Written by Adrian Beecher
(Atlanta, GA) The Alabama Crimson Tide roll as the 2018 College Football Playoff National Champions with Nick Saban winning a sixth career title after bringing in backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the second half to lead Bama in a comeback win for the ages. After failing to score in the first half, Alabama outscored Georgia 26-10 to end the game on top 26-23 in only the second ever overtime in national title game history. It was redemption for the team that came up just one second short of winning the title last year.
“When we lost last year on the last play of the game, we said don’t waste a failing. That’s the lesson we all wanted to learn. I think the resiliency this team has shown all year long certainly proves that they sort of learned something from that. Couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of coaches and a bunch of players and the people in our organization who contribute to the success of the University of Alabama.” said an exuberant Saban postgame.
The Tide was able to overcome the ebb and flow of the game from start to finish.
Alabama won the toss and elected to differ until the second half, which set the Bulldogs up with possession opening the game. Disaster struck just two plays into the game for the Dawgs as quarterback Jake Fromm was intercepted by defensive back Tony Brown of Alabama.
The Tide was able to quickly move into Georgia territory and eventually into the red zone. Despite swift red-zone penetration, the Georgia defense stiffened up and forced a 35-yard field goal from Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos that went through the uprights. However, a 5-yard false start penalty would push it back to a 40-yard attempt that would sail wide left and the Dawgs took over 1st and ten at their own 36-yard line.
After another set of failed drives for each team, Georgia faced a 3rd and 3 with 3:49 left in the first quarter and Alabama’s defense entered the neutral zone, drawing a flag that gave the Dawgs a fresh set of downs.
Alabama looked to have overcame the mistake with a huge 10-yard sack on 2nd and 10 that setup a 3rd-and 20 for Georgia from their own 48-yard line. However, on the ensuing play, running back Sony Michel broke off a 26-yard run to give the Dawgs a fresh set of downs. Georgia would end up capping off the drive with a 41-yard field goal that was drilled through the uprights by kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.
The Tide, still unable to get anything going, were forced into a three-and-out for the first time of the night. Then it was back to business for the Dawgs.
Fromm led Georgia down the field swiftly in nine plays before the Tide defense stood strong to force another Blankenship field goal. This one was good from 27 yards out to make it 6-0 with 7:33 left to play in the second quarter.
Later in the half, with just 1:19 left on the clock, Georgia would get back to work. Fromm led the Dawgs on a prolific nine play, 69-yard drive that ended in a 1 yard rush off the left sideline into the end zone by wide receiver Mecole Hardman. This made the score 13-0 Georgia with just seven seconds left to play. The Tide would take a knee and look to regroup at the half.
Georgia’s domination wasn’t easy to see. The Tide converted just 1 of 6 3rd downs, while the Dawgs converted 6 of 11. In terms of offensive production, Georgia had 223 yards of total offense to just 94 from Alabama. 97 of those yards for Georgia came on the ground on 24 carries.
In the second half, the Tide elected to go with a quarterback change, benching starter Jalen Hurts and going with true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. The first drive looked like the change was a mistake after a quick 3 and out that included a sack on 3rd down.
However, after a quick 3 and out from Georgia, Tagovailoa showed off his ability. On 3rd and 7 from their own 47-yard line, Tagovailoa looked like he would surely be sacked as he looked to rush to the left side. However, he reversed field and went to the right, caught a couple blocks and made a man miss, picking up nine yards on the carry and a first down in the process. He then completed four straight passes, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Henry Ruggs III to give the Tide their first points of the game.
On Georgia’s ensuing possession, they answered with fury. On the 3rd play of the drive, Fromm connected with Hardman for an 80-yard bomb that extended the Dawgs lead back to 13.
After the score, each Tagovailoa and Fromm exchanged interceptions, as momentum swayed back and forth. Fromm’s pick would set the Tide up with excellent field position. However, after two rushes for Bama and a 1st down, 3 straight incompletions from Tagovailoa would force the Tide to settle for a field goal to make it a 10-point game at 20-10.
In the fourth quarter, things got even more interesting as Alabama’s defense continued to dominate in a flip of the script. Refusing to let up, the Bulldogs would never see the Tide side of the field in the final quarter. This allowed Bama to capitalize on great field position and eventually tie the game at 20, with just 3:49 left to play as Tagovailoa connected with Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the end zone on a 4th and 4 from the Georgia 7-yard line.
After the score, Bama’s D forced a 3 and out that would lead to what looked to be the game winning drive. With just 2:55 left on the clock, the Tide moved prolifically up the field, eating the clock away with each play picking up three 1st downs on the 10 play 48 yard drive that eventually setup the Tide with a chance to win it with a field goal.
With just three seconds left on the game clock, Pappanastos lined up for a 36 yarder from the middle of the hashes. However, much to the dismay of the Tide fans, and pleasure of the Dawgs fans, the kick went wide left as time expired, sending the game into overtime.
In overtime, the story was the same as the fourth quarter. The Tide defense stood tall and on 3rd and 6 from the Bama 21, sacked Fromm for a 13-yard loss. This setup a 51-yard field goal that just snuck through the middle of the uprights. This made it 23-20, with Bama needing a field goal to send it into a second overtime, or a touchdown to win it.
The drive didn’t start off great, as Tagovailoa was sacked on the first play from scrimmage for a 16-yard loss, pushing the tide back to the 41-yard line. However, on the ensuing play, Tagovailoa made up for it with a pass to wide receiver DeVonta Smith on the left sideline, who then broke free and made his way into the end zone for the game winning score, officially crowning the Tide as Champions.
Tagovailoa finished the game just 14 of 20 passing, with one interception. However, his three touchdowns through the air and 166 yards in only one half of play were more than enough to earn him the offensive MVP. The freshman’s humbleness and drive shined in postgame as well it did in the game.
“I would say my poise comes from my faith, just being able to come onto the sideline every time after I go into a drive. I just pray for peace. I just pray, asking God, let your will be done in me, and the rest will follow. That’s the best way I could explain it. Before I go into a drive, I pray a little bit, say my prayers, and we do it. When we come off the field, say a little prayer just to keep me calm, and we go from there.”
The win ties Saban with the legendary college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most ever National Title wins with six. His decision to change to a backup quarterback was one of boldness and trust in his players. The last time that a backup was put into a national title deciding game and it paid off was in 1991 with Colorado’s Charles Johnson, who led the Buffs in a win over Notre Dame.
This game will go down in history of one of the great games in College Football History. Saban has all but cemented his legacy as the greatest college football coach to ever live. However, all in all, for him, it’s about the players. Not about the wins, or the titles as he explained so eloquently after the game.
“It’s not just about winning a championship. You want to do the best job you can, and every team wants to be successful. As a coach, you want to see your team reach their full potential. But as a college coach and the thing I like about college coaching is you have an opportunity to affect people. You have an opportunity to help players be more successful in life because they’re involved in the program, whether it’s personal development, academic support, graduating from school, learning lessons. The message to the team tonight after this game was I hope you take something from this game and the resiliency that you showed in this game and it helps you be more successful in life.”