The legend of Tua Tagovailoa began a little less than a year ago in the College Football Playoff, when the quarterback came off the bench to lead the Alabama Crimson Tide to an overtime win in the national championship.
In his second straight appearance in the CFP, Tagovailoa placed his name in Alabama’s record book once again in a 45-34 win.
It took less than a quarter against the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday in the Orange Bowl for Tagovailoa to throw for the 135 yards he needed to set the Crimson Tide’s single-season passing yards record.
The Heisman Trophy finalist started 9 of 9 for 148 yards and a touchdown in the semifinal to take down the previous record to reach 3,501 for the season.
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The previous record was held by former quarterback Blake Sims, who threw for 3,487 yards in 2014.
Tagovailoa got to work quickly at Hard Rock Stadium. On the first play from scrimmage, the quarterback found DeVonta Smith on a crossing route and the wide receiver wiggled through the Oklahoma defense for a 50-yard gain.
By the end of the first drive, Tagovailoa was 2 of 2 with 65 yards. By the end of the second, the sophomore was 6 of 6 with 108 yards and a touchdown.
The record came down on the first play of the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s next drive, when Tagovailoa went deep to Jerry Jeudy, the All-American wide receiver from Deerfield Beach, for a 40-yard pickup. Alabama (14-0, 8-0 Southeastern) scored three plays later to take a 21-0 lead and break the first-quarter Orange Bowl scoring record.
Tagovailoa already made his mark on the Crimson Tide’s record book long before Sunday. The All-American also holds the single-season record for touchdown passes and total touchdowns.
Tagovailoa slowed down a bit after the hot start, but still guided the Alabama offense to 31 points by halftime. The Heisman runner-up finished 24 of 27 with 318 yards and four touchdowns to hold off the Sooners (12-2, 8-1 Big 12) in Miami Gardens. Tagovailoa now has 3,671 passing yards in his career with a chance to add some more. The Crimson Tide will face the No. 2 Clemson Tigers in the national championship next month in Santa Clara, Calif.
Not bad for a player who spent the week rehabilitating an ankle injury.
“I think preparing this week has been really good,” Tagovailoa said. “I can’t say if I felt a lot better out there or if I was the same, but I think we’re continuing to make progress with getting better, going to rehab, treatment, 24-hour treatment protocol is still on the line for us now. We’re just trying to get better, trying to prepare for Clemson this upcoming week.
College GameDay goes with the upset pick
Alabama might have been the overwhelming favorite in the semifinal, but the majority of those who made picks on ESPN’s College GameDay earlier Saturday had faith in the underdog.
While Lee Corso finished out the broadcast by donning the mascot head of the Crimson Tide’s Big Al, both Desmond Howard and guest picker Brian Bosworth, an Oklahoma alumnus, went with the Sooners.
“In a game of this magnitude, I would normally go with the more physical team and that would be Alabama or you go with the best player on the field,” said Howard, who won the 1991 Heisman Trophy as a wide receiver the Michigan Wolverines. “Since Kyler Murray is the best player on the field, I’m picking Oklahoma.”
Bosworth, who played linebacker for the Sooners from 1984-1986 and won the 1985 national championship, counteracted Corso by placing a Sooner Schooner atop his head and, unsurprisingly, rolling with his alma mater.
“A more reasonable man would look at both teams on paper and it’s obvious Alabama has more power on offense, and more power on defense and all that stuff, but I’m going to will the Sooners because I believe in miracles,” Bosworth said. “Bob Stoops won his national championship in Year 2. [Barry] Switzer won his national championship in Year 2. This is Lincoln Riley’s second year, so I believe in miracles and I believe in you, Oklahoma.”
▪ Suspensions shook up the CFP, most notably at the Cotton Bowl, where star Tigers defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was suspended, but they took a toll on the Orange Bowl, too. The Crimson Tide turned to Lester Cotton as its starter at left guard with fello offensive lineman Deonte Brown suspended. Cotton started the Crimson Tide’s first seven games this season before being replaced by Brown.
▪ Shortly before kickoff, the Orange Bowl recognized the five newest members of its hall of fame. The five new additions to the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame are former Sooners coach Bob Stoops, former Virginia Tech Hokies coach Frank Beamer, former Alabama running back Shaun Alexander, former Florida State Seminoles defensive lineman Derrick Alexander and Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost, who was recognized for his play as Nebraska’s quarterback.
▪ Three players from Miami-Dade and Broward counties started for the two semifinalists. For Alabama, Jeudy started at wide receiver and Plantation American Heritage’s Patrick Surtain II, the son of former Miami Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain, started at cornerback. For Oklahoma, Chaminade-Madonna’s Marquise Brown started at wide receiver.
▪ Tagovailoa didn’t deliver the only record Sunday. Austin Seibert, the Sooners’ kicker and punter, became the all-time scoring leader for a kicker. A 26-yard field goal by the senior in the fourth quarter gave him 496 career points. Former Arizona State Sun Devils kicker held the previous record with 494.