SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Tua Tagovailoa dropped back on Alabama’s third play of the game, threw in between two receivers and had the ball intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
It proved to be that kind of night for the Crimson Tide’s uber-talented quarterback, who didn’t fare nearly as well as a starter in the College Football Playoff championship game as he did a year ago in relief.
Tagovailoa threw two interceptions, was stopped on a pair of fourth-down runs and struggled mightily in the final three quarters of a 44-16 loss to No. 2 Clemson on Monday night, the most lopsided loss of coach Nick Saban’s career at Alabama.
Tagovailoa announced his arrival as a star on this stage a year ago when he came off the bench to throw three TD passes, including the game-winner in overtime to beat Georgia 26-23 for the championship in Atlanta. He followed that up with a Heisman Trophy runner-up campaign, throwing 41 TD passes and only four interceptions for the top-ranked Crimson Tide (14-1) to lead them back to the championship.
After struggling on an injured ankle before getting pulled in the SEC championship game, Tagovailoa delivered a brilliant performance in the Orange Bowl semifinal game against Oklahoma, throwing for 318 yards and four TDs with only three incompletions.
He looked to be on the way to another big game even after the early interception when he threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy on Alabama’s second drive, followed by a 1-yarder to Hale Hentges on the next possession.
But after Alabama drove inside the Clemson 10 late in the first quarter, everything changed for the Tide. A false start by Jedrick Willis Jr. at the 1-yard line helped stall a drive that led to a field goal that gave Alabama a 16-14 lead in the opening minute of the second quarter.
The Tide didn’t score again with Tagovailoa in the game.
He threw his second interception on the next drive when he launched a deep pass into coverage and took a third-down sack the following drive when he didn’t see a cornerback blitz coming. Things then fell apart in the second half with Alabama getting stopped on a fake field goal on the opening drive when holder Mac Jones was stopped for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-6.
Tagovailoa then was stopped short on two fourth-down runs before spending the rest of a rough night on the sideline.
He finished 22 for 34 for 295 yards.
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