Alabama came back from a 13-0 halftime deficit to beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime to capture its fifth national championship in the past nine seasons.
The Crimson Tide couldn’t get anything going offensively in the first half, so the coaches summoned true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to replace sophomore Jalen Hurts.
The move paid off in a big way. Tagovailoa threw three touchdown passes, including the game-winning 41-yarder to DeVonta Smith in overtime. But there was than just the Tagovailoa-to-Smith connection that ultimately swung the game in Alabama’s favor.
Tua’s third down scramble
Tagovailoa’s first drive went a lot like most of Alabama’s first-half drives: three-and-out. His second drive looked like it was headed the same way — until Tagovailoa made an incredible play to give his team a first down.
Tagovailoa and the Tide faced a third-and-7 play from their own 47. Tagovailoa had plenty of time to throw, but eventually felt pressure from the ferocious Georgia front. The lefty rolled to his right, met a wall of defenders, somehow squeaked through the arms of three Bulldogs, rolled all the way back to the right and took off for a nine-yard gain. First down Alabama.
Tagovailoa then completed his next four passes. The fourth was a six-yard touchdown to Henry Ruggs III, giving Alabama its first points of the game and cutting the UGA lead to 13-7.
Raekwon Davis interception of Jake Fromm
Four plays after the Tagovailoa-to-Ruggs connection, Georgia responded with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jake Fromm to Mecole Hardman. On the ensuing Alabama drive, Tagovailoa made a freshman mistake, forcing one into traffic for an interception. Up 20-7, Georgia had the ball at the Alabama 39 and looked primed to build onto its lead.
Instead, this happened:
Fromm was pressured by Da’Ron Payne and fired a pass that deflected off the helmet of Da’Shawn Hand. The ball popped up in the air and right into the arms of Raekwon Davis, who returned it 19 yards to Georgia’s 40-yard line.
The interception led to an Alabama field goal that cut the Georgia lead to 20-10 with 5:15 left in the third.
Raekwon Davis sack
After the teams traded punts, Georgia moved the ball toward midfield early in the fourth quarter. From its own 47, UGA faced a third-and-4. The Bulldogs converted several third downs in the first half, but the Tide defense stepped up in the second half. It did again on this drive and Davis stormed through the line to sack Fromm.
Davis’ sack sent the ball back to the offense, setting up another field goal by Andy Pappanastos, cutting the Georgia lead to 20-13 with 9:24 to play.
Third down stop on Sony Michel
At this point, the momentum was firmly on Alabama’s side. But if Georgia could put a drive together, it could potentially hang on to a win. The Tide defense had other ideas. The Bulldogs offense faced yet another third down situation, this time just third-and-2. UGA went to its “Wild Dawg” formation with wideout Mecole Hardman and senior running back Sony Michel in the backfield.
UGA scored out of that formation in the first half, with Hardman faking a handoff to Michel and taking off for a score. This time, Hardman gave to Michel and the Tide defense stuffed him short of the first-down marker.
That stop gave the ball back to Tagovailoa and the offense, setting up…
Tagovailoa-to-Ridley ties it
Down 20-13, ‘Bama regained possession with 6:59 to play. Tagovailoa quickly moved the offense deep into Georgia territory, eventually progressing all the way down to the six-yard line. On third-and-3 from the six, Damien Harris was stuffed for a one-yard loss. Facing fourth-and-4, the offense stayed on the field.
Tagovailoa made yet another big play, finding Calvin Ridley for a game-tying seven-yard touchdown.
Tagovailoa-to-Smith wins it
Tagovailoa gave Alabama the chance to win in regulation, but Pappanastos hooked a 36-yard try to the left, forcing overtime. Georgia opened the extra frame with a field goal, meaning the Tide would win with a touchdown. On the first play of its possession, Tagovailoa inexplicably took a sack for a 16-yard loss.
On the very next play, he did this:
Tagovailoa looked off the safety like an NFL veteran and located DeVonta Smith behind the defense for a game-winning 41-yard touchdown.
“We called four verticals on that play. After the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play,” Tagovailoa said. “It looked like they were running two trap. The corner trap on that single receiver side, and I held the safety in the middle as the over was coming. I looked back out, and he was wide open, Smitty was wide open so I hit him, and here we are now. Thank God.”
The catch was Smith’s first of the game and just the eighth of his career. He’s just a freshman, but it will be hard for him to top that.
More College Football Playoff national title game coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Alabama stuns Georgia in overtime 26-23 to win national title
• How ‘Hawaiian Tebow’ Tua Tagovailoa became an Alabama legend
• Alabama wins national title over Georgia: Sports world reacts
• After misses, Alabama K Andy Pappanastos relieved and happy for teammates after OT win
• How much more pain can Georgia take?
• Alabama OL Bradley Bozeman wins title, immediately proposes to girlfriend
• Controversial missed calls helped Alabama’s comeback over Georgia
• Protests, long lines, cheers and boos greet Trump at championship game
• Alabama benches QB Jalen Hurts for freshman backup
• ’F— Trump heard yelled in tunnel as Alabama hit field
• Lane Kiffin tweets frustration with Alabama’s playcalling
• Alabama LB Mekhi Brown punches Georgia player, goes after staff member on sideline
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