Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Stay Undefeated with 52-21 Iron Bowl Win vs. Auburn

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2018

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Citadel, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide completed an undefeated regular season Saturday with a 52-21 Iron Bowl win over the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Beating Auburn will allow Alabama to enter next week's SEC Championship Game against the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs on a high note and with a 12-0 record, while Auburn will limp into bowl season at 7-5.

Offensively, Bama once again leaned heavily on sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Heisman Trophy candidate went 25-of-32 for 324 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions, along with 26 rushing yards and a rushing score in the win.

Also, the Crimson Tide defense shut down Auburn, as it held the Tigers to 283 total yards.

While Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham led the Tigers to an upset of Alabama in last year's Iron Bowl, he couldn't replicate that performance Saturday. The junior went just 13-of-30 for 127 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and didn't get the Auburn offense in any kind of rhythm.

After allowing Alabama to seize a 17-7 lead, Auburn made things interesting late in the second quarter when it blocked an Alabama punt:

The Tigers then pulled off a trick play, as wide receiver Ryan Davis threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to running back Malik Miller to help cut the deficit to 17-14 entering halftime:

While Auburn had all the momentum at the break, the Crimson Tide quickly squashed it with two touchdowns just over five minutes into the third quarter.

That gave Bama a 31-14 advantage, and the Tide were then off and running en route to what became a blowout victory.

             

Tagovailoa Falling Behind Murray in Heisman Race Despite Great Showing

Tagovailoa turned in another impressive performance Saturday, but his numbers are lagging behind those of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray.

In the Sooners' 59-56 victory over No. 13 West Virginia on Friday, Murray threw for 364 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, and rushed for 114 yards and one score.

On the season, Murray has completed 70.6 percent of his passes for 3,674 yards, 37 touchdowns and seven picks. He has also rushed for 853 yards and 11 touchdowns, which is what sets him apart from Tagovailoa.

In comparison, the Alabama quarterback has racked up 3,189 yards, 36 touchdowns and two interceptions through the air, as well as 211 yards and five scores on the ground.

On Saturday, Tagovailoa threw multiple long touchdown passes and made the most of what is arguably the top receiving corps in college football.

After rushing for a short score and throwing a short touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III in the first half, Tua hit Jerry Jeudy from 46 yards out in the third quarter:

He followed that with a 33-yard scoring strike to running back Josh Jacobs just over three minutes later:

Tagovailoa wasn't done, though, as he also threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith late in the third:

Tua then threw a 22-yard touchdown to Ruggs in the fourth quarter for good measure:

Before Saturday's game, Alabama was quick to point out that part of the reason for Tua's inferior numbers is the fact that he has often sat during the fourth quarter due to the Tide's dominance:

Murray and the Sooners haven't had that luxury, and FS1's Skip Bayless pointed out that it is because Murray has had to overcome Oklahoma's sieve of a defense:

It can also be argued that Murray has the benefit of facing inferior Big 12 defenses in comparison to some of the SEC units Tagovailoa has been forced to contend with.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was in the same position last season, but he was still awarded the Heisman.

The Cleveland Browns selected Mayfield No. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL draft, and he has thrown his Heisman support firmly behind Murray:

The main thing working in Tagovailoa's favor may be the fact that he is undefeated, while Murray and the Sooners have one loss.

Murray will have a chance to avenge that defeat in the Big 12 Championship Game when Oklahoma faces the rival Texas Longhorns again.

If Oklahoma wins that game and Alabama takes care of business against Georgia, a CFP spot will likely come down to either Oklahoma or Ohio State, provided OSU beats Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.

With a CFP berth and video game-esque numbers, Murray will have a strong case for the Heisman.

Tagovailoa deserves heavy consideration, and he may even win it because of his status as the quarterback of the nation's best team, but given the fact that Bama excelled in the previous two seasons with the far inferior Jalen Hurts under center, the argument can be made that Murray is more vital to his team's success.

               

Stidham Must Return for Senior Year After Major Regression

For as dominant as Tagovailoa was Saturday, Stidham was at the other end of the spectrum.

Last season, Stidham was poised and veteran-like in his approach during a 26-14 Iron Bowl upset over Alabama. He completed 75 percent of his passes in that game for 237 yards and rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Although the numbers didn't leap off the page, that showing generated belief that Stidham could be a starting-caliber NFL quarterback.

He has taken a significant step back in 2018, though, by throwing for just 2,421 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.

The aggressive Alabama defense appeared to rattle him at times, and he struggled with the pass rush, as Brandon Marcello of 247Sports noted:

Additionally, Stidham had some self-inflicted mistakes, including a fumble with nobody around him in the first half, per Justin Ferguson of The Athletic:

For much of the game, the only big showing Auburn's offense could muster was the trick-play touchdown pass from Davis to Miller.

Stidham had downfield success in the third quarter when he threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton. That was essentially erased in the fourth, however, when he threw a bad interception to Bama linebacker Anfernee Jennings in heavy coverage.

Given the manner in which Alabama handled the Tigers on Saturday, Barstool Bama quipped that it may be a good thing for the Tide if Stidham comes back for another season:

That may be true, but entering the draft after a down year would be a poor business decision for Stidham.

There is no guarantee he'll be able to work his way back into the draft conversation, but if he can rebound in 2019 and be the primary reason for a few more victories than he has been this season, it may be enough to pique talent evaluators' interest.

Transferring to a more quarterback-friendly offense could also prove attractive for Stidham, but regardless of where he plays in 2019, it is clear he needs another year of college football.

             

What's Next?

Alabama will look to win the SEC Championship Game for the fourth time in five years when it faces Georgia next Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, although the Tide may be locked into a College Football Playoff spot regardless of whether they win.

An Alabama victory would almost certainly prevent Georgia from returning to the CFP for the second consecutive season, however.

Meanwhile, Auburn will take the week off and await its bowl assignment.

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