Another instant classic on Monday

By Steve Sell
January 09, 2018

For all the consternation about the College Football Playoff system, it’s obvious to me it’s working as we again had the two best teams in the country squaring off for the championship.

Just when we thought it would be difficult to top last year’s Alabama-Clemson thriller, won late by the Tigers behind the amazing play of Deshaun Watson, we were treated on Monday to an even more amazing game.

I’m sure before the game that Alabama’s unknown freshman Tua Tagovailoa was everybody’s pick to be the hero.

If you did, head to Vegas baby and play with the high rollers.

I’m guessing that Tagovailoa’s only thought of getting into the game was if the Crimson Tide was blowing out their fellow SEC member Georgia. The freshman had not played any meaningful minutes this year before being thrust into an almost impossible and quite frankly unfair situation. 

And now he goes down into college football folklore.

The Bulldogs had dominated the first half for a 13-0 lead that actually could have been bigger. The sleek Georgia skill players were frustrating the NFL-looking Tide defense, while Alabama starting quarterback Jalen Hurts seemed to be tentative and practically in slow motion.

Nick Saban had not previously won four titles in the past eight years at Alabama without having something on the ball. While he’s never proclaimed himself as a very stable genius, it took some kind of courage to insert Tagovailoa into the game.

He led Alabama on a touchdown drive to pull it within a score, but then threw a terrible pick, at which point I think most observers thought his scoring series was an aberration and he was a fish out of water.

But he settled down and started throwing darts. He also ran with ferocity and the Georgia defense suddenly did its Kansas City Chiefs imitation, finding itself on its heels.

The game had an all-time classic ending. Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos badly missed a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, forcing it into overtime.

Georgia did nothing for three downs and wound up having to kick a 51-yard field goal as horned-rimmed Rodrigo Blankenship slithered one through.

On Alabama’s first offensive play, Tagovailoa lost track of where he was on the field and was sacked for a monstrous 16-yard loss. But the very next play he wound up and delivered a 41-yard beauty to DeVonta Smith, who caught the pass in stride and probably punched his ticket to Disneyland.

You had to feel for Georgia. It played a terrific game against a team that looked like a bunch of 30-something men that could be competitive with the Cleveland Browns. There’s a reason Alabama has been the national champion now five times in the last nine years. Its recruiting class is always the best or near the top every year and like I always say, I’ll take my chances with the best players.

The game, to me, also pointed out what’s wrong with college football, though it’s only a minor cosmetic fix. Twice when Georgia was in great offensive rhythm, the referees stopped the game for a replay that was called from the press box that took 3 minutes when you added in the commercials. I think the college game needs to take a page from the NFL and force coaches to throw their challenge flag. 

Also, I think college football needs to do away with stopping the clock when a team makes a first down. While that might seem inconsequential to some, there’s a reason college games last 3 1/2 to 4 hours and has many more plays than the standard NFL game. That would also help with injuries, because the more plays in a game, the more chances for an injury.

Alabama is becoming like the UCLA college basketball teams of the 1960s and 1970s when it dominated the sport and became the team everybody wanted to see get beat. Unless you’re a fan of the Tide, my guess is you were pulling for the Bulldogs. However, all sports fans should now be big Jalen Hurts fans because of the way he handled his demotion with class. The kid was a star even without being on the field.

Get used to it. As long as Saban is around — he’s the John Wooden of his sport — it’s going to be Roll Tide year after year.