ATLANTA — It didn’t look very promising for Alabama.
Alabama failed to produce any points in the first half. Coach Nick Saban knew he had to do something.
And then, he inserted freshman Tua Tagovailoa into the lineup.
The result was Saban’s sixth national championship and his fifth at Alabama in the last nine seasons.
The pride of Hawaii delivered a game-winning 41-yard pass to DeVonta Smith for a wild 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But to do it, the Tide had to win the game the hard way. Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a potential 36-yard game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. Pappanastos’ pivot foot appeared to slip and his kick sailed left.
But even after that disappointment, the Tide rebounded in overtime.
The biggest reason? Saban’s gutty change at the half.
Here are 3 reasons why Alabama’s victory on Monday might be one of the sweetest in Saban’s illustrious career:
Tua to the rescue
After sputtering most of the first half, Saban turned to Tagovailoa for his biggest game effort of his short career.
It was the first time that Tagovailoa had ever played when Alabama wasn’t ahead by 10 points.
But he thrived in his clutch duty, leading the Tide to four scoring drives in a span of six drives to pull them back in the game.
Tagovailoa did a great job of manipulating the pocket, buying extra time for his throws.
The Tide started moving more vertically with Tagovailoa in charge.
He saved his best for last with a 41-yard pass to Smith for the game-winning touchdown. It came after his worst play of the game.
On the previous play, Tagovailoa took a 16-yard sack on Alabama’s first play of overtime.
His big effort was the biggest reason that the Alabama was able to climb back in the game.
The defense stepped up after early struggles
After struggling to contain Jake Fromm most of the game, the Tide’s nation-leading defense started playing to its standards of earlier in the season.
The Tide benefited from a tactical change from Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who took the ball out of Fromm’s hands in the second half. Instead, Smart opted to utilized his backs in the Wild Dog offense.
The transformation allowed Alabama to grind Georgia to a halt as it changed tempo to favor its freshman quarterback.
Over the final six possessions, Georgia was limited to a field goal.
Nick Saban’s mastery over his assistants continues
Coming into the game, Saban had beaten his assistants in all 11 previous games against them.
The previous outcomes against Saban’s former protégés were all by at least 14 points.
Saban’s first victory against his longtime assistant, Smart, was much closer than any of the previous.
But it came with the highest stakes and another Alabama championship.