The Alabama Crimson Tide won the national title in dramatic fashion with a 26-23 overtime win over the Georgia Bulldogs on Monday night. A gutsy quarterback change was at the heart of their victory. It was a classic game filled with talent and drama on both sides, and Alabama staged a memorable second-half comeback to take home the hardware.
Here’s a look at five reasons why the Crimson Tide were able to come back and win the championship.
1. Tua Tagovailoa changed the game
The decision to pull Jalen Hurts at halftime was either going to be looked at as a panic move or a stroke of genius depending on the outcome of the game. Ultimately, Nick Saban felt that freshman Tua Tagovailoa would offer more of a downfield threat than Hurts had, and he was right. Tagovailoa wasn’t perfect and he had some accuracy issues, but he had enough raw talent to turn the game around. He was an immediate downfield threat to the Georgia defense, something Hurts was not. That opened up the run game, and Alabama’s offense only got moving once Tagovailoa started taking risks. His fourth down touchdown conversion was indicative of his ability and coolness under pressure, and he had the poise and touch of a senior on the dramatic 41-yard touchdown pass that won the game. Saban’s gamble was rewarded, as Alabama doesn’t win if they don’t make that change.
2. The defensive stars came to play
Da’Ron Payne was a beast, solidifying his status as a top NFL draft pick. His pressure helped create a huge interception in the third quarter. Then there was Raekwon Davis, who had that third quarter interception. With Georgia up 20-10, the Tide forced the turnover and set up a short field. They were only able to capitalize for a field goal, but it made it a one-score game. Aside from one big play, the Alabama defense was suffocating in the second half. It continued into overtime, as Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs’ pair of elite running backs could not get anything going, setting up an Alabama victory.
3. The Tide took control of the field position battle
In the first half, a combination of poor defense and poor discipline meant that Alabama wasn’t winning the field position battle. Georgia wasn’t doing much on that front either, but the Crimson Tide were left with longer fields that Jalen Hurts could deal with. That changed in the second half. Georgia’s offense stalled and Alabama was able to pin them deep. On top of that, their first two scoring drives of the half were on the shorter side — a 56-yard touchdown drive followed by a drive that only required 15 yards off an interception. Georgia was pinned deep. Alabama no longer was.
4. A freshman running back brought a spark
Bo Scarbrough and the Alabama running game had offered little early on, which led to the Crimson Tide turning to freshman Najee Harris for a spark in the second half. It worked. Harris pulled off two very good runs to get them going and was a big factor when he got the opportunity. He only got six carries, but he went for 64 yards on them, opening the door for Scarbrough to get into the swing of things and giving the Georgia defense something to think about.
5. Nick Saban is still the best in the business
So much went wrong for Alabama in this one. Their offense was invisible during the first half. They made some uncharacteristic errors and lost their cool on more than one occasion. They were down 13-0 at halftime with few signs of life. It’s a credit to Saban and his coaching staff that they were able to come back. It took serious guts to bench Hurts in favor of Tagovailoa at halftime, and the team’s shoulders easily could have sagged after Andy Pappanastos shanked a field goal attempt that would have won the game in regulation. They didn’t, and that’s in large part thanks to Saban and his coaches.
This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports.