What a game, huh?
The Georgia Bulldogs absolutely dominated the first half last night. For all the world, it appeared that Nick Saban was going to lose to an assistant coach for the first time in his career, and that Alabama fans would hear all offseason about a changing of the guard in the SEC. The Tide could get absolutely nothing going on offense, managing less than 100 yards at the break and converting only 1/6 on third down. On defense there were a few costly mistakes, with the most glaring probably a 3rd-and-20 conversion on a run play when several Tide defenders pulled up thinking that Georgia running back Sony Michel was out of bounds. The Tide went into the locker room down 13-0, and the only thing anyone could talk about was whether Saban might change QBs.
Boy, did he ever.
Tua Tagovailoa wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but he was able to show off his unreal arm talent on several occasions. He tried three deep balls, just missing the first two, and it just felt like he would hit one before the game ended. Turns out that he needed overtime and a big sack on first down to do it. That game-winning throw to Devonta Smith, a fellow true freshman who also stepped up and made a play in the biggest moment imaginable on a gridiron, was the stuff of legends and has to go down as one of the most clutch plays in college football history. It is going into the college football annals and will be replayed countless times for years to come.
Mostly, though, he provided a spark that the team needed, and both sides of the ball seemed to respond. Remember this?
2018 so far...— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) January 1, 2018
1) Driving through Mississippi
2) Wondering why Nick Saban brought up Jimmy Garoppolo in 3 media opportunities this week...
Specifically, Saban talked about the way that Garoppolo went to San Francisco and lifted the whole team, provided new leadership and energy that elevated everyone’s level of play. That’s what Tua did last night, and there seems to be no chance that he surrenders the QB job any time soon. The dynamic between Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts this season is one of the most unique aspects of a special team. All season, as fans debated who should be on the field, those two young men seemed to legitimately care for, and root for, one another. I don’t know where Jalen goes from here, but he is a special kid no matter what one thinks about his football skills.
Tua may have grabbed the headlines last night, but there was so much more that made this win so improbable. Think about this one: Alabama won the second half and overtime 26-10, over an elite team, with its backup quarterback, left tackle, right guard, middle linebacker, and jack linebacker. Two of the three touchdown catches were to true freshman receivers thrown by the true freshman backup quarterback, and the true freshman fourth string running back carried the load down the stretch. I would venture a guess that no team has won a national title while facing the type of injury attrition that Alabama dealt with this season. Turns out that stacking top classes on top of one another makes a difference.
Terrell Hall was a monster in the pass rush. The Tide probably don’t win this title if Hall had been unable to return. The offense will get all the attention, but the defense held an excellent offense to ten points in the second half and overtime. The Tide surrendered only 3.0 yards per carry on the night, including 1.4 to Nick Chubb. They also managed to sack Jake Fromm four times and pick him off twice, including one from big Raekwon Davis, the second in the playoff for a defensive lineman.
We won’t talk about the kicking game other than to say that Andy Pappanastos has been a godsend for this team all season. We also won’t talk about how some players looked to be losing their composure at times in the second half. In particular, Mekhi Brown probably deserved to be tossed out of the game for punching a player, and subsequently attempting to bow up on RB coach Burton Burns, and Mack Wilson should have received a personal foul flag for shoving Jake Fromm’s head after a tackle. It was a high stress situation , but there is no excuse for such antics.
Several players played their final games in Crimson. J.K. Scott kicked the air out of the ball all night. He is a generational talent that will be missed greatly. Da’Ron Payne somehow never got the media attention that his play for three years deserved, but after two MVP performances in the playoff, that will no longer be an issue. Minkah Fitzpatrick was kind of quiet last night, but that is a good thing for a cornerback. Bradley Bozeman completed the journey from grayshirt to All-American starter on a national title team, and also picked up a fiance after the game. Calvin Ridley didn’t put up a ton of stats, but he seemingly appeared out of nowhere to snag a touchdown pass that looked destined for the turf.
Levi Wallace and Anthony Averett were fantastic. Crazy Tony got himself a pick. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough took a back seat to Najee Harris, who ran like a future Heisman candidate, but both have been integral over the past couple of seasons. Rashaan Evans was all over the field. Da’Shawn Hand played well.
You have to feel for the Georgia fans, who could taste their first title since 1980. Watching Alabama trot out the next crop of future superstars to take away the trophy from Chubb, Michel, and Roquan Smith has to be gut wrenching. Considering all of the coaching turnover in the SEC, odds have to favor these two teams meeting in Atlanta again next season. This is not the last chapter in the Tua vs. Fromm saga. The future is bright for both schools.
This one was special, folks. Savor it.