The Alabama Crimson Tide came back from a 13-0 halftime deficit to defeat the Georgia Bulldogs in overtime 26-23, winning a 5th college football national championship in nine years under Coach Nick Saban.
If anything is known about a Saban-coached team, regardless of how the first half goes, corrections will take place, adjustments made and the fight rejoined in the second half with much vigor.
Nothing came easy for either school Monday night inside Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as both displayed stout defenses, making running yards difficult.
Many prognosticators voiced that the difference in the game might be the quarterback position, and Alabama would have the advantage with Jalen Hurts, who had delivered his team to two straight national championship games.
In fact it did come down to the Alabama quarterback, but it wasn’t Hurts that tilted the momentum. It required an inspiring performance first by Georgia freshman Jake Fromm to force Saban into changing his field general.
Georgia’s defense was too fast off the ball, eliminating the option run Hurts utilizes to free up his passing game. Meanwhile Fromm and Georgia gained composure over the immensity of the atmosphere, completing numerous passes to sustain drives, scoring 13 unanswered points going into the half.
It’s a hell of thing to pull a quarterback that’s gone 25-2, but it was clear to Saban that without a change he couldn’t beat this Georgia team that was ably coached by his longtime former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
As the second half began, off the bench came #13, Tua Tagovailoa for the Crimson Tide. It took no time to realize Hurts would not be re-entering this game. Tagovailoa’s poise and confidence was obvious as he threw for three touchdowns, including a 42-yard pass to wide receiver DeVonta Smith in overtime to win the game.
Saban talked about how he wanted to see ‘angry energy’ from his squad. At the 6:52 mark of the 3rd quarter Georgia led 20-7. That angry energy became evident as the Crimson Tide outscored the Bulldogs 19-3 going forward.
Alabama should have won the game on the last play of regulation but Andy Pappanastos badly shanked a 36-yard attempt as time expired.
The overtime period offered Georgia renewed energy. When the Bulldog’s Rodrigo Blankenship booted a 51-yard field goal to put them up 23-20 the outcome felt questionable, but Tagovailoa took a second-and-26 snap, calmly looked off the cover-two defense, and zipped a 42-yard pass into the end zone for an improbable Alabama victory.
It’s ironic to think Alabama almost wasn’t included as part of this playoff. Some may question why the final was an all-SEC affair, but both the ACC and Big 12 had shots to prevent that and failed. Ultimately Alabama and Georgia played their way into this final, and each look to have bright futures with their young teams.
If nothing else Alabama football is one predicated upon preparation and dedication. I doubt Saban let a single day pass without considering his team’s loss last year to Clemson on the championship’s last play. The man doesn’t forget a loss like that, but Saban will prepare to not let it happen again, which made his decision to replace Hurts easier. It was a gutsy call and could have backfired in such an intense situation, but Tagovailoa rose to the opportunity and likely will be Alabama’s starter going forward.
As Hurt’s said, Tua balled out, and he certainly does have that “IT” factor.
This was Alabama’s 11th overall national championship, and sixth for Nick Saban. He has won five at Alabama, with his other title coming in 2003 at LSU. With this victory he tied Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most titles won. I got money Saban owns that record all to himself soon.