Armando Salguero

Tua vs. Burrow in a battle of QB gunslingers has one clear winner: The Miami Dolphins

It cannot get any better than this, folks.

#TankforTua lives. All you have to do is look at what a limping, rusty Tua Tagovailoa did Saturday evening against Louisiana State’s otherwise outstanding defense. He passed for 418 yards and four touchdowns. He showed the heart of a lion in leading his team back from deficits time after time, leading four touchdown drives the last four times he had the ball.

So #TankforTua, the social media movement representing the Miami Dolphins suffering regular season losses for the chance to pick Tagovailoa in next spring’s NFL draft, is doing just fine.

But on Saturday we all got very dramatic evidence that Tua isn’t the country’s only outstanding college quarterback. In fact, he might not be the country’s best college quarterback or even the NFL’s top quarterback prospect.

That distinction could easily belong to Louisiana State’s Joe Burrow.

So #BustforBurrow!

That’s a thing now as well. Because for most of LSU’s 46-41 victory over Alabama, Burrow performed like the superior quarterback. He completed 31 of 39 passes for 393 yards with three touchdown passes.

So if the Dolphins get their pick of any quarterback out of all the names we believe could be in next spring’s draft pool -- Tua, Burrow, Justin Herbert -- the team is going to get a choice of at least two outstanding college talents.

And this: It’s actually going to be really hard for the Dolphins to pass on Burrow even though so many of us thought Tua would be the almost certain pick.

Simply, the Miami Dolphins seem to be living right now. Because Saturday night made Miami’s current dire 2019 season seem possibly quite worth the aggravation when April rolls around.

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Burrow made sure of that because he did what few believed possible in delivering an amazing double whammy to the college football world and, yes, the 70 or so NFL personnel people, including Dolphins representatives, that attended the game.

In one game he outshone Tua in a matchup of premier college quarterbacks and outclassed one of the best defenses any college quarterback can face.

Burrow looked more polished through all four quarters while Tua struggled in the first half. Burrow played with greater confidence while Tua was understandably and seemingly unsure of himself early in the game, probably because of an ankle surgery from which he’s still recovering.

Burrow generally looked like a future NFL quarterback playing among college kids. He moved in the pocket, beating back criticisms he’s not mobile. He spread the football around to six different receivers. And he was simply in charge from start to finish.

Burrow completed his first 13 passes and finished the first half with 18 completions in 20 attempts. He got his team in the end zone twice in the span of two minutes at the end of the half to give LSU a 33-13 advantage. And when Alabama closed not once, but twice in the second half, Burrow answered with a touchdown drive each time to beat back the Tide.

Burrow did all this against a defense that was No. 12 in the country. Against that Nick Saban defense, Burrow delivered his seventh 300-yard game of the season.

So Burrow had the game of his life against the closest facsimile to an NFL defense any college quarterback can face before being drafted.

But that wasn’t all. Because while Burrow played at a high level, he also seemed more dominant compared to Tua the first three quarters. Tua, who we cannot forget is an elite college quarterback, got hot in the fourth quarter when he threw two of his four scoring passes, including an impressive 85-yard strike to DeVonta Smith inside the final two minutes.

Tagovailoa spent the 20 days before this game recovering from surgery to repair a high right ankle sprain. Last year he underwent a similar procedure on his left ankle and came back within a couple of weeks to throw four touchdowns against Oklahoma.

Tua matched that output against LSU and that is notable because the Tigers also boast an elite and talented college defense. But early on, Tua was simply not in synch with his receivers. He was obviously uncomfortable with pressure in the pocket. Even his elite accuracy was missing until much later in the game.

Tagovailoa threw one interception, which came just before the half and opened the door for Burrow and the LSU offense to score twice.

“He made a bad decision at the end of the half,” Saban said of his quarterback.

Tua did have moments. He completed a 64-yard touchdown pass on a deep route down the left sideline in the first half. He threw another catchable deep pass down the middle of the field that would have been a long TD had receiver Jerry Jeudy not dropped it. And he delivered that 85-yard strike in the closing minutes.

So Tua continues to throw perhaps the best deep ball in college football. And his accuracy all over the field is elite.

But LSU’s wilting pressure early in the game upset the Alabama quarterback’s game. The slants and quick passes that have gone for long touchdowns against lesser opponents were simply routine completions for Tua this night.

So where does that leave the Dolphins? Look, it would be unwise to believe they would or should make their decision on something so complex as a quarterback choice based on something so simple as one college game.

But this game made that decision, whatever it will be, much harder. The Dolphins could actually have a choice of multiple great college quarterbacks if they have the first overall pick in the draft.

And that would be a great problem to have.

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Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.
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