Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin predicted quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would have left the University of Alabama if he didn't get a chance to play in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night.
Creg Stephenson of AL.com passed along comments Kiffin, who served as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator from 2014 through 2016, made Tuesday about the title game's offensive MVP during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show following Bama's 26-23 overtime win over the Georgia Bulldogs.
"If this second half doesn't flip like this, and Alabama is moving the ball and doesn't change [quarterbacks], people that really know what's going on would tell you that Tua was leaving," he said. "Because Tua thought that he should be the starting quarterback and had outperformed him in practice, and Coach never gave him an opportunity."
Tagovailoa replaced starting quarterback Jalen Hurts at halftime. Alabama was down 13-0 with Hurts connecting on just three of his eight throws for 21 yards.
The true freshman replacement shined in the comeback victory. He went 14-of-24 for 166 yards with three passing touchdowns, including the game-winning throw to DeVonta Smith in overtime, and one interception. He added 27 rushing yards.
What a game. What a finish. Alabama does what Alabama does. https://t.co/OITczvp4n12018-1-9 05:17:10
Tide head coach Nick Saban said afterward the switch was based on the need to start throwing more against a stout Georgia defense, per Nick Cole of SEC Country:
"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. No disrespect to Jalen, but the real thought was, you know, they came into the game thinking we were going to run the ball and be able to run quarterback runs, which we made a couple of explosive plays on. But with the absence of a passing game and being able to make explosive plays and being able to convert on third down, I didn't feel we could run the ball well enough, and I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did."
It's unclear whether Bama's newest star was actually considering a transfer—Kiffin is known for making remarks he knows will cause a ruckus—but his performance Monday night likely locks him into the starting job to open the team's title defense in the 2018 season.
"How this second half played out changes college football, because Tua is going to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football," Kiffin said on the Dan Patrick Show. "He plays just like Steve Young."
Alabama has won five national titles since 2009 thanks in large part to a dominant defense and a powerful rushing attack. The quarterback play has rarely been better than average. It's hard to imagine how tough the Tide could be if Tagovailoa plays like he did Monday night over an entire season.