COLUMBIA, S.C. — Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa focused on what his team needs to work on going forward instead of an individual performance that ranked statistically among the best in Crimson Tide history.
Sounds familiar, huh?
Tagovailoa threw for a career-best 444 yards — the third-most in history for No. 2 Alabama — and tied his personal best with five touchdown passes in a 47-23 victory over South Carolina on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
There was no gushing or celebrations for Tagovailoa, who seemed to channel Alabama coach Nick Saban in a single-minded focus on what the Tide (3-0) must do to improve.
"When we start drives, we've got to finish them," he said. "We were able to move the ball really well, but we got stuck."
It seemed like Tagovailoa, a Heisman Trophy contender as a sophomore last fall, unstuck the Tide much of the game against South Carolina (1-2).
He had touchdown throws of 24 yards to Najee Harris and 81 yards to Henry Ruggs III in the opening quarter. When the Gamecocks closed to 17-10, Tagovailoa again hit Harris, who finished a nifty 42-yard catch-and-run by breaking through one tackler, leaping over a second and dragging a third over the goal line with him.
"I always tell him not to do that. I think it could be dangerous," Saban said about the jump. "But he's got a good feel for it."
Tagovailoa finished 28-of-36 as he surpassed his previous collegiate best of 387 yards set against Texas A&M last year. He matched his career high of five touchdowns — set against Auburn in 2018 — on an 11-yard toss to DeVonta Smith in the final quarter, having thrown a 42-yarder to Smith for the fourth scoring pass.
"As a quarterback, you have to expect to throw the ball a lot whether you want to or not," Tagovailoa said.
The Tide finished with just 76 yards rushing against 495 passing. Smith had 136 yards on eight catches and Ruggs had 122 on six.
Saban, who improved to 12-1 in SEC openers as Alabama's coach, said his team will have to run the ball more effectively to reach its goals.
"It's great that we're a great passing team," he said. "I also think from a team standpoint, we need to be able to run the ball well."
The Gamecocks tried anything they could to pull off a miracle, but little worked — especially with Tagovailoa in complete control.
Parker White's run to the end zone after a fake field goal was called back because of holding. Alabama snuffed out a fake punt to stop the Gamecocks well short of a first down. And when South Carolina drove to Alabama's 1 on the final play of the half, freshman Ryan Hilinski's pass to the back of the end zone was off target.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said his team's errors near the goal line — Hilinski passed high on fourth-and-goal once and threw an interception into the end zone — cost the Gamecocks the chance to keep things closer.
"I thought we made some nice drives today," he said, "but we didn't get what we wanted and that's to win the game."
The home team did show some pluck in the face of the perennial national title contenders. Hilinski threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns in the freshman's second college game with starter Jake Bentley lost for the season due to injury.