The Alabama Crimson Tide is the College Football National Champions once again. The Crimson Tide roared back to beat SEC rival Georgia on the back of a coaching decision for the ages. I know that all of you reading watched this game, so without further ado here is Bama's report card:
Rushing Offense: B
Grading Alabama in this game is tough because of how different the two halves of football were. The first half was a slog at best of times, with Alabama never really getting into gear and the offense not clicking at all.
Jalen Hurts did his best in the run game, with a 31-yard scamper being the Crimson Tide’s best offensive play of the half. Georgia seemed determined to take Damien Harris out of the game, knowing that Hurts probably couldn’t pick their secondary apart with his arm. Bo Scarbrough was again far more of a non-factor that someone of his size and ability ever should be.
Also, it should be noted that even when the ‘Bama run game got going, Bulldogs ILB Roquan Smith played like a man possessed. He totaled 13 tackles (9 solo) and two tackles for a loss in a monumental effort.
It was an unsung player that got the ‘Bama offense headed in the right direction, showing that once again Nick Saban’s recruiting efforts are on point as the Crimson Tide’s depth took over. Freshman Najee Harris had six carries for 64 yards, including back to back plays to spark the ‘Bama attack when it was most needed.
Passing Offense: B
It is hard to rate the passing offense any higher than this because Hurts in the first half was the liability in the passing game that Alabama fans had worried about heading into this one. He was 3-of-8 passing the ball, missing a couple of easier reads in the process.
In fairness to Hurts, he was playing the Georgia defense when it was at its freshest. He also got no help from the running game before halftime, meaning that the Bulldogs defense could afford to spy him and sit in their zones as linebackers ready to make a play on the ball.
Then Saban called freshman Tua Tagovailoa onto the field and the National Title game really began.
Ironically Tagovailoa’s first big play came when he scrambled for a first down when he looked dead to rights in the clutches of four Bulldog’s defenders. After escaping to convert that first down – on a drive that ended with an Alabama touchdown – he never looked back.
Even his two big mistakes turned into positives for Alabama. A terrible throw into triple coverage when his receivers were blocking was intercepted, only for ‘Bama to get the ball back on the very next play via a crazy interception – the ball was thrown into a defensive lineman’s helmet! – of their own.
Then in overtime, it looked like ‘Bama was done when the freshman tried to do way too much and too a monster 16-yard sack. Tagovailoa though had other ideas as he winged the very next pass to a streaking Devonta Smith, whose 41 yard National Title winning touchdown catch was his first reception of the game.
Rushing Defense: C+
If Saban could have had a better performance from any individual unit it may we have been his rushing defense. It is not like Georgia was killing Alabama with their running game, but the Bulldogs – especially in the first half – always seemed to have an answer to an Alabama stop with a big pay of their own on the ground.
Ironically the Crimson Tide did manage to completely shut down half of the Bulldogs two-headed monster in the backfield. Nick Chubb had one of his worst games as a Georgia tailback, rushing for just 25 yards on 18 carries. Unfortunately, ‘Bama did not have the same level of success in shutting down Sony Michel.
Michel has that burst of acceleration at the line that was giving the Crimson Tide defenders fits. He rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries and had a couple of crucial first down runs in the process. Importantly though, the Bulldogs running game slowed after halftime and was a non-factor in the overtime period.
Passing Defense: C-
The passing defense was what we like to refer to as a mixed bag here. Freshman Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has been growing as a player all year and he looked like being the offensive star of the game for most of the contest. He threw for 232 yards with one touchdown and a pair of interceptions but had settled well after an early Ronnie Harrison pick could easily have knocked him off of his stride.
It is also hard to blame Fromm for the second interception of the game given that he was being crushed as he threw the ball and that it took a wicked deflection off of that helmet right into the waiting arms of big Raekwon Davis.
What Fromm did do well was to light up Alabama for an 80-yard passing bomb of a touchdown to Mecole Hardman. The pass was a thing of beauty as Hardman flew down the right sideline and the touchdown ripped all the momentum away from Alabama as Hardman’s track star speed saw him get behind the Crimson Tide secondary. It was a blow that ‘Bama recovered from thanks to Tagovailoa, but it could easily have been the deciding play of the game.
Special Teams: F
The special teams unit is never going to get higher than an F if the kicker – in this case Andy Pappanastos – missed two field goals in the National Title game. That is especially true if one of those two kicks would have won the game with the last strike of the ball.
You have to feel a little for Pappanastos, a dependable kicker who clearly just let the pressure of the moment get to him. It was probably for the best that Alabama won the game with a touchdown because although it spoils a possible redemption story, it also saves the ‘Bama kicker the possibility of missing three important kicks as the National Title faded away.
On the plus side here – and this was a bigger part of the game than some would thing – the punting of JK Scott really did keep Georgia in miserable field position for most of the night. Having a punter that can boom 50+ yard kicks at the college level is certainly a luxury for the Crimson Tide.
You can’t give Saban any less than an A grade after a couple of massive decisions on his watch completely changed the course of history in this game.
Many coaches would have stuck with the status quo and wheeled Hurts back out there in the second half. This is a quarterback that has only lost two games in his collegiate career – and one that has a couple of years of eligibility ahead of him – but Saban knew that Tagovailoa offered him and his team the best chance of a win on Monday night.
After being outcoached in the first half by former protégé Kirby Smart – the Bulldogs touchdown out of their ‘Wild Dog’ formation completely fooled Saban’s defense. It was the instruction of Tagovailoa and Najee Harris that swung the game in the Crimson Tide’s favor.
Ironically Saban’s biggest coaching job starts now. How does he approach the situation with Hurts and Tagovailoa? Can he bring the axed quarterback back into the fold in some way? There will be many questions over the coming months, but on this night Nick Saban once again proved just how good of a coach he really is.