Alabama won its fifth national title in nine years Monday, beating Georgia 26-23 in overtime. The Tide overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit, in large part because Nick Saban benched quarterback Jalen Hurts – who was 25-2 as a starter – for true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who had not played meaningful snaps all season.
Aside from a poorly thrown interception, you wouldn’t have known that.
Tagovailoa went 14-of-24 for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning 41-yard strike to DeVonta Smith in overtime.
What does it say that Saban benched his starting quarterback at halftime for a true freshman with no big-game experience?
“It was a total panic move, and it was the right move – because it was time to panic,” CBS Sports college football analyst Barrett Sallee said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They knew it. It was a panic move that they had to make. They knew that Jalen was not able to stretch the field deep. I think we all knew that. Really, for the last two years we’ve known that. And in this game, they were not going to be able to play the style of football, which is really ultra-conservative in terms of how they operate and win – because Georgia was too fast, too strong, too physical and too deep. My thought was it was a panic move and it was the right move. It turns out it was both. That’s how crazy it was. That’s how wild of a game it was.”
Georgia didn’t trail until the final play of the game. It appeared Alabama would win in regulation, but Andy Pappanastos’ potential game-winning field goal was wide left.
The reaction among Georgia faithful? Jubilation.
“They thought they won,” Sallee said. “They honestly thought they had won the game The cell-phone lights came on. That’s what happens before the fourth quarter every game in Athens. They felt like they were going to win the football game – and to be honest with you, they were not alone. They were not alone. Even though Alabama had played better in the second half, it just felt like this was destiny, like this was going to happen.”
It didn’t. True freshman Jake Fromm played well overall for Georgia, finishing 16-of-32 for 232 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. But he took a sack in overtime that eliminated any possibility of Georgia scoring a touchdown.
“I did not think he would get rattled, and I did not think he would take a sack like that,” Sallee said. “They thought they had it – and they were not alone. And in about three or four plays, it drastically turned.”