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Who remembers when Tua Tagovailoa signed with Alabama, and big dreams that radiated like sun rays from thought bubbles above the heads of Alabama fans?

A Nick Saban program with the usual defense and running game, fueled by four- and five-star glut so full it produces after-market talent, would finally have a golden-arm quarterback. Saban’s Crimson Tide would finally have the guy, hovering godly above the all of game-managerdom.

Start counting the championships.

Well, count three, until Tua inevitably declares early for the NFL draft, which he did Monday.

Three years later, let’s count … one national championship, won when Tua relieved starter Jalen Hurts in the second half of the national final; and no national championships in seasons where Tua opened as the starter.

Nobody’s blaming Tua. He lived up to his billing as the quarterback that would make Alabama’s offense as dominant as its defenses had been. He did when healthy, that is, and he couldn’t help the hip injury that ended his junior season prematurely.

Things happened around Tua, however. Clemson got really good again, after Deshaun Watson, with another superstar quarterback prospect in Trevor Lawrence.

Also, that Alabama defense that was supposed to pair so well with Tua didn’t stay so Saban-like.

It begs an old coach’s question … can any football team have it both ways? Can any defense continue to play at an elite level with a pass-based offense that scores quickly and often, keeping said defense on the field more?

It sure was fun, watching Tua cast and reel in elite receivers to play with him. Explosive offensive football thrills like few other things in sports.

Maybe there’s something to be said for the dreaded game manager, though, and a dominant running game to give an elite defense plenty of bench time. That formula worked awfully well for Saban for a lot of years at Alabama.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.

This article originally ran on annistonstar.com.

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