TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Tua Tagovailoa is once again routinely putting up big numbers, making few mistakes and mostly sitting out the fourth quarters.
The quarterback for second-ranked Alabama has remained efficient as ever and produced big plays and zero interceptions in his second season as the starter going into Saturday's game with Mississippi. As impressive as Tagovailoa has been, coach Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide teammates say Tagovailoa has found ways to improve while in some ways being overshadowed by quarterbacks like Oklahoma star Jalen Hurts and LSU's ascendant Joe Burrow .
Tagovailoa's passing numbers are better across the board than at this point last year, when he shared some time with Hurts.
"I think this year he's a lot more confident," Saban said. "I think he does a better job and has a better understanding of what the defense is trying to do. I think that just elevates his ability to make good choices and decisions, not that he ever made bad ones before. I don't mean it that way.
"He's got good skill players and he's accurate at getting them the ball, and he gets the ball out of his hand quick and we haven't taken a lot of bad plays."
The Crimson Tide hasn't needed Tagovalloa to force anything or supply any fourth-quarter heroics, routing four straight unranked opponents. Alabama hasn't played a marquee game so far.
But Tagovailoa's stats are no less impressive.
He ranks in the top five nationally in passing touchdowns and efficiency and completion percentage. He has thrown for 17 touchdowns without an interception and is completing 77.7 percent of his passes.
All that while attempting only four passes in the fourth quarter, all completions. In that regard, it's much like most of last season for the lefty from Hawaii.
Last season's Heisman Trophy runner-up, Tagovailoa has thrown five touchdown passes in each of the last two games against South Carolina and Southern Miss. He matched the school record set by Gary Hollingsworth in 1989 against Ole Miss and then did it again a week later.
He threw for three touchdown passes in the first 20 minutes against New Mexico State and ran for a 25-yard score before halftime as well. Against South Carolina , he passed for a career-high 444 yards and five TDs.
It's hard to imagine that he needed to become "a lot more confident" after a season in which he shattered Alabama passing marks and finished behind only Oklahoma's Kyler Murray in the Heisman race. It did end on a sour note when Tagovailoa was outplayed by Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence in the national championship game . But he's picked back up where he started off, not how he finished.
"I think (confidence) is knowing what to do, understanding what to do and playing at a fast pace, high-level kind of thing," Tagovailoa said. "I mean, it's just going out there and being relaxed, doing what I do. That's what confidence is."
Confidence also comes in knowing he has a cadre of receivers including Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III who are deep threats and can also turn short passes into big gains. Tagovailoa already has 23 completions of 25-plus yards.
Tagovailoa also said he has a better grasp of the different variations of how defenses run their coverages.
"Just focusing and taking what the defense gives him," Ruggs said. "He understands a lot about defenses now and, not saying he didn't (before), but he just understands what the defense is going to give him and what they're trying to do. So he's confident and taking what the defense gives him and letting us make our plays."
One thing his Alabama teammates don't have to worry about these days: Losing to Tagovailoa in Fortnite. He said he hasn't played since early May but before that he was competitive enough to want to join tournaments if he had the time. A strict summer regimen while living at home with his parents and dropping some weight helped break that habit.
"Oh, I'm not good anymore. There's no way," Tagovailoa said. "Ever since I went back home, you can't eat as much at night, you just got to go to sleep. I didn't even want to play video games."
Luckily, he's doing pretty well at this football thing.