The first game at Bryant-Denny Stadium each season is a giant party. Fans arrive in Tuscaloosa ready to kick off a new college football season and watch their beloved Alabama Crimson Tide usually beat up on an inferior opponent. It’s been that way for years, and, looking back, the 2017 home opener was special for so many reasons.
When the Fresno State Bulldogs rolled into town on September 9, nobody expected them to win. The fans knew it. Even first-year head coach Jeff Tedford probably knew it. The Tide, ranked No. 1 in the country, had just pummeled No. 3 Florida State in Atlanta the week before and it looked like nothing could slow them down.
That proved to be true. Alabama cruised to a 41-10 win. Those who stayed in attendance or kept watching on ESPN2, however, got to see the official birth of a superstar in freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Tua Tagovailoa’s First Alabama Touchdown
It didn’t take long to find out who was the better football team that day. On the game’s first possession, starting quarterback Jalen Hurts ran 55 yards for a touchdown. Hurts followed that up with a 23-yard pass to Hale Hentges to give the Tide an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Fresno State’s defense had no answers for Hurts. They also had running backs Najee Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris to worry about. Oh, not to mention, wide receiver Calvin Ridley was out there flying around.
In the fourth quarter, Alabama football head coach Nick Saban gave the Bulldogs another problem to deal with: quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa, a Hawaii native, didn’t play in the opener against the FSU Seminoles. He waited for his time to shine. And when it came, he delivered in a big-time way.
With less than three minutes to play, Tagovailoa found fellow freshman Henry Ruggs III for a 16-yard touchdown. The signal caller finished 6-for-9 for 64 yards and that touchdown to Ruggs.
At the time, it was just another blowout win. Knowing what we know now, after Tagovailoa broke countless records, that touchdown pass was the start of a legendary career at Bama.
Fresno State, out of the Mountain West, mustered 10 points that day. You better believe Saban wasn’t happy with allowing Chason Virgil’s touchdown pass to Derrion Grim midway through the fourth quarter, but Tagovailoa made up for it.
From then on, Alabama football was dominant, especially in the SEC. The Tide beat Colorado State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Mercer before losing the Iron Bowl to the Auburn Tigers.
Alabama didn’t play in the SEC Championship Game that season, but made the College Football Playoff, where it took down Clemson and Georgia for the national championship.
Everyone remembers the famous 2nd-and-26 play, but many often forget it was Tagovailoa’s touchdown pass against Fresno State that really ignited his freshman season and career before the NFL.