In the annals of college football’s national championship game, few backup quarterbacks have accomplished what true freshman Tua Tagovailoa did Monday night. Following a scoreless first half in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Georgia, Alabama head coach Nick Saban boldly benched starting quarterback Jalen Hurts and inserted Tagovailoa. It may have been the best adjustment of his coaching career.
Who is the spunky, backup dual threat quarterback with the tongue-twister of a last name that replaced Hurts at halftime? In a way he was the likeliest of unlikely heroes. Alabama fans anticipated Tagovailoa assuming the starting job as early as next season, but few thought he’d be thrown into the College Football Playoff fire and remain cool.
Alabama has a freshman quarterback from Hawaii, and at least one fan is concerned pic.twitter.com/uKxTpVz1hm
— Ben Reiter (@BenReiter) September 13, 2017
Hailing from the same Saint Louis School in Honolulu that Marcus Mariota starred at, Alabama was an unconventional choice for Tagovailoa, who is a protégé of the Tennessee Titans quarterback. Off the mainland of the United States, Tagovailoa’s legendary play reached Tim Tebow status in the peripherals of the prep football world.
The Tebow similarities include their devout devotion to Christianity. One of the reasons Tagovailoa committed Alabama was due to Tuscaloosa’s evangelical community. During his official visit, Tagovailoa attended service at Church of the Highlands in Tuscaloosa and joined the megachurch in 2017.
On the prep gridiron, he scored nine touchdowns in a single game and by the time he’d graduated, he was the state’s career passing yardage leader. Once exposed to the highest caliber of prep competition, Tagovailoa proved his talent was more than apocryphal by earning MVP honors at the 2016 Elite 11 quarterback camp and prompted then-Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to compare him to Steve Young.
Standing at a modest 6-foot-1, the lefty signal caller began nipping at Hurts’ heels the moment he arrived on campus as an early enrollee last January. During the spring game in March, Tagovailoa dazzled by throwing for 313 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. However, during the regular season, Tagovailoa saw action only in spot duty. Yet, his escapability and accuracy on the run were immediately apparent.
Entering the national championship game, Tagovailoa had completed 35 of his 53 attempts for eight touchdowns and a single interception. However, his heroism in the national championship will elevate him to a new echelon of national prominence.
After going three-and-out on his first possession, Tagovailoa marched Alabama down the field and punctuated it with a touchdown pass to Gerald Ruggs III. The drive was highlighted by his Houdini-like 9-yard run on a third-and-7.
On a fourth-and-4, with 3:49 remaining, Tagovailoa rolled left and delivered a laser strike to Calvin Ridley that knotted the score up at 20 apiece. Tagovailoa proceeded to move the ball down to the Georgia 25, where kicker Andy Pappanastos shanked the potential game-winning kick as time in regulation expired.
However, his inexperience nearly did Alabama in on its overtime possession. After Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship pushed a kick straight through the uprights, Tagovailoa came out on first down, attempted to escape the Bulldogs pass rush and was sacked for a 16-yard loss. Just as the clock had ticked past midnight, Tagovailoa should have turned back into a pumpkin.
On second-and-26, Tagovailoa looked off a safety and uncorked a 42-yard throw to fellow freshman receiver Devonta Smith streaking down the left sideline. His pass was a perfect dime that splashed into Smith’s arms as he loped into the end zone to ensure Alabama’s fifth national championship in nine years. However, because of Tagovailoa, this version of Alabama has a heartwarming Cinderella story instead of their typical role as cold, ruthless juggernaut.
— The Ledge (@TheLedgeSports) January 9, 2018
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• 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
• 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
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