama’s starting
quarterback, Jalen Hurts, had been the starter behind center for the previous
two seasons, but he was scuffling against Georgia.
Needing a spark, Alabama head coach Nick Saban put freshman Tagovailoa in the
game to start the second half, and Tua led the Crimson Tide to an incredible
26-23 comeback win, capped by a 41-yard touchdown strike in overtime.
Tua Tagovailoa became the first Samoan quarterback to win a national
championship in the NCAA, but speculation began almost immediately: Who would
start for Alabama this season?
Hurts had led the Crimson Tide to two successive national championship games,
but he lost the first one and Tagovailoa won the second. As a running
quarterback, Hurts fits Alabama’s more conservative style. Tagovailoa, on the
other hand, is a lefty gunslinger who excels at throwing and running, opening up
the possibility of turnovers and injury.
As a tribute to his own conservative nature, Saban didn’t tip his hand about
Alabama’s starting quarterback until before this season’s second game. Alabama’s
first game, a cupcake matchup against lowly Louisville, was nonetheless
Tagovailoa’s first career start at the college level, and Saban wanted to see
how his sensation from Hawai‘i would perform. Hurts played a few series and
finished the game when Alabama was ahead, 41-7, but Saban saw what he wanted
from Tagovailoa and named Tua as his starter after the game.
This quarterback usage became a trend this season — Tagovailoa started the
game and Hurts took over in the fourth quarter, when Alabama had a comfortable
lead. Alabama was so good, in fact, that Tagovailoa did not take a snap in the
fourth quarter until the team’s ninth game, against fourth-ranked Louisiana
State University (LSU) — and even then, Tua only completed one pass before
giving way to Hurts.
To say that Alabama has been good is a massive understatement. The team tied
a college football record by crushing all 12 of its regular-season opponents by
at least 20 points. The last team to do that was Yale, in 1888, back when few
other schools even knew how to play the game.
Alabama was often so far ahead, they just didn’t need Tua to work his magic
at the end of the game. But when he was on the field, Tua shone.
Through the end of the regular season, he threw 36 touchdowns against just
two interceptions for 3,189 yards, while rushing for 211 yards and another five
In the final game of the regular season, against rival Auburn, Tagovailoa
played most of the game, setting a new school record by scoring six total
His overall numbers compare well to other contenders for the Heisman Trophy,
but they’re not the best. Tua’s main competitor, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, has
thrown for 3,674 yards and 37 touch- downs with seven interceptions during the
regular season. On top of this, Murray notched another 11 scores on the ground
and 853 rushing yards, for 4,527 total yards. Washington State’s Gardner Minshew
also has better stats than Tua, with 4,580 total yards, including 36 passing
touchdowns and nine interceptions, and three more touchdowns on the ground.
But neither Oklahoma (11-1) nor Washington State (10-2) was undefeated during
the regular season, and that should factor into the minds of Heisman voters. And
Tua has been stingy with those picks, protecting the ball well; he didn’t throw
his first interception until that LSU game.
Team statistics also help tally Tua’s impact on Alabama. Under Tua, this
year’s Alabama team scored 588 points through 12 games, including eight games in
which they scored more than 50 points. With Hurts, last year’s squad, composed
of mostly the same players, scored just 519 in all 14 games, including only
three when they scored more than 50 points.
Tua’s performance this season can also be measured against other Alabama
players. His 54 total touchdowns already rank fourth-best all-time for an
Alabama program that has been around for 115 years. The three players ahead of
him all had two or three years to amass their totals. Just think of what the
sophomore could do with another season or two behind center.
And all these numbers can’t show Tua’s unquantifiable talent: his speed
afoot, quick release, soft touch, and cool composure under pressure. Heisman
voters should take this into consideration when ranking their choices. Hopefully
they won’t discount his lower numbers due to Alabama’s runaway victories — wins
that might not have happened with a different signal-caller.
If Tua can win the Heisman Trophy and a national championship, he would be
the first Polynesian quarterback to win both, and the only one to win two
national titles. He’d also be the first Alabama quarterback to win a Heisman.
If he somehow fails to accomplish either of these milestones this season, Tua
Tagovailoa is just a sophomore with two more years to achieve them — and to add
to his already impressive totals. The 2018 college football regular season may
be over, but Asian-American sports fans still have plenty to look forward to,
both this season and beyond.
At press time, Alabama beat Georgia in the Southeastern Conference (SEC)
championship match, 35-28. The semifinal playoff games, scheduled for Saturday,
December 29, will feature #1 Alabama vs. #4 Oklahoma and #2 Clemson vs. #3 Notre
Dame. The College Football Playoff National Championship will take place Monday,
January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California.
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