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Looking back on Bama vs. LSU: Joe won the Heisman, but Tua won my respect

The end zone was but a few yards away. His eyes widened as over 100,000 fans held their breaths — after all, this was Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa not passing the football, but instead running toward paydirt.

Wasn’t the Crimson Tide signal-caller supposed to go easy on that ankle — the same ankle that was repaired just 20 days earlier by a team of surgeons from the Andrews Sports Medicine Institute? It certainly would have been understandable if Tua had chosen any option other than to scramble. But this was Tua Tagovailoa, a proud warrior who knew that an early score less than three minutes into such a monumental game would send an early message to the LSU defense. Suddenly, as Tagovailoa looked to finish off his touchdown run, he felt the football squirt out of his hands.

Something wasn’t quite right with Tua Tagovailoa in the first half of the monumental game, and it was in many ways the result of an ankle that was not quite back to 100%. When Tua later threw an interception and LSU held a 20-point halftime lead, Bama fans found their nails chewed and the name Mac Jones was trending on Twitter.

The hostile crowd only served to motivate him: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was out to prove that his team was going to show the world that eight was enough. After eight straight losses to the Crimson Tide, Burrow was set on silencing the home town crowd, and silencing them quickly. And oh, how he did just that, throwing for 252 yards and three touchdowns — in just the first half! Burrow could do no wrong, scorching the talented Alabama defense for 33 points and over 300 yards in only two quarters of play.

This was how the start of a Heisman-hyped football game began, as two quarterbacks, both expected to be invited to December’s Heisman dinner, displayed their talents for the nation — and the president — to see. By halftime, the “Joe Burrow has all but clinched the Heisman” talk had begun. Yet, as the name Joe Burrow was trending, the experts forgot to do one thing before they crossed all other Heisman candidates off their lists: Watch the entire football game.

We’ve all seen it too many times: Just when you think the Crimson Tide are in trouble, they fight back — and I’m here to tell you that there is no bigger fighter on the Alabama football team than Tua Tagovailoa.

A sore ankle and a gimpy leg? Forget about it!

Something magical was going on, and Bama fans sensed it: Tua was back, as that tight spiral and pinpoint passing had returned. With just over five minutes remaining in the game, Tua threw a perfectly-placed football to Jerry Jeudy- the result? A Crimson Tide touchdown, and Bama trailed 39-34. After an LSU score, Tua showed that he still had gas in his tank: An 85-yard TD strike to Devonta Smith closed the LSU lead to 46-41. While LSU hung on to win the game, Tua’s courage and talent reminded voters that Tagovailoa was not to be forgotten in the Heisman conversation.

Joe Burrow had a game to remember, as he completed 31 of his 39 pass attempts for 393 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was a performance that moved him to the front of the ESPN Heisman Watch List, overtaking Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts. And guess who now stands second on the list, just one point behind Joe Burrow? Yep, a young man named Tua Tagovailoa (various ESPN experts vote weekly to give the public an idea of where the Heisman race stands. Burrow stands first with 44 points, Tagovailoa second with 43 points and Hurts third with 36 points).

In the moments that followed LSU’s 46-41 win, I was struck by a persistent thought: Was Tua’s performance on Saturday more impressive than Burrow’s? Call me crazy if you will, but the Bama quarterback threw for 418 yards and four touchdowns on what amounted to be one leg — he could barely walk after the game. Tua Tagovailoa was resilient and brave as he led nearly led his team back from a 20-point deficit.

I’ve been a Heisman voter for many years, and I know that voters like winners. I’m here to tell you that if the Heisman Trophy was awarded tomorrow, Joe Burrow would be the winner. And while there is plenty of time for Joe, Tua and Jalen to pad their stats, my gut feeling is that Burrow will win the trophy. Yet don’t count out the Bama star, as through sheer will and guts, Tua reminded Heisman voters that the voting margin may be closer than they think.

What a showcase it was: Two talented Heisman candidates poured out their hearts for their teammates. And the final verdict? Joe may have won the Heisman, but Tua won my respect. And it’s yet another reason why Heisman week in New York is going to be a whole lot of fun!

Rick Karle is a 24-time Emmy winning broadcaster and a special sports contributor to Yellowhammer News. He is also the host of the Huts and Nuts podcast.