ATLANTA — Call it coachspeak or whatever you want, but Alabama football coach Nick Saban wasn’t ready to say who’ll be the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback next season.
Jalen Hurts started the National Championship Game but struggled in the first half and was replaced by freshman Tua Tagovailoa to open the second half. Tagovailoa was named Offensive MVP after throwing 3 touchdown passes in a 26-23 overtime comeback win over Georgia.
Hurts didn’t return until there were 6 seconds left on the clock when he spotted the ball to set up a field goal that was missed at the end of regulation play.
“Look, we have two good quarterbacks on our team, no doubt,” Saban said Tuesday. “Both of them made a great contribution to the success of the team this year. I think that we haven’t really made a decision about that. I don’t think it’s imperative that we make one right now.
“We’ve got two fine young men who really respect each other and have worked hard to help each other all year long. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do that in the future.”
To Saban’s point, Alabama doesn’t make it to the title game without Hurts. That’s fair to acknowledge that while also understanding that Hurts didn’t have it on Monday night.
Tagovailoa gave the Crimson Tide a much-needed spark, and it turned out to be the difference.
Tagovailoa’s run on third down on his second drive gave Alabama new life. Georgia scored again in regulation, but everything went Alabama’s way in that second half and the overtime period.
Asked how he balanced what Hurts has done for this team vs. winning the game, Saban said he doesn’t think it’s possible.
“I think you do show your appreciation for it,” Saban said. “I mean, one of the first things that I said to Jalen was we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. You put us in a position by the plays that you made and the way you played all year long. But it just seems to me like, if we’re going to have the best chance to win this game, that we may need to do it in a different way.
“I think he understood that. Sure, he didn’t — any competitor would not accept that willingly. But as a team player, he was very supportive of Tua in the second half. I think he helped him in every way. I think Tua’s done that for him all year long.”
While it wasn’t in a national championship game, Saban has been in a similar situation during his coaching career. Saban recalled having to replace Josh Booty with Rohan Davey while at LSU after getting down to Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl.
“Sometimes just a little change of style, a little spark sort of ignites everyone, and I think that happened in the game [Monday] night,” Saban said. “Tua gets a lot of credit for that, but I think his teammates’ response to him was equally important.”