Wiedmer: Heisman voting shows Bama's Tua picked bad week to play a bad game

Wiedmer: Heisman voting shows Bama's Tua picked bad week to play a bad game

December 9th, 2018 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Every game matters.

Isn't that what the marketers of college football in general, and the College Football Playoff in particular, continually espouse?

Isn't that also why Oklahoma's Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night instead of Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, who was believed to be the overwhelming favorite for much of the season?

Because in the end, in the game that mattered most for each — the Big 12 title game against Texas for Murray, the Southeastern Conference title game for Tagovailoa — Murray was the better performer. Much better — as in probably the biggest reason why the Sooners reversed an earlier loss to the Longhorns with a solid 39-27 win as opposed to Bama fighting back from a big hole against Georgia only after Tagovailoa went to the bench early in the fourth quarter with an injury.

It was at that moment in the early evening of Dec. 1 — less than 48 hours before all Heisman voting would cease — that a sea change came over the electorate. Murray had performed best when it mattered most while Tagovailoa had struggled, albeit, at least somewhat, because of injury.

Driving home that night from Atlanta with our college football guru David Paschall, we both surmised that Tagovailoa's best shot at victory hinged on how many voters had cast their ballots before those Saturday games. If a majority had voted before those contests, Tua was probably taking that 25-pound bronze statue home to the Saint Louis School in Hawaii, where he would become the second alumnus this decade — the other being current Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota in 2014 — to win college football's biggest prize.

But if a sizable number of the 870 media voters were waiting until after those conference title games, Murray would become the seventh Sooner to win college football's grandest prize, which would move Oklahoma into a three-way tie with Notre Dame and Ohio State for producing the most Heisman winners.

In the end, Murray finished with 2,167 points to Tagovailoa's 1,871 — the most points ever for a Heisman runner-up — with Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins a distant third at 783.

But Murray's performance against Texas eight nine days ago — 25-of-34 passing for 379 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and 39 rushing yards — dwarfed Tagovailoa's 10-of-25 for 164 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and minus-21 yards rushing.

Not that Murray wasn't looking good all season. Not only was he throwing for 54 more yards a game than Tagovailoa, he was running for 60 an outing, which means he'll enter the Sooners' Orange Bowl playoff semifinal against Alabama as the first FBS player ever to arrive at a bowl with a 300/60 average.

His QB rating of 96 is also the highest since ESPN began recording such data in 2004.

One caveat to these figures: Murray faced just three top 50 defenses all season in the defense-challenged Big 12. Tagovailoa faced six in the SEC. Beyond that, Murray's passing TDs — 40 to 37 for Tagovailoa — were somewhat helped by the fact that he was playing in fourth quarters when the Sooners needed points while Tagovailoa dropped back just eight times total in the final period all season to 52 times for Murray.

Yet stats aside, the fact that Bama might well have gone undefeated without Tagovailoa — former starter Jalen Hurts certainly made a case for that argument in the fourth quarter against Georgia — may have hurt him most, since no one could reasonably argue that the Sooners would be in the CFP playoff without Murray.

And all of this ignores the similarly stunning work of the Buckeyes' Haskins, who threw for 4,580 yards, 47 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.

As ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit noted early in Saturday's telecast: "If these three guys had had these same seasons in any other year, any of them probably would have won the trophy."

And they no doubt would have, given the amazing character, talent, leadership, stats and competitiveness all three seem to possess. To add to that embarrassment of riches for Murray, he'll go to spring training with the Oakland A's in February with a $4.66 million signing bonus that will apparently end any pro football career before it begins.

But this wasn't any other year. This was an extraordinary year that will now include an extraordinary playoff semifinal between the Heisman winner and runner-up. Just not the winner and runner-up any of us would have predicted two weeks ago. Moreover, OU coach Lincoln Riley has helped make the Sooners the first program in history to have back-to-back quarterbacks win the Heisman in consecutive years, Murray following 2017 winner Baker Mayfield. Think that won't help lure future QBs to Norman, Oklahoma?

As Murray — whose father Kevin was a pretty fair quarterback himself at Texas A&M back in the day — was thanking all who made this moment possible, he said to his offensive linemen, "You keep me upright and keep me safe."

And because of that, Murray was able to keep the Sooners' playoff hopes upright and safe, which is assuredly why Tagovailoa finished second, since Bama proved nine days ago that it could win without him. Now the question becomes whether the top-ranked Tide can win a playoff game against the quarterback who denied its QB the most famous bronze statue in sports.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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