Kyler Murray spent plenty of time around Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa last week, with both in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Days after claiming the award, Murray seemed pretty certain Tagovailoa, who had minor surgery after suffering a high ankle sprain in the SEC championship, will play against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
“I mean, he’s a competitor,” Murray said. “It’s the game before the national championship. I would expect him to play.”
Yet, no one knows for certain if Tagovailoa will be healthy enough to do that, or if backup supreme Jalen Hurts will be summoned again.
This has been a theme for the No. 4-ranked Sooners this fall: Five different times OU went into a game either prepared for two different quarterbacks or forced to play a backup due to in-game changes. It happened against FAU, UCLA, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech.
The difference this time? There’s no mystery about what either Alabama QB brings to the table.
Hurts is 26-2 as a starter, with two of those appearances coming in the 2016 and 2017 national championship games. His struggles in the ’17 finale led to Tagovailoa’s emergence off the bench, culminating in a comeback for the ages and a game-winning TD pass in overtime of the Crimson Tide’s XX-XX win over Georgia.
Two weeks ago, they swapped roles. With Tagovailoa hurt, it was Hurts who steered a comeback over Georgia for the SEC title, lifting Alabama into the College Football Playoff for the fifth straight year.
Alabama has no ace up its sleeve at QB, because neither can be hidden.
“The one nice thing here, it’s always a good and bad. We’ve had some of these games where we’ve had maybe a guy that’s gonna play that we have virtually no tape on, which is good because it means he hasn’t played much either. We’ve seen [Alabama’s] guys. We kinda know what they can do,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said.
And the downside?
“They both have a lot of great experience and have been a part of a lot of wins for them,” Riley said. “It’s a double-edged sword. I think we’re not gonna be totally surprised by what we see out of either guy but they are certainly difficult to stop.”
Hurts isn’t a dynamic passer like Tagovailoa, but has a more physical presence on the ground with 22 career TDs — more than any other player on the roster.
“Jalen obviously brings a little more athletically to the table. Tua’s a good athlete as well, no question,” Riley said. “He can certainly tuck it and run, but Jalen’s probably a little more dynamic as a runner.”
Tagovailoa — with a 14-0 record in games appearing as Alabama’s QB, more than 3,500 yards passing this season and a 257.9 passer rating — would’ve been a shoo-in Heisman winner in almost any other year. He led the Crimson Tide to 12 consecutive wins of 20 points or more to start this year, before the close call against Georgia.
Alabama resumed practice Friday. Reports are still muddy about Tagovailoa’s health. In New York last week, he wore a boot and kept weight off his left ankle by using a medical scooter. But by Saturday’s trophy presentation, he walked around without either.
Thursday, for what it’s worth, Dan Patrick said on his radio show he’s heard Tagovailoa’s status was “iffy” for the Orange Bowl.
Such speculation will be aplenty in the coming days.
“We talked about [playing each other],” Murray said of he and Tagovailoa’s conversations in New York. “We made jokes here and there, but that’s about it.”
Whether it will happen remains to be seen.
No. 4 Oklahoma vs.
No. 1 Alabama
Time: 7 p.m., Dec. 29
Place: Hard Rock Stadium | Miami Gardens, Fla.
Line: Alabama (-14)
Records: OU (12-1); Alabama (13-0)