Alabama is back on top of the college football world once again. The Crimson Tide used a furious second-half rally behind freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime. The victory over the Bulldogs secured Alabama’s fifth national championship in nine seasons and is the sixth overall by coach Nick Saban.
Similar to the Rose Bowl last week, this game was a tale of two halves. After Alabama recorded an interception on Georgia’s first offensive possession, the offense moved into scoring position but was unable to put points on the board after kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 40-yard attempt. The rest of the first half was all Bulldogs. Quarterback Jake Fromm was sharp throughout the first half, guiding the offense to a 13-0 halftime lead after receiver Mecole Hardman scored on a one-yard run with seven seconds left in the second quarter.
In a bold move, Saban and coordinator Brian Daboll decided to change quarterbacks at halftime. Alabama managed just 89 total yards through the first two quarters, and quarterback Jalen Hurts completed three of eight passes for 21 yards. Hurts did have 47 yards on the ground on six carries, but it was clear the Crimson Tide needed to throw to win. Tagovailoa – a freshman from Hawaii – went three-and-out on the first series. However, Tagovailoa led the offense on a seven-play, 56-yard drive on the next possession to cut the lead to 13-7.
The momentum from that score didn’t last long. Georgia answered Tagovailoa’s touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs with an 80-yard bomb from Fromm to Hardman. That score gave the Bulldogs a 20-7 lead, but a bizarre series of plays equaled an interesting swing of momentum. Tagovailoa tossed a pick on the next series, only to have Fromm throw an interception on Georgia’s first play. Instead of tacking on another score, Alabama was able to move into field-goal range, with Pappanastos connecting on a 43-yarder to cut the deficit to 20-10.
The fourth quarter wasn’t short on drama. Georgia held onto its 20-10 lead into the final 15 minutes, but Alabama got another field goal to move within a touchdown with less than 10 minutes to go. After a three-and-out by the Bulldogs offense, Tagovailoa went to work once again. The Crimson Tide went 66 yards on eight plays, including a touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley on fourth down to tie the game. Alabama’s defense forced a three-and-out on Georgia’s next drive, setting up its offense to drive into position for the game-winning score. The Crimson Tide attack managed to move 48 yards over 10 plays, but Pappanastos’ field goal as time expired was pulled to the left.
In the first overtime game of the College Football Playoff, Georgia took possession of the ball first. The Bulldogs attempted two runs by Nick Chubb to get into third-and-six. Alabama’s defense sacked Fromm on third down, setting up Rodrigo Blankenship for a 51-yard field goal. Blankenship nailed the attempt, leaving the Crimson Tide to score a touchdown to win or a field goal to go into a second overtime. On first down, Tagovailoa was sacked for a 16-yard loss. But on second down, Tagovailoa etched a place into the Alabama record book. The freshman calmly delivered a 40-yard strike to freshman receiver DeVonta Smith for the game-winning score.
Offensive Player of the Game: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Credit Nick Saban for making the switch to Tagovailoa after halftime. The freshman was the driving force behind Alabama’s second-half comeback. He completed 14 of 24 throws for 166 yards and three scores and added 27 yards on the ground.
Defensive Player of the Game: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
Payne was consistently making plays at the line of scrimmage on Monday night. He recorded six tackles (three solo) and helped to limit Georgia’s rushing attack to just three yards a carry.
Unsung Hero (Offense): Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
Leatherwood – a true freshman – was forced to step into action after left tackle Jonah Williams was injured in the second half. Leatherwood was steady the rest of the way, giving Tagovailoa plenty of time to throw and helping rushers churn out 184 yards on the ground.
Unsung Hero (Defense): Anthony Averett, CB, Alabama
Averett broke up one pass, accumulated six tackles (two for a loss) and one sack for the Alabama defense.
Unsung Hero: Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Alabama
While all of the focus for this game was on Tagovailoa, Alabama’s defense had a standout second half. Under Pruitt’s direction, the Crimson Tide gave up just 157 yards over the final two quarters and in overtime. A good chunk of that yardage (80) came on Georgia’s touchdown pass in the third quarter. Take out that big play and Alabama’s defense allowed only 77 yards on the other 30 snaps.
Key Plays from the 2017 National Championship Game
Alabama DB Tony Brown Intercepts Georgia QB Jake Fromm on First Possession
Georgia's Mecole Hardman Scores TD at the End of the First Half
Nick Saban's Reaction to Alabama's First Half
Georgia Hits on 80-Yard TD Pass in Third Quarter
Calvin Ridley's TD Catch to Tie the Game at 20 in the Fourth Quarter
Alabama Misses Field Goal to Win in Fourth Quarter
The Winning TD Pass for Alabama