There’s an old, gridiron adage that says, “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.”

Let’s hope the inventor of that quote hasn’t seen the AP Top 25 poll this season, which features three teams – No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia and No. 3 Clemson – atop the rankings that have deployed two quarterbacks this season.

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In the first year of a new NCAA rule that allows players to compete in up to four games in a season and still maintain their redshirt, which allows them to gain both valuable playing experience and an extra year of eligibility, each school has played its backup quarterback in all three games this season.

That suggests Alabama, Georgia and Clemson have plans to play their No. 2 quarterbacks this season, whether it’s solely in a backup capacity, as part of a true quarterback rotation or just to occasionally give opposing defenses a different look.

Here’s a closer look at the dynamic between the starter and backup at each school, how the No. 2 signal callers have been used, and what precedents there might be for a national title contender consistently playing two quarterbacks during a season.


Starter: Tua Tagovailoa – 36-of-50, 72%, 646 yards, 12.9 yards/attempt, 8 TD, 0 INT, 233.3 passing efficiency rating

Backup: Jalen Hurts – 19-of-28, 67.9%, 248 yards, 8.9 yards/attempt, 4 TD, 1 INT, 182.3 passing efficiency rating

We live in an age of hyperbole, where everything is the biggest, best, craziest, [insert strong adjective here]ever. But the evolution of Alabama’s quarterback situation in the last nine months may truly be unprecedented.

How else do you classify a position battle where the first true freshman quarterback (Hurts) to ever start for arguably the most accomplished head coach in the history of the sport (Nick Saban) leads his team to a 26-2 record as a starter and to back-to-back national championship games, but he only got credit for that 26th win because, as a sophomore, he was supplanted by a true freshman (Tagovailoa) at halftime of the national championship, only to watch from the sideline as his replacement led the team to a historic comeback?

That was intentionally a mouthful but see what we mean?

Despite Hurts’ natural ability as a runner – 1,809 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on 5.2 yards per carry in his first two seasons – the side-by-side passing comparison above between Tagovailoa and Hurts shows why the former started the second half of last season’s national championship game against Georgia and won the starting job this season.

Here’s how Alabama’s per-game passing statistics have improved significantly this year compared to the last two seasons, albeit with a small sample size for 2018.

Season Games Completions Attempts Pct. Yards TD
2018 3 18.7 27.7 67.5 308.0 4.0
2017 14 14.6 23.8 61.3 193.4 2.0
2016 15 17.7 27.8 63.5 210.3 1.7

Tagovailoa has completed his passes at a higher rate than Hurts this year and his 2018 completion percentage is almost 12 percent higher than Hurts’ 2017 completion percentage. It’s not just the accuracy of Tua that makes him the stronger passer but also his downfield throwing ability.

Tagovailoa is averaging nearly 45 percent more yards per attempt than Hurts through three games.

Watch below as Tagovailoa – facing 3rd & 9 – throws a 40-yard pass on a rope to wide receiver Jerry Juedy that hits him in stride and allows him to out-run the Ole Miss defense for a 79-yard touchdown.