January 09, 2018
Stop us if you heard this before: Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide are college football’s national champion.
But this one was far from easy.
Tua Tagovailoa’s 41-yard touchdown pass to fellow true freshman Devonta Smith on the Tide’s first possession of overtime gave Alabama a come-from-behind 26-23 victory over Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
What a game. What a finish.— ESPN (@espn) January 9, 2018
Alabama does what Alabama does. pic.twitter.com/OITczvp4n1
“Was that a great game or what?” asked Saban, whose Alabama team lost to Clemson, 35-31, in overtime in last season’s championship game.
The national title – Alabama's fifth in nine seasons – was the sixth for Saban, tying him with the legendary Bear Bryant for the most all time. He won his first at LSU in 2003.
Tagovailoa, who replaced an ineffective Jalen Hurts to start the second half, finished 14 of 24 for 166 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.
Georgia, seeking its first title since 1980, dominated the first three quarters of the game. Behind quarterback Jake Fromm, another true freshman and a former Alabama commit, Georgia led 13-0 at the half and 20-10 entering the fourth quarter.
But it was Saban’s decision to bench Hurts, who had been 25-2 in two seasons as the Alabama starter and hand the ball to Tagovailoa that literally turned the Tide for Alabama.
Hurts was just 3 of 8 for 21 yards in the first half.
“We made so many mistakes in the first half,” Saban said. “We were shooting ourselves in the foot left and right. I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt [Tagovailoa] could do it better.
"And he did”
Alabama, which outscored Georgia 20-7 in the second half, had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Andy Pappanastos hooked a 36-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
Georgia got the ball first in overtime and after their drive went backward, Rodrigo Blankenship booted a clutch 51-yard field goal to put the Bulldogs up, 23-20.
When Tagovailoa was sacked for a 16-yard loss on first down on the Tide’s first possession of overtime, Alabama looked to be in deep trouble, but Tagovailoa found Smith on a perfectly thrown pass on second down for the championship.
Entering the game, Alabama looked to have the advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but it was Georgia that dominated the interior, especially in the first half, when the Bulldogs jumped out to a 13-0 lead on a touchdown run by Mecole Hardman and a pair of Blankenship field goals.
The move to Tagovailoa paid near-immediate dividends as he led the Tide on a seven-play, 56-yard drive on his second possession that culminated with a touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III that cut the Georgia lead to 13-7.
But on the ensuing drive, Fromm found Hardman streaking down the right sideline and Hardman fought off a would-be tackler and stayed inbounds for the 80-yard score and, following the conversion, a 20-7 Georgia lead.
Fromm, who followed former Alabama assistant Kirby Smart to in-state Georgia, finished 16 of 32 for 225 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.
But Alabama chipped away, cutting its deficit to seven after a pair of Pappanastos field goals, the second coming with 9:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Alabama tied the game at 20-all with 3:49 remaining in regulation when Tagovailoa connected with Calvin Ridley for a seven-yard score.