Monday evening in Atlanta, an all-SEC instant classic National Championship Game concluded when Tua Tagovailola threw a 41 yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith on Alabama’s second offensive play of the first overtime to give the Crimson Tide a 26-23 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs. This is Alabama’s 17th national championship.
Now that you know how it ended, let’s take a look at how it got to that point in the first place.
The game opened with... not much of anything. Neither team scored, and there were two punts, a missed field goal, and an interception.
The Bulldogs opened the game with seven straight passing plays, which was a bit curious given their running back tandem. Alabama’s rushing defense is obviously great, but it was quite a one-note way to start things. As noted, Jake Fromm threw an interception on his first drive. Alabama didn’t make anything of it, though. Alex Pappanastos missed a 40 yard field goal.
Near the end of the quarter, Georgia was tasked with a 3rd and 20 and chose to run the ball with Sony Michel, who picked up 26 yards. It’s not often you see running the ball on third and long work, so it’s kind of cool when it does, especially to this degree.
The quarter ended with the Bulldogs driving down the field.
That drive concluded in the first minute of the quarter, as Rodrigo Blankenship connected from 41 yards and got the Bulldogs on the board. After an Alabama three-and-out, Fromm started to get in a groove with Riley Ridley and Javon Wims, finding both of them for big gains on the next drive. It ultimately sputtered in the red zone, though. Blakenship hit another field goal, this time from 27. 6-0, Bulldogs.
Jalen Hurts had his highlight of the night to start Alabama’s next drive, as he rushed for 31 yards on one play. Hurts only played one half (more on that later), and finished the night 3-8 for 21 passing yards and 47 rushing yards. Yet another ‘Bama drive stalled out, but the defense held tight this time, forcing a three and out. Georgia got it right back, though. Alabama punted on four straight drives to end the first half, which wasn’t ideal.
Upon getting the ball back with 80 seconds to play in the half, Fromm led the Bulldogs downfield, ending in a Mecole Hardin one-yard touchdown to extend the Georgia lead to 13-0 going into the half.
Everything would soon change.
Nick Saban actually did it.
Since the Crimson Tide ultimately won, this will be remembered as an iconic move in the Alabama dynasty, but pulling the experienced Hurts for Tua Tagovailola to open the second half was virtually unprecedented.
Georgia seemed unfazed by the change, at first. Tagovailola’s first drive resulted in a three-and-out, but the Bulldogs gave it right back.
That’s when Tagovailola really started showing what he could do. After opening his next drive with back to back rushes, the freshman completed four straight passes, the last of which was a six-yard touchdown strike to Henry Ruggs to get Alabama on the board and cut Georgia’s lead to 13-7.
Fromm didn’t bat an eye. He threw a strike to Hardin, who took it 80 yards to the house to get Georgia back up by two scores, 20-7. Deandre Baker intercepted Tagovailola early on the next drive in Alabama territory, and it looked like the Bulldogs had a chance to put the nail in the coffin.
The very next play, Raekwon Davis intercepted Fromm. The internet loves when large players get involved, but this ended up being one of the biggest defensive plays of the game. Fun and important! How nice.
Tagovailola had some accuracy issues resulting in incompletions, but Alabama was close enough for Pappanastos to knock it home from 43 yards to make it a 20-10 game.
That would be the score heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter was wild.
Michel was running well on a long Georgia drive, but it sputtered out and the Bulldogs had to punt. Tagovailola got his accuracy back and Najee Harris was running hard, but Georgia’s defense held firm enough that ‘Bama had to result in a field goal.
The next Georgia drive saw the Bulldogs go three-and-out (and run a Wildcat play, for some reason), as they gave the ball back to Alabama with seven minutes to play.
It was pretty clear what was going to happen. The Tide were going to tie the game. They did, about four minutes later. Tagovailola capped off a nice drive by finding Calvin Ridley for a pretty incredible touchdown grab on 4th and goal. Suddenly, we were all tied up with 3:44 to play.
Fromm and the Bulldogs couldn’t get anything going. Alabama got the ball left with 2:55 to play, and it looked like they were going to win it in regulation. They drove down the field, centered the ball for a 36 yard field goal from Pappanastos and... OH NO! He missed it. Pretty badly.
For the second time in BCS/CFP history, the title game needed overtime.
Alabama won the toss and chose defense. After two Nick Chubb rushes, Fromm got sacked for a big loss on third down, leading to a 50+ yard field goal attempt from Blakenship. He hit it. It would have been good from 55. That’s how well he hit it. Georgia took a 23-20 lead and were four plays from a national championship. With Alabama’s kicking woes, you got the feeling that they were going to pretty much be in a touchdown or bust scenario.
On the first play, Tagovailola ended up losing 16 yards on a sack where Georgia’s coverage was excellent. He kept dropping back and waiting for something to open up. On the second play, 2nd and 26, no less, he found Smith for the freshman’s only reception of the evening. He will never have a bigger one in his career.
See you next fall, college football. Thanks for going on with a bang.