Nick Saban challenges QB Tua Tagovailoa to overcome disappointing end to 2018 season

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was rolling along for the majority of the 2018 season. But nagging leg injuries down the stretch, an anemic performance in the SEC Championship Game and a let down in the blowout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship left a sour taste in the mouth of coach Nick Saban despite his quarterback finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting.

Tagovailoa's quest this offseason from Saban? Rebound from the first disappointing stretch of his college career. 

"I think Tua has to challenge himself a little bit to get back to … I think being hurt was an issue for him at the end of the season," Saban said at SEC Spring Meetings on Tuesday, according to AL.com. "And I think that he has to challenge himself to get back into great shape and overcome some of the things that happened toward the end of the year. I think he should take the perception that he has a lot to prove relative to how we ended the season. I think our whole team fits into that category."

Saban's criticism of Tagovailoa is valid -- at least, by Alabama standards. Take a look at his passing stats by month in 2018.

MonthCompletion %YPATDINTRating

September

75.0

13.2

14

0

238.32

October

64.1

14.1

11

0

239.56
November70.1
9.6
112178.32
December/January65.19.0
74158.57

It's a "rich man's problem," of course. Any coach in America outside of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would walk over hot coals to land a quarterback with that kind of season. But this is Alabama, and the stench of the 44-16 loss in which Tagovailoa threw two interceptions -- including a pick six in the first quarter -- still lingers over Tuscaloosa like smoke emanating from a local barbecue establishment.

Tagovailoa seems to understand the high bar Saban is pushing him toward. Following a spring game performance that didn't necessarily set the world on fire, he commented on how much work needs to be done prior to the start of the 2019 season.

"There was a lot of miscommunication between me and the receivers," he said. "You've got to get everybody set up, for goal line as well. Sometimes you're going to have miscommunication, but I'm glad we're having it now instead of during the season."

If Tagovailoa answers Saban's challenge, it will go a long way toward avenging the title game loss and perhaps hosting the Heisman Trophy this December.

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

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