The Alabama Crimson Tide collected their fifth national title in nine years after defeating the Georgia Bulldogs 26-23 in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Monday night.
Tua Tagovailoa hit DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard touchdown in overtime to give Alabama the victory. ESPN shared a replay of the game-winning score:
What a game. What a finish. Alabama does what Alabama does. https://t.co/OITczvp4n12018-1-9 05:17:10
Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal as time expired in regulation that would've given Alabama the win. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the senior had made all 13 of his previous attempts from within that distance.
Even before the game-winning score, Tagovailoa had positioned himself for MVP honors. After replacing Jalen Hurts at the start of the second half, the true freshman went 14-of-24 for 166 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Tagovailoa not only got Alabama in position for Pappanastos' game-winning field-goal attempt, but also threw the game-tying touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley with 3:49 left in the game. ESPN provided a look at the touchdown from the back of the end zone:
We’re all tied up in Atlanta late in the 4th! Get to ESPN or the ESPN App now to catch the finish. https://t.co/9WuIWxSz852018-1-9 04:48:29
Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner tweeted how Tagovailoa was a bit fortunate with the throw:
Kurt Warner @kurt13warner
Not going to say it’s never happened to me - but young QB was actually throwing that TD to other WR and got lucky Ridley cut it off!!! The epitome of “sometimes better to be lucky than good”!!2018-1-9 04:46:12
Tagovailoa's inexperience only got him in trouble on a pair of occasions, most notably on Alabama's first play of overtime. He held onto the ball for too long in an attempt to make something happen and suffered a loss of 16 yards on a sack by Jonathan Ledbetter.
It looked like the sack took Alabama out of field-goal range, but Tagovailoa rebounded on the next play to find Smith and immediately cement a place in the Crimson Tide history books.
In a battle of the freshmen, Tagovailoa stole the spotlight from Jake Fromm. The Bulldogs quarterback finished 16-of-32 for 232 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
At halftime, even the most devout Crimson Tide followers couldn't have predicted what would unfold after halftime. The game turned when Saban gambled on a first-year player who hadn't faced FBS opposition since Alabama's 45-7 win over Tennessee on Oct. 21.
The first half couldn't have gone much worse for Alabama. The Tide trailed 13-0 and gained 94 total yards of offense. Their one possession into the red zone ended with a missed 40-yard field goal attempt by Pappanastos.
Adding insult to injury, Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin, whom Alabama parted with a week before last year's national title game, questioned the Crimson Tide's offensive strategy:
Lane Kiffin @Lane_Kiffin
Are we going to actually throw the ball downfield once??? @AlabamaFTBL @espn https://t.co/Jg4Rfiz9eq2018-1-9 03:01:28
Tagovailoa immediately rewarded the faith of his head coach when he got the Tide on the board with his second drive. He connected with Henry Ruggs III on a six-yard touchdown pass with 8:52 left in the third quarter to bring Alabama to within six points, 13-7.
However, Tagovailoa threw an interception on the Tide's next possession.
On the next drive, Fromm hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown at the 6:52 mark of the third quarter to give Georgia a 20-7 lead. ESPN College Football shared a replay of the pass:
ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB
Alabama got on the board. Georgia said watch this. https://t.co/jgIFFW15sO2018-1-9 03:55:36
The officials reviewed whether Hardman had stepped out of bounds before reaching the end zone. It looked like the sophomore wide receiver might have touched the sideline, but the referees didn't find enough evidence to overturn the call:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ #NationalChampionship https://t.co/0joStak05f2018-1-9 03:46:38
Between Hardman's touchdown catch and Tagovailoa's interception, momentum appeared to be firmly with Georgia.
However, the Alabama defense stiffened up and prevented the Bulldogs from generating any lengthy drives for the remainder of the game. That put pressure on a Georgia defense that looked more and more fatigued as the night went on.
The performance of Najee Harris shouldn't go overlooked. The freshman running back only carried the ball six times, but he gained 64 yards. Fifty-three of those came on a drive that culminated in a 30-yard field goal by Pappanastos to bring Alabama to within one score, 20-13, with 9:24 remaining in the game.
The Crimson Tide needed a spark, and Harris provided it in spades on the possession.
Harris was mostly a fringe figure Monday night, but that likely won't be the case next season. Both Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough are eligible for the NFL draft, and losing one of the two would open a spot for Najee Harris in the backfield.
And what was shaping up to be a quarterback battle in 2018 may already be over. The Alabama offense was vastly improved with Tagovailoa under center, and it's difficult to see how Hurts can win back the job after the way the national championship unfolded.
Considering the defense will be gutted by both graduation and the NFL draft, Harris and Tagovailoa could play pivotal roles in Alabama repeating as national champions.
Georgia may have a harder time getting back to the College Football Playoff. While Fromm is only a freshman, the Bulldogs are facing a ton of losses. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Dominick Sanders, Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter are all seniors, and defensive star Roquan Smith is all but guaranteed to forgo his final year.
Georgia has a bright future, but the team may have a year of regression before Smart's success on the recruiting trail starts paying serious dividends.