How Alabama Won the National Championship, Drive by Drive

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, center, celebrated his game-winning touchdown. Credit David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The New York Times

Alabama went into halftime of the national championship game trailing Georgia by 13 points, but a switch to Tua Tagovailoa, a true freshman, at quarterback proved prophetic as he led them to a shocking 26-23 victory in overtime, throwing a 41-yard pass to DeVonta Smith to seal the win.

The victory, which was as much a Georgia collapse as it was an Alabama triumph, represents Coach Nick Saban’s sixth career national championship and his second of the playoff era. Saban’s sixth title ties him with legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most championships in college football history.

Tagovailoa, who came on in relief of a struggling Jalen Hurts, completed 13 of 23 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 27 yards. He outdueled Georgia’s true freshman, Jake Fromm, who passed for 232 yards.

After tying the game, Alabama had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but a 36-yard field goal attempt by Andy Pappanastos missed wide left. In Georgia’s first try in overtime, a sack of Fromm led to Rodrigo Blankenship having to attempt a field goal from 51 yards. The steady kicker for the Bulldogs crushed the kick, putting the Bulldogs temporarily on top 23-20.

Alabama had more chance. Tagovailoa was sacked by Georgia’s Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy for a loss of 16 yards on Alabama’s first play in overtime. But he found Smith sprinting past the Bulldogs’ secondary on the next play and hit him with a perfect pass for the touchdown and the victory.

After the game, Saban was asked about the winning throw.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Saban said. “I knew we were running Seattle, which is four streaks and when I saw Smitty come open on the other side and Tua threw it, I said ‘This is it.’”

Georgia’s rushing attack, which had been so devastating against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, was not nearly as effective this time around, rushing for 133 yards against Alabama’s stout front-seven.

The national championship is Alabama’s 17th, while Georgia is still seeking the team’s second title after having won it all in 1980.

Joe Drape: This is the way national title games should go: Tua Tagovailoa with a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith. Nick Saban says it all after the game: “Is it that a good game or what?”

Why the change, Nick? “I thought we needed to throw the ball and he could do it better.”

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