The game appeared lost. Then it there was a chance to win, only to not be, and then lost again before it was finally won.
“Unbelievable,” said former NFL great wide receiver Terrell Owens, who watched the National Championship Game from the University of Alabama sideline at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “But as soon as they came back from down 13, I knew they were going to win.”
It’s going to take a long time for everyone to fully dissect and come to grips with everything that happened Monday night/Tuesday morning, when Alabama went from losing the title on the final play a year ago against Clemson to winning it in dramatic fashion in overtime against Georgia, 26-23.
Ironically, that was the same score when the Bulldogs handed Nick Saban his first loss at Alabama, at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 22, 2007. Since then he’s ripped out their hearts three times when they were ranked No. 3.
- The 2008 game at Sanford Stadium when everyone first got an idea that Saban at Alabama might be something special with a 41-30 victory over the No. 3 Bulldogs.
- The 2012 SEC Championship Game that went down to the final play, and many hail as being the best ever played. Alabama pulled out a 32-28 victory against the No. 3 team en route to winning the national title.
- Seeded third by the College Football Playoff committee, Georgia never trailed, yet still lost.
Play of the game: The 41-yard touchdown pass from true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to true freshman wide receiver DeVonta Smith in overtime will have Alabama fans singing The Who song “The Kids Are Alright” throughout the offseason.
WHAT. A. GAME.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 9, 2018
Player of the game: Tagovailoa came off the bench to throw three touchdowns passes and lead the crazy comeback against Georgia in its backyard of Atlanta. He was 14-for-24 for 166 yards and also ran for 47 more before factoring in two sacks for minus-20 yards.
Stat of the game: After being outgained 333-191 through three quarters, including 225-75 in the air, Alabama had an edge of 155-41 in total offensive yards while tying the game up in the fourth quarter. It then won in overtime despite Tagovailoa getting sacked on the first play, prompting Nick Saban to quip “Tua probably couldn’t have thrown that pass if I could have got a hold of him after he took the sack, but I couldn’t get out there fast enough.”
10 things you might not have noticed
1 The winning play: Alabama called it “Seattle,” four wide verticals, with three on the right side — freshman Jerry Jeudy, junior Calvin Ridley and sophomore tight end Irv Smith Jr. running a route over the middle. Junior running back Damien Harris also ran an underneath route with no one picking him on second-and-26. Tagovailoa sold that he was going to his right, looked the safety off, and then turned to his left, stepped up and unloaded. Senior cornerback Malkom Parrish was in man coverage, but didn’t get help in time from senior safety Dominick Sanders. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts didn’t complete a long, deep pass to the left all season. It was Smith’s first reception since the Mercer game and just seventh of the season.
2 The fourth-down touchdown: While the touchdown pass to clinch the national title was obviously the play of the game, the fourth-down touchdown throw to Ridley was a solid second place. Had it been incomplete, Georgia would have had the ball at its own 7 with roughly 3:26 remaining, so Alabama might have gotten another chance. Regardless, the ball was thrown into a very tight window and freshman running back Najee Harris was also behind Ridley yet didn’t interfere. Alabama finished the season converting 15 of 18 fourth-down opportunities, with the .833 percentage easily the best in the nation.
3 Final defensive rankings: Alabama just missed the grand slam of team defensive rankings, finishing second in passer-efficiency defense with a 96.78 rating. That was barely behind Wisconsin’s 96.39. It held on to first in rushing defense (94.7), total defense (260.4) and scoring defense (11.9). Only two teams in history have finished first in all four categories, the others being Alabama in 2011 and Oklahoma in 1986.
4 The running men: There was a loud outcry by Crimson Tide fans when the running backs didn’t get the ball more at Auburn, with junior Damien Harris, junior Bo Scarbrough and sophomore Josh Jacobs all taking six handoffs. Well guess what? Damien Harris and Najee Harris led the unit against Georgia with six carries each. Scarbrough had four and Jacobs three. Damien Harris’ longest play in the game was actually a 17-yard reception off a swing pass to the right.
