Alabama doesn’t rebuild. The Crimson Tide simply reload.
College Football Playoff hero Tua Tagovailoa threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third in his first college start, helping top-ranked and defending national champions open the season with a 51-14 rout of Louisville on Saturday night.
Essentially ending the debate — at least for now — about whether he or Jalen Hurts should be the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 quarterback, Tagovailoa scored on a 9-yard run while also completing 12 of 16 passes for 227 yards without an interception.
Although the sophomore from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, came off the bench to lead Alabama to a come-from-behind victory over Georgia in the CFP championship game last January, coach Nick Saban provided no public indication of who would be the starter against Louisville (0-1) until Tagovailoa trotted onto the field following the opening kickoff.
Saban said the decision to begin with Tagolvailoa was made earlier in the week, but the plan was to play Hurts, too.
And, the coach added, that’s also his intention moving forward.
“We’re going to continue to have both of those guys be weapons for us because I think they can,” Saban said.
Hurts, 26-2 as a starter over the past two seasons, threw for 2,081 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 855 yards and eight more TDs a year ago.
Saban maintained throughout preseason camp that Alabama was fortunate to have two quality quarterbacks and tried deflect attention from the QB debate by talking about the challenge the Crimson Tide faces in revamping a defense that lost eight starters from last season.
Tagovailoa was sacked on the game’s second play, but pretty much had his way against the Louisville defense from there.
Jerry Jeudy had TD receptions of 11 and 25 yards, and Josh Jacobs scored on an 18-yard run and 77-yard kickoff return for the Crimson Tide.
Hurts played two series in the first half and re-entered the game in the third quarter with the defending national champions up 41-7.
“We did some good things with (both quarterbacks),” Saban said, “and there are some things we need to improve.”
Jawon Pass, who’s replacing 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson for Louisville, completed 20 of 39 passes for 252 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, including TDs of 12 yards to Kemari Averett and 8 yards to Tutu Atwell. The red-shirt sophomore’s second interception was return 45 yards for a touchdown by Alabama’s Shyheim Carter
The Cardinals fell to 0-4 all-time against teams ranked No. 1.
“The biggest thing we have to do from this,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “is learn.”
HE DID SOME GOOD THINGS, TOO
Hurts directed a field goal drive in the third quarter, finishing 5 of 9 passing for 70 yards and no interceptions. He rushed for 9 yards on 3 attempts. Red-shirt freshman Mac Jones played much of the fourth quarter for the Crimson Tide.
Louisville: It was a tough night for the Cardinals, who were limited to just 16 yards rushing while being outgained 517 yards to 268. The good news is it looks like they have a chance to be as good throwing the ball as they were during the Jackson era.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide scored on offense, defense and special teams, showing that despite having to replace 12 starters, Saban has more than enough talent to make a run at Alabama’s sixth national title in 10 years.
Despite having a bunch of new faces on defense, Alabama entered the season opener No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the third straight year. Louisville was clearly overmatched, however some — if not most — could be attributed to how well the Crimson Tide played in improving to 12-0 in season openers under Saban.
Louisville: Home opener against Indiana State next Saturday.
Alabama: Return home to face Arkansas State on Saturday, the final tuneup for SEC opener at Mississippi.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25