The Crimson White

Tua Tagovailoa comes off the bench, unexpectedly ignites Alabama’s offense to an overtime victory in national championship game

Sam MacDonald

Sam MacDonald

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa delivered a strike to wide receiver DeVonta Smith as time expired to give Alabama a 26-23 victory over Georgia.

Matthew Speakman

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ATLANTA- A true freshman quarterback replaced a seasoned starter with a 26-2 career record at halftime in a national championship, and won the game for Alabama.

Yes, that really happened. 

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came in for Jalen Hurts when Alabama left the locker room for the second half, down by 13 points. Nearly two hours later, he threw a game-winning, walk-off touchdown pass in overtime to wide receiver DeVonta Smith to give his team a 26-23 win over Georgia and a 17th national championship.

Replacing a starting quarterback in a national championship is almost unheard of, but for Alabama, it was the difference it needed.

“This moment means the world, but all glory goes to God,” An emotional Tagovailoa said after the game. “Who would’ve thought I would’ve ever been here right now in this moment?”

He was right. 

Nearly no one could have predicted Tagovailoa’s first meaningful game action to come in the national championship. People called for it, despite Hurts doing nothing but winning, but it never came until tonight.

Tagovailoa settled in and led Alabama back to a familiar place: the top of college football’s food chain.

“I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of the decision. “I couldn’t be prouder of him taking advantage of the opportunity.”

The touchdown pass won Alabama the game, but the circumstances leading up to it seemed to be disastrous for the Crimson Tide. 

Alabama missed a field goal at the end of regulation. Georgia took the lead on a field goal four plays later in the first overtime possession. On Alabama’s first play, Tagovailoa took a 16-yard loss on a sack.

None of those plays phased him, even on the biggest of stages. On 2nd-and-26, he looked off a Georgia safety and delivered that season-defining strike to Smith that made him look like an NFL veteran handling a late-game situation.

Two freshman players remained calm when no one else would. 

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Smith said while reflecting on his emotions as the ball flew through the air. “That’s what everybody that’s here comes here to do.”

Tagovailoa led Alabama down the field on his second drive as quarterback, displaying the pocket presence and arm strength people talked about, but had not seen in a true, big-game moment. He finished 14-of-24 for 166 yards and three touchdowns, and earned the game’s offensive MVP honors.

A 7-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III capped off Tagovailoa’s second drive for Alabama, and showed that Alabama meant business. The first player to congratulate Tagovailoa after the play? Hurts.

“Jalen and Tua have a phenomenal relationship,” tight end Hale Hentges said. “Especially at a position like quarterback, where you’re not always best friends with the guy. Those two are really best friends. That just goes to show you what kind of person Jalen is.”

Some would think it would be mixed emotions for Hurts. Getting pulled in a national championship was probably not how he thought tonight was going to go. Still, not a lot of people love wining the way Hurts does.

The words “I hate to lose” left his mouth all season. He truly hates to lose, much like his head coach. Because of that, he could feel nothing but happiness when the confetti flew down after the touchdown.

“The goal, coming into this game, was to win the game,” Hurts said. “That’s what we did as a team.”

Hurts still had to watch from the sideline as Tagovailoa experienced similar ups and downs that he has seen numerous times when we was the sarter. The low came when Tagovailoa threw a peculiar interception on what looked like a designed run call. 

Alabama’s defense gave Tagovailoa another chance. He took advantage, leading Alabama down the field for a field goal that cut it to three, and a game-tying touchdown that proved he was the man they needed.

“If you’ve got to go in, if your number’s called, then you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to give the team the best placement…to give the team the best opportunity to win,” Tagovailoa said.”

The decision to replace Hurts with Tagovailoa proved why Saban is the considered the greatest coach of the modern era. Two years ago, it was using O.J Howard against Clemson even though he barely got targeted all season. It was kicking an onside kick when no one was expecting it.

Tonight, it was making a crucial quarterback change to get an offense back on track. When it comes to title games, Saban will not, and cannot, be out-coached. He put the trust into a 19-year-old kid from Hawaii. 

It won him his sixth national championship.

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Tua Tagovailoa comes off the bench, unexpectedly ignites Alabama’s offense to an overtime victory in national championship game