Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa may be the underdog, but he’s excited to face Cardinals’ Kyler Murray again

DAVIE, Fla. >> It’s been two years since Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray got the best of each other during their college careers.

The next chapter of what could be a budding rivalry will come Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Tagovailoa, the Miami Dolphins quarterback, will make his second NFL start against Murray, the electric Arizona Cardinals star quarterback, in a game still expected to be played after Miami quarantined a defensive assistant who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

Tagovailoa appears to be the clear underdog in this matchup, based off experience alone. He’ll start his first career road game — backed by an improved Dolphins defense that has struggled against mobile quarterbacks.

Murray will be making his 24th NFL start and will be leading the league’s top-ranked offense, which is averaging the most total yards per game (419.1) in the NFL.

“I’m very excited to go up against him,” said Tagovailoa, who competed with Murray for college football’s top quarterback honor in 2018.

Murray dealt the first blow, clinching the Heisman Trophy after throwing for 379 yards and three touchdowns against Texas in the Big 12 title game. On the same day, Tagovailoa lost his Heisman lead by suffering a left ankle injury and being replaced by Jalen Hurts in the SEC title game.

South Florida hosted their first matchup, providing the Dolphins a close look at both quarterbacks at the 2018 Orange Bowl. Tagovailoa completed his first nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, leading Alabama to a 28-0 lead en route to a 45-34 victory over Murray and Oklahoma at Hard Rock Stadium.

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Before their first matchup, both players and their families spent Heisman week together in New York, where they got to mingle and size each other up.

“I would say, first impressions when I met him, he’s pretty jacked up. For as short as he is, this guy’s rocked up,” Tagovailoa said of Murray. “He’s very competitive, very personable too. I got to meet his parents as well at the Heisman ceremony. Very good family.”

The admiration was mutual.

“The times that I’ve been around him, I can’t say anything bad about Tua — great dude, down to earth, great player,” Murray said. “I don’t know him too well, but the times that we were around each other was nothing but good times.”

Murray went on to become the No. 1 pick by the Cardinals in the 2019 NFL draft, well out of the Dolphins’ reach when their rebuild began under coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier.

Tagovailoa saw his chances of being the top pick dissolve after sustaining a severe hip injury in Nov. 2019. He was selected by the Dolphins with the No. 5 pick in April’s draft and will make his second NFL start Sunday after sitting behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first six games.

The journeys for Tagovailoa and Murray — who both don the rare No. 1 jersey — will once again convene with slightly higher stakes on the line.

Sure, a win would be nice to help both teams in their playoff pursuits this season.

The Dolphins are riding a three-game win streak and are second in the AFC East, while the Cardinals are coming off a bye week after an impressive win over Russell Wilson the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7.

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But bragging rights are also on the line.

Tagovailoa is trying to find his footing as an NFL rookie, while others like Bengals No. 1 pick Joe Burrow and Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, taken one pick after Tagovailoa, are off to promising starts.

Murray, too, is looking to elevate his status among the NFL’s best quarterbacks, especially with his ability of being a prolific runner like Ravens star Lamar Jackson.

But they all are chasing Patrick Mahomes as the brightest young quarterback in the league, while other veterans like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are still hanging onto their claims as some of the NFL’s best.

It was 20 years ago when the Dolphins were able to claim one of the best in Dan Marino, and hope Tagovailoa’s performance Sunday shows some promise towards finding out if he’s the franchise’s next star.

Murray knows the pressures Tagovailoa is facing all too well as a rookie quarterback with the keys to the franchise.

“It can go either way. They can underestimate you. They can respect you. But at the end of the day when you’re a rookie quarterback, you’ve just got to prove yourself,” Murray said.

“I had to prove myself each and every week that I belong. I’m still doing that till this day. That was my whole focus. You’ve just got to try to gain that confidence, and once that confidence gets rolling, you feel more and more comfortable.”

Tagovailoa is striving to achieve some of the skills Murray has gained during his first 23 starts: Timing, the speed of the game, chemistry with teammates and being comfortable in every situation.

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“Going against guys like that, who are very competitive, you know you’re going to get their best,” Tagovailoa said of Murray.

“I think that’s going to be a fun one.”