Following a sluggish first half, Alabama Coach Nick Saban gambled on a true freshman quarterback, and it paid off with a national title. Tua Tagovailoa hit another freshman, Devonta Smith, for a 41-yard touchdown in the first overtime to give the Crimson Tide a 26-23 triumph over Georgia in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Tagovailoa, inserted for a struggling Jalen Hurts to start the third quarter, was entrusted with a crucial fourth-down play late in regulation and he made that work, as well, by hitting Calvin Ridley for a game-tying touchdown. In between his late-game heroics, Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard attempt that would have won the game with no time left in regulation, and Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship temporarily saved his team’s season with a 51-yard make on the first possession of overtime.
Alabama has now won five national titles in nine seasons, and Saban has his sixth overall, adding the one he gained with LSU in 2004. That ties him with legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most championships on college football history.
Alabama ties game late on fourth-down pass play
Buckle up, folks, we have ourselves a heck of a ballgame. Late in the fourth quarter, Alabama Coach Nick Saban rolled the dice on fourth down, calling for a pass play instead of a short field goal attempt.
The gamble worked, as Tua Tagovailoa hit Calvin Ridley in the end zone on a seven-yard pass that, combined with the ensuing extra point, tied the game at 20-20. Ridley, expected to be a first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, had been quiet all game, but he came up huge, as did the freshman quarterback, when it mattered most for the Tide.
Alabama survives near-interception to trim Georgia lead to 20-13
Georgia was soooooo close to a massive interception, but Dominick Sanders was ruled to have lost possession of a ball that was in and out of his grasp as he went out of the back of the end zone. That allowed Alabama to kick a 30-yard field goal and trim its deficit to 20-13 in the fourth quarter.
On the Alabama drive that led to the field goal, fourth-string running back Najee Harris was the star, carrying the ball three times for 53 yards.
Alabama player swings at Bulldog then needs restraining on his own sideline
It’s fair to say that Alabama linebacker Mekhi Brown lost his cool. He picked up a penalty for taking a swing at Georgia’s Walter Grant, then had to be restrained on the Crimson Tide’s own sideline, where he appeared to be going after a teammate.
Alabama turns interception into field goal, down 20-10
If the first half of the College Football Playoff championship game was fairly quiet, the third quarter has been filled with big plays and sharp swings of momentum. No sooner had Georgia picked off Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa than the Crimson Tide returned the favor, intercepting the Bulldogs’ Jake Fromm on a pass that bounced off one defender into the opportunistic arms of another.
After Alabama’s Raekwon Davis got the interception, he returned it into Georgia territory. From there, the Tide drove into field goal range, and Andy Pappanastos banged it through the uprights from 43 yards out, trimming the Bulldogs’ lead to 20-10.
Georgia matches Alabama TD with 80-yard bomb
Just when Alabama thought it had snatched momentum, Georgia grabbed it right back with an 80-yard bomb. Jake Fromm hit Mecole Hardman, who scored the team’s first touchdown on a rushing play, with a long pass down the right sideline.
Hardman shook off a tackle attempt and took it the rest of the way, causing pandemonium at the stadium. The play was reviewed to see if Hardman’s foot touched the boundary line as he ran toward the end zone, but the play was upheld, and a penalty on Georgia for sideline interference was enforced on the ensuing kickoff, not affecting the touchdown.
When Alabama got the ball back, Tua Tagovailoa forced a ball into coverage while under pressure on a 2nd-and-10 play. The pass was intercepted by Georgia’s Deandre Baker, giving his team possession deep in Crimson Tide territory.
Backup QB leads Alabama to desperately needed TD
It was “Tua Time!” in a big way in Atlanta. Backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, brought in at the start of the second half to replace Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, produced a desperately needed touchdown on his second drive. That got the Crimson Tide back in the game, albeit still behind at 13-7.
Tagovailoa completed four straight passes to end that drive, the last of which found Henry Ruggs III for a six-yard score. Earlier in the drive, Tagovailoa also showed toughness by bouncing off a big hit and picking up a critical third down with his legs.
Alabama benches starting QB Jalen Hurts to begin second half
Make that two true-freshman quarterbacks playing in the game. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa started the second half in place of the struggling Jalen Hurts, joining Georgia’s Jake Fromm on the field.
It remained to be seen how long Alabama Coach Nick Saban stuck with Tagovailoa, a Hawaii native who came into the game with 53 pass attempts this season, mostly in mop-up duty late in games the Crimson Tide was leading. However, Hurts had done little to move the offense, and with Alabama down 13-0 after the first two quarters, Saban felt the need to make a move.
The early results were not much better for Alabama, however, as the Tide went three-and-out in its first drive with Tagovailoa.
Jake Fromm, Georgia take 13-0 lead at halftime
Jake Fromm is a true freshman. That’s worth pointing out, because the Georgia quarterback has looked anything but overmatched in a championship battle with Alabama’s vaunted defense. The Bulldogs finished the first half with a 13-0 lead.
Fromm, who originally committed to Alabama before deciding to switch to his home-state Bulldogs, overcame an early interception, in which his receiver had the ball pulled away by a Crimson Tide defender, to throw for 126 yards. He seemed to gain confidence as the half went along, and he led several lengthy drives, the last of which ended in a one-yard rushing touchdown by Georgia’s Mecole Hardman with seven seconds left in the second quarter.
