ATLANTA — The Crimson Tide’s plan going into Monday night’s College Football National Championship at was probably fairly simple: Use dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts and their running game to control the clock and wear down Kirby Smart’s Alabama-cloned defense.
But, as former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Thanks to the a second half adjustment, a gutty performance from its freshman quarterback, and a heroic overtime heave, Alabama erased a 13-0 halftime deficit and defeat Georgia 26-23 in extra time.
“I thought Tua [Tagovailoa] would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did. I thought we needed to throw the ball and he could do it better,” said Saban, who tied Paul “Bear” Bryant at six program national titles and improved to 12-0 against his former assistants, about the decision to insert a green quarterback onto the biggest stage in college football. “We hadn’t been able to throw it effectively. It wasn’t only one the quarterback, but the entire team. Too probably wouldn’t have been able to throw that pass if I had gotten to him. i just didn’t get to him fast enough.”
Georgia lands first — and nearly knockout — blows
For Saban, it was an opportunity to claim his fifth title in nine years. For Alabama it was the 17th since 1925 and second in the post-BCS era. It took both every ounce of crimson blood to revive themselves after Jake Fromm bludgeoned Alabama’s defense with a health dose of Riley Ridley, the brother of Calvin Ridley, a Mecole Hardman 1-yard touchdown and a pair of Rodrigo Blankenship field goals.
Georgia took advantage of Hurts’ a near abysmal 3-for-8 for 21 yards and zero touchdowns — including missed touchdown passes to a streaking Calvin Ridley on two separate occasions — and six rushes for 47 yards (7.8 YPC) through the the game’s first 30 minutes.
And though Georgia etched its name on the first half of the national championship, a new quarterback and the Crimson Tide used the second half to write themselves into history. Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide’s true freshman, not only entered the game in the worst possible scenario against one of the defenses in college football run by his team’s former defensive coordinator, he outdueled Jake Fromm and his 16 for 32, 232-yard, and one touchdown performance.
Alabama finds life with risky move
The second-half play of the defense, which forced two interceptions from Georgia’s freshman signal-caller were equally important. The first came via former Beaumont Ozen High School (TX) athlete Tony Brown five plays into the first half and the other via a Raekwon Davis drive-stopping grab in the third quarter.
Tagovailoa threw for 125 yards and three touchdowns in a single half. He rescued Alabama from the clutches of a shutout with a 9-yard scramble, completions of 39 and 2 yards Robert Foster and Henry Ruggs III, and a 6-yard laser to Ruggs in the end zone. He rebounded from an 80-yard Fromm to Mecole Hardman touchdown connection with 6:52 in the third quarter and a near interception that nearly swayed momentum permanently in Georgia’s favor with a fourth down with a touchdown strike to Ridley.
He carried Alabama to a victory in overtime after Andy Pappanastos’s second missed field goal of the game — a 36-yard title-sealing kick — and a 16-yard sack in overtime with a game winning touchdown.
“We prepared in practice. The 2s practiced the [first team] offense and it was the same offense as the 1s,” Tagovailoa said with a smile during post-game interviews. “The had a split safety on Devonta’s side. I saw a single-high safety and took my shot. I think the most special thing, though, was that my family was there to see it — especially my dad, who is my heart.”
The heave, a 41-yard go-route to DeVonta Smith, was the backbreaking, heart-stopping, and popcorn-tossing play Alabama needed to extend its legend.
What a game. What a finish.
Alabama does what Alabama does. pic.twitter.com/OITczvp4n1
— ESPN (@espn) January 9, 2018
Alabama staged one of the biggest comebacks in its program and college football history with a quarterback that was preparing for a high school prom a year earlier. It also sealed a dynasty with a risky gambit in replacing a quarterback with a two-year 25-2 overall record that had led it to a national title game in 2016 in the face of a near-two touchdown deficit by a conference rival.
Adjustments and a time-tested characteristic of Alabama teams were the difference between victory and defeat, according to Saban.
“We didn’t play very well in the first half, but the team showed tremendous residency in the second,” he said. “Even after missing the field goal in overtime.”
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