<
>

Alabama beats Georgia in epic national championship comeback

play
Alabama surges past Georgia in OT to capture title (4:14)

The Crimson Tide overcome a 13-point deficit in the second half and Tua Tagovailoa finds DeVonta Smith for the game-winning 41-yard touchdown in overtime, giving Nick Saban his sixth national title. (4:14)

ATLANTA -- Jalen Hurts might have a 25-2 record as the starting quarterback at Alabama, including back-to-back trips to the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.

He might have an SEC Offensive Player of the Year award under his belt and more than 6,500 total yards and 61 career touchdowns.

But on Monday night, he was toast, and his coach, Nick Saban, knew it. So coming out of halftime, Saban did the unthinkable: On the game's biggest stage, with a title on the line, he rolled the dice and benched Hurts in favor of a true freshman with eight games of backup experience under his belt.

The quarterback in question? Tua Tagovailoa. The previously unheard of lefty from Hawaii came in and resuscitated a struggling offense just in time for Alabama to overcome a double-digit deficit and beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime to win its fifth national championship under Saban.

Which begs the question: Is there any situation in which the Crimson Tide can be stopped?

If not under those circumstances, then when?

Tagovailoa was an afterthought coming into Monday night in Atlanta. But there he was, on the field on fourth-and-4, down a touchdown, with less than four minutes remaining. There he was, hopping around in a collapsing pocket, waiting and waiting and waiting before finding Calvin Ridley for the game-tying score.

There he was again, in overtime, throwing a 41-yard walk-off touchdown to DeVonta Smith. Tagovailoa pumped his fist, and confetti rained down inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

While there's no denying Hurts' accomplishment, there's no way anyone can say that Tagovailoa isn't special. Coming out parties such as this just don't happen.

Tagovailoa's ability to throw the ball sideline to sideline and stretch the field was exactly what Alabama needed against a hungry Georgia defense. He ran for a few yards when he needed to, but he worked wonders in the passing game, completing 14 of 24 throws for 166 yards and three touchdowns.

A quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa is coming. But just after midnight on this night, all that mattered was that Alabama found a way.

play
0:23

Saban reaches royal status with sixth championship

Nick Saban ties Bear Bryant for most national titles by a head coach, boosting his case as the best coach in the sport's history.

Less than a mile's walk from the stadium, the College Football Hall of Fame can start making room for another exhibit. Soon, in the home of the game's greats, Saban's name will be etched -- either alongside or ahead of Paul "Bear" Bryant -- as the best coach of all time.

Saban is now tied with the former Alabama legend with six total national championships. But Saban took 13 fewer seasons to hit the mark, which will surely be a bullet point in the debate about coaching supremacy.

The job Saban did to lead Alabama to another title cannot be understated. All season, this team has been fueled by what happened Jan. 9, 2017, in Tampa, Florida, when Clemson came back in the final seconds to beat the Tide in last season's national championship game. Hurts kept an image of the Tigers hoisting the trophy on the lock screen of his iPhone. Players used the loss as a source of motivation in myriad ways, and Saban warned them to "not waste a failure."

Beating Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl was the start of something, as strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran followed the win last week by slamming the team's second-place trophy from 2016 on the ground in the locker room and, in a fit of expletives, smashing it to bits with a sledgehammer.

But beating Georgia -- the young upstart in the SEC, led by former Saban assistant and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart -- was the culmination of a season-long redemption tour. Teammates exorcised their demons and put the program back on the top of college football when for so long it felt like an unlikely destination.

This isn't the most talented team Saban has had at Alabama -- not by a long shot. The defense was nearly overwhelmed by a cavalcade of injuries, starting with the season opener against Florida State, in which outside linebackers Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller suffered what was described then as season-ending setbacks. Then two-year starter and senior middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton was lost for the season with a knee injury. Then his backup, Mack Wilson, broke his foot.

Lewis and Miller somehow worked their way back into the lineup in time for the final game of the regular season, as did Wilson, only for Alabama to lose to Auburn 26-14 and, in the process, lose safety Hootie Jones to knee surgery. Alabama sneaked into the playoff, beat Clemson and paid the price, as starting outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings had to undergo season-ending knee surgery two days later.

It was as if fate's cruel hand were at work.

Still, Alabama survived. Not even defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's decision to accept the job as Tennessee's next head coach but remain with the team through the playoff could derail Alabama's march to Atlanta.

Not even the high-risk decision to go away from Hurts and give a true freshman quarterback a shot.

Head down, mouth shut, Alabama did it the Saban way.

It wasn't a smooth ride to the championship stage inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday, but that only further cements the greatness of Alabama's head coach.

Through it all, the dynasty he built rolls on.