Nick Saban plans to keep playing both Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts all season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban has been proud of the way Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts have handled the split quarterback duties this season, and Saban said his plan is to continue using both for the remainder of the season.

"It's the same as it's always been, to use them both," Saban told ESPN on Thursday. "It evolves a little bit as you go. Our team has evolved. I can't tell you exactly how it all will play out. It's going to be whoever helps our team play the best, and they've both played a role in doing that."

Tagovailoa has started the first three games for the No. 1 Crimson Tide and ranks first nationally in ESPN's Total QBR metric at 98.3 (out of 100). He has directed 20 drives as Alabama's starting quarterback with 14 resulting in touchdowns and another resulting in a field goal. Tagovailoa is 36-of-50 for 646 yards, eight touchdown passes and no interceptions for an Alabama offense that leads the nation in scoring with an average of 56.7 points per game. The Tide have outscored opponents 170-28 through three games.

Hurts has also played in every game and has entered in the first half of every contest. He's 19-of-28 for 248 yards, four touchdown passes and one interception. Hurts, a junior, was 26-2 as Alabama's starter before being beat out this preseason by Tagovailoa, the hero of last season's national championship game.

"I understand how unique a situation this is," Saban said. "I don't know of any other precedent at any time in college football where a guy started 28 games, won 26 of them and then somebody took his place. That's never happened. So that's hard for Jalen, and it's hard for me. I'm a loyal guy and loyal to the guys who get out there and lay it on the line for you. You want to be fair to all of your players, but you also want to be fair to your team.

"We needed both quarterbacks last year, and we'll need them both again this year."

With the NCAA's new redshirt rules, a player can play up to four games in a season and still keep his redshirt year. Hurts is on track to graduate in December and could transfer and play immediately somewhere else next season as a graduate transfer. There has been some speculation that he could choose to play only in an emergency situation after Saturday's game against No. 22 Texas A&M, which would be the fourth game of the season for Alabama. That way, he would still have two years of eligibility remaining if he did choose to transfer.

Saban acknowledged having discussions with Hurts at the beginning of the season regarding various scenarios, but said Hurts has been nothing but team-oriented.

"Every time I've talked to Jalen since the season started, he's said, 'Coach, I want to play,' and has never said otherwise," Saban said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's never asked not to play in a game. He says he's ready to play and has practiced well and prepared well. Jalen's a competitor, and the kids on this team respect him. They respect both quarterbacks.

"And I think it says a lot about both kids that neither one of them has ever said a bad word about the other."

Saban said any frustration he has felt has stemmed from feeling as if he's being pressured to anoint one of the quarterbacks over the other and admits he hasn't always handled it well publicly. He was testy with ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor following the opener against Louisville when she asked his assessment of the quarterbacks after seeing both of them in a game.

Saban later called Taylor to apologize and joked that his biggest "ass-chewing" came from his wife, Terry, for the way he unloaded on Taylor.

"The reason I was getting frustrated with these questions, and I apologized to [Taylor] and was wrong in the way I reacted, is that I didn't want to put Tua on a pedestal and make it seem like I was putting Jalen on a lower rung," Saban said. "It wasn't about who was going to be the starter. That doesn't bother me. I know what's best for our football team. I watch practice. I understand what's going on.

"I just don't want to disrespect one of them because I respect both kids, and both are a big part of our football team."