HOOVER, Ala. — Six months after a blowout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is appreciating the lessons offered by the Crimson Tide’s rare defeat.
“I think it’s good to both get the opportunity to win and have the opportunity to lose as well,” he said Wednesday at SEC media days. “I know this sounds bad, but I’m glad I had that opportunity to feel a loss like that. What can you learn from winning? You can’t learn as much. But when you lose, you start appreciating things a lot more, definitely in a different perspective, as well. So I’m kind of glad that we did [lose]. Many lessons have been learned from that loss.”
Clemson’s 44-16 title game win has been Tagovailoa’s only loss as Alabama’s starting quarterback, but the defeat was coach Nick Saban’s second to the Tigers in the national championship in the past three seasons. Noting Wednesday that his team’s discipline and preparation were lacking late last season, Saban sought to raise the bar as he enters his 13th season coaching the Crimson Tide.
“I think the most important thing for us this offseason and going into this season is sort of reestablish the standard that we’d like to play to,” he said. “[A] standard of discipline [but] also [having] players that are going to be responsible and accountable to do their job at a high level on a consistent basis and also put the team first.”
Saban acknowledged “a lot of distractions” for his team late in the season but did not elaborate. He also said it was “hard to judge” whether players were “worried about personal outcomes more than team outcomes.”
Tagovailoa described his team as “goal-oriented” last season, acknowledging players “eased off” when ahead on the scoreboard. Alabama won its 12 regular-season games by an average of 35 points last season, often resulting in Tagovailoa and other starters being pulled early from contests.
“It was a lot different [in the national championship game],” he said. “We weren’t put in a position like that where we had to try to come back and win the game. It was the way we prepared for the second half of the year and it ended up getting us when we played Clemson.”
Battling an ankle injury, Tagovailoa was intercepted twice before being pulled from Alabama’s comeback win over Georgia last December to capture the SEC championship, and he was picked off another two times in January’s loss to Clemson. Tagovailoa threw only two interceptions in all of his other games last season.
Saban wants Tagovailoa to improve his decision-making after the uptick in turnovers. Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, wants to learn from his mistakes while remaining aggressive as a passer.
“If the shot is there, I’m gonna take it. Don’t expect me to throw a checkdown. I’m gonna take it,” he said. “But it’s whatever the defense gives me that I need to take. That was the biggest thing in the second half of the year, especially against Clemson. Looking at the scoreboard, I felt like we needed to score. I just didn’t take what they gave me.”
As Saban attempts to reestablish the standard that developed from Alabama’s five national titles under his watch, players have sent the message to one another to finish better this season.
“Our mantra now for our guys that we have as a leadership group is to never be satisfied,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday. “Early in the season, we had been beating teams by a lot and of course you’re going to get satisfied because we feel invincible as a team. But never being satisfied is the way to go for us. We’ve got to keep going until we get what we want.”
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