Alabama steamrolled Louisville in Orlando on Saturday night, opening the season with a 51-14 win over the Cardinals and answering an awful lot of questions, including whether they are still deserving of the No. 1 spot in the nation (they are).
The Tide rolled and normally that would lead to a pretty chipper head coach. That’s not the case with Nick Saban, who tends to look for reasons to be upset after big wins in order to keep his team motivated — comparatively, he’s more positive after losses and tight wins over strong competition. This was evident on the sidelines as he went ballistic on a few occasions over bad penalties and a lack of discipline late in the game from his defense.
However, the biggest question for many was about the Tide’s quarterback situation, where Tua Tagovailoa had a huge game and Jalen Hurts was relatively quiet, but steady. Tagovailoa started and most would expect him to continue starting. After the game ESPN’s Maria Taylor asked the very fair question of whether Saturday night’s performance gave him an answer regarding his quarterback situation going forward.
Saban, who has been answering questions about his quarterback situation since he switched to Tagovailoa in the national title game in January, snapped in frustration at once again being asked (again a good, and fair question) about picking a QB and sticking with one.
Taylor handled the situation like a pro, but the contentious moment that didn’t really need to be one became a talking point after the game. Later that night, Saban reportedly called Taylor to apologize for how he handled the situation.
Saban accused Taylor (and the media in general) of trying to get him to say something disrespectful about one of his quarterbacks or the other, but only because he took that question that way. He could have just as easily said what he said about both quarterbacks doing good things and liking what both bring to the table and moved on, but instead he got defensive and lashed out.
Few coaches in the country get better publicity for their program from ESPN in particular than Saban at Alabama — they literally just wrapped a Hard Knocks style Training Days show on ESPN that showed off Alabama’s facilities and practices and just generally how great everything with the Tide’s program is. That makes it even more ridiculous that he thinks Taylor or ESPN would be actively trying to get him to throw one of his QB’s under the bus.
Part of the problem in this situation, and so many others for college coaches, is you are always recruiting. Post-game interviews, as much as anything, are a time to be ‘crootin. And, as such, you don’t want to say something negative about a player, not just because it could affect Hurts, but because it also could make recruits watching think you play favorites or may disparage them publicly if they don’t have a good game. That’s understandable, but at the same time, it’s not OK to go after a very good reporter for asking a legitimate question.
Everyone watching that game could see Alabama is a more dynamic team with Tua at quarterback than Hurts. Saban is well aware of that too, so it’s fair to ask that question and it’s fair for him to not want to acknowledge that’s the case. There is a reason to keep playing Hurts, as well, and it’s because Tagovailoa has a propensity to do too much and make questionable decisions — something Hurts doesn’t do, almost to a fault.
Hurts is a steady hand, while Tagovailoa is a bit more of a gunslinger. That risk-taking could result in a very bad game for Tua where Saban will need to turn to Hurts to right the ship in a big moment, or Tagovailoa could find himself extending a play and taking a hit that knocks him out for a game — as almost happened early against Louisville. In either case, Saban needs Hurts engaged and confident, so playing him makes sense as does continuing to voice your confidence in him.