ORLANDO, Fla. — Your heart has to go out to Jalen Hurts.
He’s a two-year starter, led Alabama to two national championship games and has done everything the coaches have asked in leading the Crimson Tide.
But the starting quarterback job is no longer his.
Nick Saban didn’t say as much after Saturday night’s season-opening victory against Louisville in the Camping World Kickoff. It wasn’t necessary.
The numbers told the story.
The scoreboard told the story.
Everything told the story.
Sophomore Tua Tagovailoa has more than won the team. Hurts is a good quarterback, but the guy wearing No. 13 is simply better.
Even Saban had a little difficulty in coming up with something that Tagovailoa could do better after completing 12 of 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers.
“Tua played well and made some really good throws – I mean, really good throws, very accurate throws, put the ball right on guys,” Saban said. “When they had halfway decent coverage, he made good decisions for the most part.
“We’ve got him to get -- get him to get two hands on the ball. He's too loose with the ball in the pocket, and he's going to get the ball knocked out of his hand. You know, those are the kind of things that I'm talking about that doesn't get you till it gets you. So you've got to fix them before it gets you. But he played well.”
Hurts was 5 for 9 for 70 yards. When he was in the game the Crimson Tide managed one field goal.
Overall, Saban said he told the quarterbacks his decision to start Tagovailoa on Thursday and wanted him to execute the first 20 plays or so. Then Hurts could get his chance.
When he did, any notion of it still being a competition was over.
Tagovailoa moved the team with touchdown drives of 65, 55 and 75 yards, and another that ended after 63 yards due to a lost fumble; Hurts did not.
The offense converted every third-down opportunity with Tagovailoa in the game; with Hurts the offense scored three points and punted twice.
Tagovailoa completed passes downfield with the average gain of 18.9 yards; Hurts’ longest completion was 27 yards.
“Jalen got to play some in the second half and made a couple good throws, but, you know, we’ve got to be able to execute and do what you're coached to do,” Saban said. “That's the No. 1 thing.”
The two touchdown passes also demonstrated the difference between the quarterbacks.
On the first, Tagovailoa looked he was about to be sacked, spun and bought a little extra time, then threw the ball where sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy would be in the end zone, not where he was.
“The light was kind of messing with my eyes, I saw it at the last minute,” Jeudy said.
“That’s just natural for Tua. He’s used to doing all that spinning and stuff.”
Even Saban called the play “pretty amazing.”
“He's capable of making those kinds of plays,” the coach added. “Some guys when they start to scramble, their eyes go down. They can't see down the field anymore so they're stuck running.”
The other touchdown pass came at the end of the first half. Thanks to freshman Jaylen Waddle’s 31-yard punt return to the Louisville 25, Alabama had first down with 27 seconds showing on the clock.
Saban put Tagovailoa back in to get him some game experience in the two-minute offense. On third down he threw a strike to Jeudy to make it 28-0.
The look on Hurts’ face was telling. He knows. He deserved this chance and more, but Tagovailoa has become the better quarterback.
Even though both will likely play again next week against Arkansas State and down the road, there’s no doubt about who is 1A and 1B on the Crimson Tide depth chart.