Alabama is once again the favorite to win the national title based on the early preseason polls, but they aren't No. 1 for every publication.
This time, it was all about the coach.
Alabama would eventually tie the game, 20-20, and push the contest into overtime.
Alabama (13-1) replaced Jalen Hurts at quarterback with Tagovailoa to start the second half, and that move paid immediate dividends. P JK Scott and OLB Rashaan Evans were the only Alabama players to play in the College Football Playoff each of its four years.
But it was apparent from the time Tagavailoa entered the game, no moment was too big for him. Georgia's own true freshman, Jake Fromm, launched a gorgeous 80-yard touchdown pass to Hardman just four plays later to put the Bulldogs back ahead by 13. "He certainly did a great job tonight".
As the smallest target of the five receivers, Smith (165 pounds) burned his defender on a go route and brought in a 41-yard touchdown reception on the second play of Alabama's overtime possession, to propel the institution to a 26-23 victory and its fifth national title under Saban (second of CFP era).
Either before the game or quickly in the first half, the Alabama football coaching staff decided running back led, power rushing would not work. "No disrespect to Jalen, but ..."
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"I think everybody can see that Georgia's going to be a force to be reckoned with", coach Kirby Smart said after his second season ended. But when Pappanastos - who missed his first kick in the first quarter - lined up for a 36-yard field goal to win, he pushed it far left, no good, sending the game into overtime and continuing Saban's ongoing kicker frustrations.
Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a winning field goal to end the game. Georgia sniffed out a screen pass, Tagovailoa couldn't pick up his next option and Georgia dumped the youngster for a 16-yard loss. "I'm happy for our players", Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told ESPN after the game.
With the poise of a veteran, Tagovailoa looked to his right, causing the Georgia safeties to slide toward that side of the field. More importantly, Michigan's defense was outstanding this season and will return eight starters, giving them a chance to challenge Ohio State for Big Ten supremacy. In earning a spot to the National Championship, Alabama defeated Clemson 24-6 in last week's Sugar Bowl.
Let's be honest, nobody outside of Tuscaloosa and the Bryant family views that team as the best in the land. He had already won five national championships. Georgia just couldn't seal it up, reminding us of another Georgia team who threw away a football championship last season.
Breakdown: "Nick Saban's team will lose a handful of key contributors from its 2017 team, but this program is still one of the favorites to win it all and tops Athlon's early college football rankings for 2018". And given what Georgia was doing to the Tide's defense - ringing up more yards at half (223) than Clemson managed in the entirety of last week's Sugar Bowl against Alabama (188) - this wasn't going to be decided exclusively lineman-on-lineman, mass-on-mass.
That's a new one, even for Saban. "It has to be a team ball". We know Saban always signs top recruiting classes, and freshmen can at times break into the starting line-up and make a big impact.
But dang, it was the Parole Tide's freshman class that clinched it, so does that mean at least three more years of Sabanism? "But there's more to it than that". College football country is Trump country, and the presence of Southeastern Conference teams from Alabama and Georgia ― states that both went resoundingly for him ― made it a safe bet he'd face little jeering from fans. Saban stomped down the sidelines, ripping his headset off, and screaming at no one in particular.