With the world crumbling all around him, Nick Saban stayed calm. The man so set in his ways that he eats oatmeal cream pies for breakfast every day was the only one able to adapt to a rapidly deteriorating situation.
Jalen Hurts, Saban’s two-year starter playing in his second championship game, was completely neutralized by an athletic and laterally mobile Bulldogs defense. He completed only three of his eight passes for 21 yards and looked lost. Soon, Saban’s quest for a sixth ring would be as well.
If the 66-year-old had a masterplan, he didn’t tip his hand during an interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi en route to what promised to be a fiery locker room speech. Alabama’s offensive problems weren’t specific to Hurts, he suggested, but rather a unit-wide issue.
At some point — perhaps while Kendrick Lamar was rapping All the Stars during the interminable halftime break, Saban decided to throw caution to the wind and play one of his many stars.
An untested one, full of potential but not fully explored.
When the Tide took the field for the first possession of the second half, Tua Tagovailoa was under center. The five-star true freshman made his presence felt on his second series, scrambling a la Mike Vick to convert a 3rd-and-7 before finding Henry Ruggs III on a six-yard touchdown pass.
Saban didn’t waver when the inexperienced Tagovailoa threw an atrocious interception on the next possession — a mental mistake on par with the most heinous. His young quarterback rewarded his trust and commitment by righting the ship and playing fearless. A pair of field goals cut Georgia’s lead to seven with 9:24 left in the fourth.
Tagovailoa tied the game by completing a miraculous fourth-down heave in the end zone later in the quarter. The ball fell into the streaking hands of Calvin Ridley, though he may not have been the intended receiver.
All geniuses need a little luck.
And finally, needing a field goal to extend the game in overtime and facing 2nd-and-26 from the 41, Saban allowed his newest killing machine to go for the death blow. Tagovailoa exploited blown coverage and nestled a perfect pass into DeVonta Smith for a title-winning score.
The ugliness of the first half was the past. With one brave decision, Saban had turned Alabama’s bright future into a blinding present.
Perhaps a coach with a lesser track record would have made the same move. Or maybe they would have been too apprehensive to tempt fate and risk a legacy. Saban, of course, is a unicorn — the best college football CEO of all time. He is uniquely unimpeachable, though that doesn’t come with clairvoyance.
And yet, here we are, doing our best not to think otherwise.
Alabama was in deep trouble. Players were yelling at coaches. Others were passing out, overcome by the moment. All seemed lost.
The world was crumbling. Nick Saban, as he’s wont to do, stayed calm and carried on. He trusted Tagovailoa to carry him to the promised land yet again.
The rest is history.