The spark that ended up being a blazing fire was the decision to bring in a true freshman backup quarterback for the second half. Welcome to yet another edition of the evolution of Nick Saban.
Trailing 13-0 at halftime in the national championship game will make you do things different, like bench Jalen Hurts – who is 25-2 as a starter – and insert Tua Tagovailoa. That Saban would do that to Hurts was, well, inconceivable.
But just like hiring Lane Kiffin, it was a necessary move, not only for Alabama but for Saban to show everyone he is capable of change.
Saban knew he couldn’t come out and keep doing the same thing in the second half against Georgia. Throwing Tagovailoa in was risky, sure, but it was a risk worth taking after Alabama was shut out and shut down in the first half of what was basically a home game for the Bulldogs in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
“I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better and he did,” Saban said of his decision.
All Alabama was looking for was a spark, something to get its offense going. What happened was that the move opened up the offense in a way that actually made coordinator Brian Daboll seem comfortable calling plays that required his quarterback to throw downfield.
At halftime, the Tide had zero points, 94 total yards, four first downs, three completions and three three-and-out possessions. It took Tagovailoa one series to get comfortable; on that first series – the first important snaps he had taken in his college career – Tagovailoa ran for 4 yards, threw a 2-yard completion and was sacked. It was an inauspicious start, to be sure.
But on the next series, Tagovailoa drove the Tide 56 yards in seven plays for a TD that cut the lead to 13-7. Then, after Georgia quickly responded to take a 20-7 lead, Tagovailoa threw an interception. But one play later, Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm returned the favor and Tagovailoa truly seemed to settle in. He never wavered, never seemed rattled, calmly went through his progressions. As Hurts said, “He was made for moments like this.”
The biggest moment came in OT. On the Tide’s first play of the extra period, Tagovailoa showed his inexperience and took a 16-yard sack. It didn’t bother him. How do we know that? He threw the game-winning 41-yard TD pass on the next play. One play after being sacked, Tagovailoa calmly looked the safety off long enough to make the title-winning throw.
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