Alabama’s quarterback, Jalen Hurts, was far less effective in the first half. The second-year starter threw for just 21 yards, completing three of eight passes, although he did some damage on the ground, rushing for a team-high 47 yards on six carries.
Summing up Alabama’s first-half futility was the fact that its star receiver, Calvin Ridley, was held to just one catch for nine yards. Meanwhile, his younger, less accomplished brother, Georgia’s Riley Ridley, led all players with four catches for 62 yards.
Great sideline catch helps Georgia take 6-0 lead
Georgia extended its first-half lead over Alabama to 6-0 with another long drive that ended in a field goal. One of the highlights of the second march downfield was a catch on the sideline by the Bulldogs’ Javon Wims that was reviewed before being allowed to stand.
After a no-score first quarter, Georgia strikes first with a field goal
Many predicted the College Football Playoff national championship game would be a low-scoring affair, and the first quarter certainly played out that way. In fact, there was no score at all, with the big play being a missed field goal by Alabama’s Andy Pappanastos.
That field goal attempt was set up, in part, by an interception by Alabama’s Tony Brown, who pulled the ball away from Georgia’s Javon Wims on a deep pass. The Bulldogs’ Sony Michel was the offensive star in the early going, with 38 yards on four carries.
Forty-six seconds into the second quarter, Bulldogs kicker Rodrigo Blankenship ended the scoring drought by kicking a 41-yard field goal to give Georgia a 3-0 lead. Blankenship is known for, among other things, his eye-catching eyewear.
Payne takes flight
Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne showed an impressive ability to get airborne on a first-half tackle.
President Trump’s motorcade unhappily greeted by fans stuck outside stadium
With President Trump in attendance for the game, security at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium was tight, and thousands of fans had to wait longer than they expected outside the stadium before being allowed in. The fact that it was raining likely didn’t improve anyone’s mood, but some reportedly booed Trump’s motorcade as it arrived.
There were also some reports of booing when Trump strode onto the stadium floor, accompanied by military personnel, ahead of the national anthem. Loud cheering could also be heard on the telecast.
As Alabama players walked through the stadium toward the field, Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough appeared to hurl an epithet about Trump.
As Alabama takes aim at Georgia in title game, Nick Saban eyes Bear Bryant’s record
ATLANTA — On New Year’s Day in 1980, Alabama got two first-half touchdown runs from Major Ogilvie, beat Arkansas 24-9 in the Sugar Bowl, reached 12-0 and won the 1979 college football national championship just ahead of 11-0-1 Southern California. It had allowed only 67 points all season and had permitted only two opponents, Tennessee and Auburn, the thrill of reaching double figures. In the 13,887 days since then, one coach’s name has sat atop the list of national title hoarded in a given lifetime.
It has been, of course, Paul “Bear” Bryant, who won national championships with an 11-0 team in 1961, a 10-1 team in 1964, a 9-1-1 team in 1965 (a shared title), an 11-1 team in 1973, an 11-1 team in 1978 (a shared title) and that 12-0 team of 1979. For 38 years and one week, his total of six has gone unmatched. It has seemed forever ahead of the five for Bernie Bierman at Minnesota, the five for Woody Hayes at Ohio State, the five for Howard Jones at Yale and Southern California, and the four for Frank Leahy at Notre Dame and John McKay at Southern California.
As the sport took on a bit more parity, with Miami (Fla.) as a breakthrough empire in the 1980s and early 1990s, it seemed that “six” could remain untouched. It seemed so still when a shocking turn of the Bowl Championship Series computers at the last minute, in 2003, afforded LSU a spot ahead of Southern California in the Sugar Bowl that doubled as BCS Championship Game. When LSU beat and beat up Oklahoma, 21-14, LSU Coach Nick Saban had a national title (with Southern California the Associated Press poll winner), but two seasons later, he had made off for the NFL and the Miami Dolphins.
For Monday night in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the historic aspect would hang over the title game between Georgia, the No. 3 seed in the four-team College Football Playoff, and Alabama, the No. 4 seed. If Saban were to win, his chronic war against human nature and human complacency would push him alongside Bryant, not that he would belabor the point himself.
He would, instead, probably turn to recruiting as fast as he could, with his uncommon understanding that glory is fleeting.
“Well, I think that I’m always looking for the next challenge,” he said Monday. “I don’t know if it’s the way I was raised or whatever, that you’re kind of only as good as your last play, as your last game. I think everyone has heard me talk about the fact that success is not a continuum, it’s momentary, and it’s human nature to get satisfied and get a little complacent when you have success.”
In continuing this description for a few more sentences, he said at one point, “I hate to lose.”
That does seem clear.
In Alabama’s last 10 seasons, the dud of the bunch is the mark from 2010 of 10-3, which would get a coach considerable bump-up raises in many a college town. Alabama previously won national titles in the 2009 season, the 2011, the 2012 and the 2015. It also has reached the playoff all four seasons the playoff has existed, finishing as runner-up in 2016.
About an hour and change before kickoff Monday, Saban and his team emerged. As they bunched together in one end zone before preparing to warm up, the head coach leaped into a body bump with the star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the abundant players Saban has extolled across these unusual years. The former defensive back from Kent State did appear younger than 66. This impossibly driven sort had found his way to another, yet another, championship night.
What you need to know:
Who: Alabama (12-1) vs. Georgia (13-1)
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Time: 8:27 p.m. Eastern
Live stream: WatchESPN
Line: Alabama -4