Georgia and Alabama were the last two teams standing after winning their College Football Playoff games last weekend, and they met in Atlanta Monday night for the National Championship Game.
According to an interesting bit of basketball-football history, Georgia’s win over Alabama on Saturday in men’s college basketball gave the Bulldogs a historical edge.
For almost the entire game, it looked like history would hold true. However, the Crimson Tide found a way to come back from 13 points down in the third quarter, forced overtime and won the game with an incredible play by a freshman who started the game on the bench.
These were the biggest winners and losers from the action Monday night.
Winner: Tony Brown with the huge interception early
Alabama senior cornerback Tony Brown made the first huge play of the game. On the third play of Georgia’s first drive, Jake Fromm had receiver Javon Wims streaking wide open down the left sideline. The freshman quarterback was getting pressured and got hit on the play, but still, the throw could have been better. If he had been able to get some more juice on the pass, Fromm would have put the ‘Dawgs up by a touchdown early.
As it was, he didn’t get enough on the throw. Instead of throwing a touchdown, Fromm threw it up for grabs, and Brown made a tremendous play to come down with the ball (watch here). Unfortunately for ‘Bama, kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a relatively easy field goal after the offense moved into scoring range, so the interception served as a field-position play, rather than one that sparked a score.
Loser: Jalen Hurts way off in passing game
Hurts has been more of a running quarterback than a tremendous passer all year long. After all, we’re talking about a quarterback who finished the season 2,060 yards and 17 touchdowns passing the ball.
That said, Hurts was really off his game Monday night. He missed Calvin Ridley, wide open, in the end zone after a Georgia defender had fallen down. And the throw wasn’t even close. He missed on some other passes, too, and had just 21 yards on 3-of-8 passing after the first half.
The Crimson Tide had no chemistry offensively with Hurts in the game — other than him taking off and running there really wasn’t anything going on at all. Ridley was visibly frustrated at one point when Hurts couldn’t get him a ball in the second quarter. Ultimately, Hurts was benched in favor of true freshman Tua Tagovailoa at the start of the second half.
Winner: Sony Michel is incredible
The hero of the Rose Bowl a week ago, Michel came through huge once again for Georgia, especially early. His 26-yard run on third-and-20 early in the game set up the game’s first score and involved some insane balance as he tip-toed down the right sideline (watch here).
The senior running back would finish the final game of his collegiate career with 98 yards on 14 attempts and was the only runner who was able to make any headway against Alabama’s insane defensive front.
Loser: Refs blew it calling offsides on Georgia blocked punt
Alabama’s first drive of the second half ended in a three-and-out after Nick Saban replaced Hurts with freshman Tua Tagovailova. On that fourth down play, Georgia’s Tyler Simmons timed the snap perfectly, darted across the line as the ball was snapped and blocked the punt.
Georgia recovered, already in the red zone at the time. Only, the officials ruled Simmons was offsides. On replay you can see he clearly was not. On top of that, an Alabama player actually should have been called for a false start, meaning the play was just completely botched by the refs from start to finish.
Georgia might not have scored after recovering the fumble, but the chances they got a field goal out of it were very high. Instead, they ended up going three-and-out on their next offensive possession following a punt return. Alabama got the ball back and proceeded to score their first touchdown of the game, turning the tide in a major way in this game.
Winner: Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley were clutch
It’s never easy beating Alabama’s talented defensive secondary. They have NFL-caliber players at every position.
Yet Riley Ridley had some huge catches at key moments and was the most reliable target for Jake Fromm. He would finish with six catches for 82 yards, including a couple of really spectacular nabs on the sideline.
Hardman only caught two passes, but he finished with 80 yards thanks to an incredible 80-yard touchdown. This would put the Bulldogs up by two scores midway through the third quarter and was the most explosive play of the game (watch here). He also added another 10 yards on the ground, putting together a tremendous all-around game.
Loser: Nick Chubb had a rough night
Nick Chubb came back for his senior season, hoping to win a national championship. Until the end, it looked like he might get his wish. Unfortunately, not only did Chubb’s team lose in a very painful way, but he himself had an awful game.
After a very strong final season in which he rushed for 100 yards six times, finished with 1,320 yards and 15 touchdowns, Chubb had the worst game of his season. Rushing for just 25 yards on 18 carries, he was almost completely invisible. It was a rough way to end one’s career, though we expect we’ll see plenty more from him at the next level.
Winner: Tua Tagovailoa is really something special
The biggest plays Alabama made on offense were broken ones that turned into something special. The true freshman Tagovailoa made a few of them, and boy, were they spectacular.
It started on his second drive in the third quarter, after ‘Bama got lucky the blocked punt was called back due to a bogus penalty. Tagovailoa, on third down, escaped what appeared to be inescapable pressure and ran for a first down. Then he got hot passing the ball, completing 4-of-5 passes for 44 yards and the first touchdown of the game for Alabama.
After Fromm’s 80-yard bomb to Hardman, Tagovailoa fought hard, helping the Crimson Tide score two field goals before engineering a fourth-quarter touchdown-scoring drive that took a brilliant play by him — unscripted after things broke down — to complete a pass to Calvin Ridley in the end zone and tie the game.
Then, of course, he came through in overtime with a perfect pass to DeVonta Smith for 41 yards to win the national championship. All told, Tagovailoa had 193 total yards, three touchdowns and one interception in one half of play.
Loser: Georgia’s defense collapsed down the stretch
Georgia’s outstanding defense dominated Alabama’s offense in the first half. It allowed just 94 total yards, four first downs, just 1-of-6 on third downs and allowed no points.
Once Tagovailoa got into the game, obviously the dynamic changed. He’s a different type of player than Hurts — shiftier in the run game and more of a natural passer — and the Bulldogs never were able to make the necessary adjustments to stop him.
Furthermore, after holding the running game in check all game long, the defensive front started wearing down late in the third quarter and into the final period. In the end, when they needed stops the most, the Bulldogs couldn’t come up with them. They ended up allowing 277 total yards, 16 first downs and, most importantly, 26 points in the second half and overtime.
Winner: Nick Saban’s legacy continues to grow
Nick Saban came into this year’s National Championship Game with five titles to his credit, just one back of the legendary Bear Bryant. Well, now he’s all tied up with the late, great former Alabama coach.
The Crimson Tide continue to be the team to beat in college football. They’ve now won five of the last nine national championships and will no doubt be one of the top-ranked teams next preseason when the first polls come out. We saw freshmen come into Monday’s game and make a major impact, and we’ll see the same thing happen again next season.
The powerhouse that Saban has built in Tuscaloosa is unrivaled. His legacy soon will be, too.
Loser: ‘Bama kicker Andy Pappanastos with two epic shanks
This was just brutal. The Crimson Tide got that interception on their first defensive possession. Then they drove 42 tough yards on 11 plays to get into field goal range at the 17-yard line. A false start penalty bumped them back five yards, but still Pappanastos was looking at a 40-yard attempt.
He’d been so good from this distance all year that the ESPN broadcast even commented on how unlikely it would be for him to miss. Well, that broadcaster curse is pretty strong sometimes. Not only did Pappanastos miss, he shanked his attempt badly, and it never came close.
Then in the fourth quarter, with three seconds on the clock from 36 yards out, he hooked it again. It was as gimme a kick as you’re going to see, as the Bama offense set him up perfectly on the left hash mark, but he shanked it badly forcing overtime. Thankfully for him, his quarterback came through in the end to save him the trouble of having to attempt another field goal in this game.