By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
National Championship Game Recap
It was a tale of “Tua” halves in the 2018 National Championship Game, as Alabama erased a 13-point deficit en route to a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga.
Georgia dominated the first half and took a 13-0 lead into the locker room, and Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was benched at halftime. Hurts completed three of eight passes for 21 yards, and Saban replaced him with true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. After the Tide went three-and-out in Tagovailoa’s first possession, the freshman from Hawaii led Alabama on an impressive seven-play, 56-yard drive in less than two minutes to get his team on the board, which cut Georgia’s lead to 13-7.
The Bulldogs responded only four plays later as Jake Fromm found Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown to extend the lead back to 20-7. Tagovailoa threw an interception on Alabama’s ensuing possession, but Fromm tossed one right back to the Crimson Tide one play later. Alabama then connected on a field goal to cut the deficit to 20-10.
Alabama’s defense improved as the game progressed and was aided by a more conservative approach from Georgia. A fourth quarter field goal made it a one-score game again as the Bulldogs led 20-13, and that field goal it was followed by another Georgia three-and-out.
Tagovailoa had his best drive of the night on Alabama’s next possession lea-ding his team down the field on an eight-play, 66-yard drive. He found Calvin Ridley in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown on fourth-and-four to tie the game at 20.
Georgia (13-2) went three-and-out again on its next drive, and Alabama got the ball back on its own 35-yard line with 2:50 remaining in the game. Tagovailoa and fellow freshman Najee Harris led the Tide down the field into field goal range, but kicker Andy Pappanastos missed from 36 yards and the game went to overtime.
On Georgia’s first possession of overtime, Fromm was sacked for a 13-yard loss on third down, but Rodrigo Blankenship made a 51-yard field goal to give Georgia a 23-20 lead. Tagovailoa was sacked for a loss of 16 yards on the Tide’s first play, which left UA staring at a fourth-and-26 from its own 41-yard line.
Tagovailoa dropped back to pass and looked off a Georgia safety. He then hit freshman receiver Devonta Smith wide open on a vertical route for a 41-yard touchdown for the 26-23 win and to clinch the national championship.
The win gave Nick Saban his sixth national title, which tied Bear Bryant for most all-time. Alabama (13-1) has now won five of the last nine national championships.
Tagovailoa finished the game 14 for 24 for 166 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Najee Harris led the Crimson Tide in rushing with 64 yards on only six carries. Fromm completed 16 of 32 passes for 232 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for Georgia. Sony Michel led the Bulldogs in rushing with 14 carries for 98 yards.
Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
Roquan Smith, Georgia
Freshman of the Year
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Coach of the Year
Kirby Smart, Georgia
First Team Offense
Drew Lock, Jr., Missouri
Kerryon Johnson, Jr., Auburn; Nick Chubb, Sr., Georgia
A.J. Brown, So., Ole Miss; Christian Kirk, Jr., Texas A&M
Hayden Hurst, Jr., South Carolina
Will Clapp, Jr., LSU; Braden Smith, Sr., Auburn; Isaiah Winn, Sr., Georgia; Martinas Rankin, Sr., Mississippi State; Jonah Williams, So., Alabama
Daniel Carlson, Sr., Auburn
First Team Defense
Da’Ron Payne, Jr., Alabama; Jeff Holland, Jr., Au-burn; Montez Sweat, Jr., Mississippi State; Raekwon Davis, So., Alabama
Roquan Smith, Jr., Georgia; Devin White, So., LSU; Rashaan Evans, Sr., Alabama
Minkah Jr., Fitzpatrick, Alabama; Ronnie Harrison, Jr., Alabama; Armani Watts, Sr., Texas A&M ; Carlton Davis, Jr., Auburn
J.K. Scott, Sr., Alabama
Second Team Offense
Quarterback: Jarrett Stidham, So., Auburn
Running back: Benny Snell Jr., So., Kentucky; Sony Michel, Sr., Georgia
Receiver: Calvin Ridley, Jr., Alabama; J’Mon Moore, Sr., Missouri
Tight End: Albert Okwuegbunam, Fr., Missouri
Line: Bradley Bozeman, Sr., Alabama; Greg Little, So., Ole Miss; Martez Ivey, Jr., Florida; Trey Smith, Fr., Tennessee; Garrett Brumfield, Jr., LSU
Kicker: Rodrigo Blankenship, So., Georgia
Second Team Defense
Line: Jeffery Simmons, So., Mississippi State; Landis Durham, Jr., Texas A&M; Marcell Frazier, Sr., Missouri; Da’Shawn Hand, Sr., Alabama
Linebacker: Lorenzo Carter, Sr., Georgia; Skai Moore, Sr., South Carolina; Josh Allen, Jr., Kentucky
Secondary: Andraez Williams, Fr., LSU; Levi Wallace, Sr., Alabama; Duke Dawson, Sr., Florida; Tray Matthews, Sr., Auburn
Punter: Johnny Townshend, Sr., Florida