Alabama head coach Nick Saban had a choice. Play it safe, or make a potentially risky change. Thankfully for Alabama, he chose the bold decision.
Heading into the locker room at halftime, Alabama was down 13 points to Georgia, but it felt like much more. The Crimson Tide had only 94 yards of offense and four first downs. Alabama’s defense couldn’t get off the field, and its offense couldn’t stay on it.
“We just can’t move the ball effectively,” Saban told ESPN at halftime. “We haven’t been able to throw it effectively at all.”
The team was heading towards a familiar path. One where Alabama can’t score, and its defense is too tired to be its normal, dominant self. It was heading towards a second-straight national championship loss in similar fashion.
So, Saban flipped the script. He appeased the flurry of tweets from Alabama, message board comments and radio call-ins. He replaced Jalen Hurts with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback.
It was a decision no one thought would happen, but it paid off. Tagovailoa led Alabama back to the promised land.
“Coach brought out the quarterbacks together and said that I was going to start the second half,” Tagovailoa said. “It was a team effort.”
It was no doubt one of the toughest decisions a coach can make. Hurts was proven. He could win games, but at times, his inability to stretch the field made Alabama one-dimensional. The team needed to be able to hit big passes because its running game had no success.
It was a daring choice, but it proved why Saban is considered the greatest college coach of all time. He makes the decisions no one else can make at the right moments.
“We’ve had this in our mind that if we were struggling offensively, that we would give Tua an opportunity, even in the last game,” Saban said.
This wasn’t the first time he’s done this either. Two seasons prior, he made a play-call on special teams that basically won Alabama its 16th national championship.
He decided to kick an onside kick with the game tied against Clemson with 10:34 left in the national title game. Alabama got the ball back, and scored. It completely shifted the momentum.
The play came out of nowhere. Saban had never done anything like it, but without it, Alabama would’ve still been playing catch-up against Clemson.
Those two decisions stand out among the sea of plays that Saban has coached in his 10 years at Alabama.
He recruits to sustain success, and because of this, it can often become boring to watch Alabama steamroll various teams, even if it was supposed to be competitive. But, every so often, there comes a moment where his team needs him to make a major adjustment to put them in a position to be successful.
More often than not, he makes that adjustment. He makes that change when it matters most. Two years ago, it was an onside kick. This season it was a unexpected quarterback change.
That proves why Saban has been able to standout all of these years. Those bold decisions in the biggest of games can either win teams championships or come back to haunt them for years. For Saban, you can almost always count on it paying off.