5 Da’Ron was a huge Payne: Alabama’s defensive tackle had a huge playoff and was the clear defensive MVP of the game as Georgia never had an answer other than to try and double-team him. Payne wasn’t credited by game statisticians with a hurry or for one of Alabama’s 12 tackles for a loss, a season high, but he was highly disruptive and made six tackles.
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) January 9, 2018
A strong indication of how problematic Alabama was up front defensively was Georgia attempted 10 passes to someone out of the backfield or a screen, completing four and with one interception. Only one of the completions was for a gain, 15 yards, when freshman quarterback Jake Fromm correctly threw into the gap created by a blitz.
6 Hurts’ day: Statistically, Hurts was 3-for-8 for 21 yards, and he also had a swing pass that was ruled a lateral. His passer-efficiency rating of 59.6 was a career low. All of his attempts were to the right and he threw three away while under pressure. His longest attempt was the miss to Ridley in the end zone, otherwise it was 15-yard attempt to Ridley when the quarterback was hit while throwing so the pass came up short. He was 0-for-3 on third downs and 0-for-2 in the red zone. Hurts’ biggest play was his 31-yard run. Incidentally, he took the final snap in regulation to set up the field-goal attempt, which was credited as a 1-yard team rushing play.
7. Tagovailoa’s day: He finished with a passer rating of 149.4. The true freshman might have surprised Georgia with his ability to run as he had 47 rushing yards before 20 were subtracted by sacks. He also wasn’t effective on third downs, going 1-for-3 for just 1 yard, but he was 3-for-4 in the red zone. The left-hander was 3-for-6 for 49 yards, two touchdowns and one interception going to his left; 2-for-5 for 22 yards and one touchdown over the middle; and 9-for-13 and 95 yards throwing to the right. He had nine attempts for roughly 20 yards or more downfield, missing on the first six before the 20-yard completion to Jeudy on the game-tying drive.
Despite not having a single start, Tagovailoa played in nine games and led the SEC in passing efficiency with a 175.0 rating (Hurts finished eighth at 150.7). He didn’t qualify to be among the national leaders but was on pace to be third behind Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (198.9) and UCF’s Mckenzie Milton (179.3). Hurts was 20th. at 150.7.
8 Who was thrown at: Junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick wasn’t very comfortable wearing his flak jacket to protect his kidney and Georgia tested him early on with three passes thrown his way for 41 yards. However, the rest of the game he only yielded one reception. The Bulldogs kept trying to pair 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver Javon Wims, who appeared to suffer a shoulder injury in the game, on Anthony Averett. The senior cornerback had nine passes thrown his direction, with three catches for 46 yards. Georgia threw at senior cornerback Levi Wallace six times, with three catches for 33 yards. Both broke up a pass. The Bulldogs only had two passes classify at what Saban calls an explosive play (17 yards or more), but one was for a touchdown.
9. The freshmen ruled: True freshmen accounted for 89 percent of Alabama’s passing yards, 49.5 percent of the rushing yards and 48 percent of the receiving yards. Factor in Georgia and for the game it was 95, 29 and 23 percent respectively. True freshmen were also involved in three of the five touchdowns scored.
When you realize Alabama's freshmen — in one half — were better than the best Georgia team in 37 years. pic.twitter.com/XjzdEwIZjJ
— Patrick Schmidt (@PatrickASchmidt) January 9, 2018
10. Penalties: Sophomore linebacker Mekhi Brown’s personal-foul penalty was Alabama’s only flag of the second half. There could have been a couple more including a face-mask and sophomore linebacker Mack Wilson (who made 12 tackles) giving Fromm a little extra after making one of his 12 tackles, but there was also a missed face mask against Georgia. Overall, Alabama’s opponents were called for 4.5 penalties for 34.2 yard per game, which ranked 123rd and 129th out of 130 teams this season.
Bonus: Lucky Bradley Bozeman: Not only did the senior center play a really good game, win a national championship and get engaged on the field during the postgame celebration, but also won both coin flips. He called tails both times.
Bama OL Bradley Bozeman, Roanoke, proposes to Nikki after winning the national championship pic.twitter.com/aZ4HG5Bd47
— Sheldon Haygood (@SheldonFox6) January 9, 2018