For all the hype and glittering array of football talent on display, by the third quarter of the National Championship game in Atlanta, the only name on everyone’s lips was the freshman Georgia quarterback, Jake Fromm.
Until then, the ex little leaguer from Warner Robins, GA had set the game on fire with a series of key timed, sensational passes to give his Georgia Bulldogs a comprehensive lead. Which is as well given dynamic duo Nick Chubb and Sony Michel had gone missing stifled by an Alabama defence which knew only too well that the Dawgs would run the ball.
On the opposing sideline the ‘Bama offence had been equally impotent with Calvin Ridley outshined by his younger brother, Riley, lining up in his freshman year for the Bulldogs and who became Fromm’s preferred target in the first half. Bama’s own running back duo of Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris were also in absentia during a first half which saw the BullDawgs lead the Crimson Tide 13-0 at the half. In fact, that deficit at half time was the largest ever endured by a Nick Saban team in his tenure in Tuscaloosa.
And you could tell that hurt the Crimson Tide.
Alabama got the ball at the start of the third quarter and instead of starting QB (and when I mean starting, I mean for the whole season), Jalen Hurts taking the snap, new kid on the block Tua Tagovailoa appeared to a rapturous ovation from the Tide fans.
Outwith of Tuscaloosa and his native Honolulu I wonder how many people would recognise Tagovailoa if he walked by them on the street. However Crimson Tide fans have seen him selectively this season as Saban tried to bed his new young superstar in quietly and gently in. But no longer.
So maybe now is as good a time to find out exactly who Tua Tagovailoa is.
First of all he is Hawaiian and came through the same school as Marcus Mariota in Honolulu. In fact Mariota served as a mentor to Tagovailoa during his time on the island.
Secondly he is 19, yes 19 and in his first year at College.
Thirdly, while he has played for the Tide this season he has never started a game.
So running out at half time, tasked with the responsibility of keeping the Tide’s Championship hopes alive, well that’s a lot of pressure on a 19 year old’s shoulders.
At times it looked like no pressure at all and at others it looked like all the pressure in the world. Seconds prior to launching the game winning pass in overtime, Tagovailoa, on third down held on to the ball trying desperately to find the game winning pass. With no pass on, the notion of throwing the ball into the sidelines seemed no option or maybe the thought was lost on the young QB in the moment. But time is no luxury against arguably the best defence in College football and the young QB was unceremoniously dumped on his backside by the sack machine that is Raquon Smith. Saban went in to meltdown on the sidelines and it was fortuitous for the young QB that the clock was running and that he would not get to feel the wrath of Coach Saban’s fury. Of course, all of that was forgotten seconds later when Tagovailoa launched a 41 yard pass down field to fellow freshman Henry Ruggs in what was the game’s most exciting and Championship winning moment. Saban rushed on to the field to greet his young starlet, but I am sure at some point the Coach would hammer home the error of the Hawaiian’s ways.
Wild and ecstatic celebrations ensued as it began to sink in that the Crimson Tide had secured their fifth National Championship under Nick Saban (his sixth). Six National Championships for Saban would equal the legendary Bear Bryant’s grand haul which he completed back in 1979.
I couldn’t help feel sorry for Jalen Hurts, who was wholly ineffective in the first half. Georgia knew that Alabama would run the ball and so their game plan was to block off the Tide’s run game which would force Hurts to run, which he naturally does. In doing so, the Georgia defence was at its most effective and all over Hurts well, like a cheap suit and a heat rash all together. As the Norwegians once said, he took one hell of a beating. But Kudos to Jalen Hurts. His post game interview was honest, humble and team orientated. He was pulling for his teammates. Hurts found a lot more fans that night.
Sympathy also to a great Georgia side, who have progressed beyond expectations in only two years with Kirby Smart. Their game plan for three quarters had the Crimson Tide on the ropes and as much as Saban’s tweaks and Tagovailoa’s heroics, you couldn’t help but feel that Georgia just ran out of steam.
But as with all great sporting Dynasty’s Alabama just found a way to win. After last year’s heartbreaking last second loss to Clemson, it was Bama’s turn to inflict a last gasp loss to the Dawgs. You can’t say College football isn’t damn exciting.
The final irony? Fromm was an Alabama commit until Kirby Smart lured him to Athens. Only then did Nick Saban turn his attention to the young bright thing from Honolulu. Fate can be a bitch.
The legend of the true freshman quarterback winning a National Championship is now rooted in Tuscaloosa folklore. I love College Football.
This guest piece was written by George Somerville who supports the Green Bay Packers and college team Alabama. You can follow George on @geosomerville.