Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Blow Out Louisville with Lamar Jackson in Attendance

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2018

ORLANDO, FL - SEPTEMBER 01: Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs for a nine-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the game against the Louisville Cardinals at Camping World Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide opened their national title defense with a 51-14 drubbing of the Louisville Cardinals at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday night. 

Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts both saw action at quarterback for the Tide, but it was the sophomore who drew the start and led four first-half scoring drives to blow things wide open. 

Tagovailoa, the hero of January's national championship game, finished 12-of-16 for 227 yards and two touchdowns along with 26 yards and a score on the ground. 

Hurts, on the other hand, went 5-of-9 for 70 yards. His two first-half drives—the only ones that preceded garbage timeended in punts. 

         

Tagovailoa Key to Unlocking Alabama's True Offensive Potential

With Hurts under center last season, Alabama's plan of attack was largely predictable.

The Crimson Tide used a run-heavy approach to grind opponents down on the ground, and they leaned on their dominant defense to take the pressure off of a quarterback who was reluctant to scan through his progressions before tucking and running. 

That has all changed with Tagovailoa calling the shots. 

The true sophomore picked Louisville's defense apart through the air, and his arm allowed Alabama's receivers to flourish in ways they never did with Hurts. 

But it's not just the fact that Tagovailoa can spin it. It's that he uses his mobility as a way to generate big-time throws downfield. 

That much was evident when he escaped a sack and opened the scoring with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy in the first quarter: 

As if that wasn't impressive enough, those two linked up again for a 25-yard score with nine seconds remaining in the first half to give the Tide a commanding 28-0 edge: 

Plus, Tagovailoa can pack a punch when he crosses the line of scrimmage. In fact, he ran one of Alabama's pet plays for Hurts to perfection when he followed his blockers into the end zone on a designed sweep:  

With that kind of versatility, the Tide could morph from a perennial power into a virtually unbeatable machine. 

Consider Saturday's blowout nightmare fuel for the rest of college football's title contenders. 

           

Louisville Looking for Answers in Post-Lamar Jackson Era

Louisville had a safety net the last two years, and his name was Lamar Jackson. 

The dual-threat maestro captained the Cardinals run and pass games to the tune of 5,000-plus yards of offense in both 2016 and 2017, and his dynamic disposition in both phases took some pressure off Louisville's skill position players since defenses were so often keyed in on his game-breaking speed. 

That's all changed with Jackson in the pros. 

New starter Jawon Pass (20-of-39, 252 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) was solid, albeit unspectacular, and the Cardinals pass-catchers were largely silenced despite Dez Fitzpatrick's insistence that "every receiver in our receiving corps can honestly beat every one of their [defensive backs] one-on-one in coverage."

On top of that, Louisville ball-carriers were stymied to the tune of 26 carries for 16 yards. 

Now, Saturday shouldn't be viewed as the end-all, be-all given the caliber of defense Louisville was trying to solve. 

But without Jackson, the Cardinals are clearly in search of a new identity, and at this point, it figures to be a few weeks until Pass and Co. can mesh in a meaningful way.  

          

Hurts Should Look for New Home After Tua Seizes QB1

Typically, it's wise not to overreact to small sample sizes. However, that rule of thumb doesn't apply to Alabama's quarterback competition. 

Tagovailoa is a dual-threat talent unlike any Alabama has had during Nick Saban's tenure in Tuscaloosa, and he should soon relegate Hurts to the bench full-time. 

Naturally, that move—whenever it comeswill present one big question: Which uniform will Hurts be wearing next season? 

While he opted against transferring this year because the Crimson Tide afforded him a chance to compete for the starting job, it's hard to envision the junior sticking around for another year as a backup. 

And assuming Hurts graduates on time in December, he will be eligible to play immediately once he pinpoints his next stop. 

Of course, that decision is still months away. But based on all of the available evidence, it's clear Hurts should start mulling over his options. 

       

What's Next? 

Alabama will host Arkansas State for its home opener on Sept. 8. The Cardinals will be in action the same day when they host Indiana State.     

Related

    How Browning Makes Stanford-Oregon the Battle for Pac-12

    College Football logo
    College Football

    How Browning Makes Stanford-Oregon the Battle for Pac-12

    David Kenyon
    via Bleacher Report

    Ole Miss AD Believes NCAA Appeal Ruling Could Come ‘Any Week Now’

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Ole Miss AD Believes NCAA Appeal Ruling Could Come ‘Any Week Now’

    Jake Rill
    via Saturday Down South

    Love Back for Stanford vs. Oregon

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Love Back for Stanford vs. Oregon

    Rob Goldberg
    via Bleacher Report

    5-Star Safety Hill Commits to Michigan

    College Football logo
    College Football

    5-Star Safety Hill Commits to Michigan

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report