Tua Tagovailoa (above) relies on Jalen Hurts. Now, about the Heisman?
ATLANTA — You can’t make this stuff. You wonder why sports has such a pull on this country and you realize it’s the ultimate reality TV.
You never know what’s going to happen.
In January, Tua Tagovailoa came in to replace Jalen Hurts and rallied Alabama to a national championship in a 26-23 overtime victory.
In December, Jalen Hurts came in for injured Tagovailoa after he was hurt in the fourth quarter and rallied Alabama to tie the SEC championship game at 28-28 with a third-down pass and scored the winning touchdown on a 15-yard draw with 1:04 remaining in the game for a 35-28 win that secured Alabama the top spot in the College Football Playoff.
At halftime last year, Tagovailoa replaced Hurts, who completed only 3 of 8 passes for 21 yards. At halftime Dec. 1, Tagovailoa — who is still one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy despite the worst game of his career — had completed only 3 of 9 passes for 25 yards.
So when Tagovailoa has his ankle stepped on by tackle Jonah Williams and was unable to continue, in stepped Hurts.
Alabama had not yet converted a third-down attempt.
Hurts, who was criticized for most of his career for his inaccuracy throwing the ball, converted three third-down attempts on the tying drive and one on the winning drive that ended in his touchdown run.
This is from the guy that had the guts to hang around Tuscaloosa. In the ever-changing college football free agency exasperated by the new redshirt rules, no one would have blamed Hurts if he left.
“I’ve never been more proud of a player than Jalen,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Here’s a guy who won as many games as he won over a two-year period and all of sudden he’s not the quarterback. You have a tremendous amount of character and class to handle knowing your situation is not what it used to be.”
But he stuck around and added comeback closer title to his Alabama legacy that saved the Crimson Tide from their worst performance in years.
Tagovailoa doubled his season interception total from two to four and nearly had one picked and returned for a touchdown down the sideline.
Irv Smith Jr., who has not dropped a pass seemingly all season, had one hit his chest and fall to the ground in what could have been an 80-yard touchdown.
When Alabama stopped Georgia and had a chance to tie the score at halftime by forcing a punt, Keaton Anderson ran into the punter and handed Georgia first down, where it was able to run out the clock.
Alabama didn’t have an answer for the running back duo of D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield. Carries that normally would have been short gains were turned into 6- and 7-yard pickups on first down.
Quarterback Jake Fromm sliced Alabama apart, with an SEC-record-10 completions in a row in the first that broke a record by Alabama’s Blake Sims, while effectively working the sideline with pinpoint accuracy.
But because of a few breaks — a missed Georgia field goal try and Kirby Smart’s ill-conceived fake punt attempt near midfield late in the game with the score tied — Alabama was able to overcome it because of Hurts.
He sat in the pocket and passed Alabama to an SEC title, completing 7 of 9 attempts for 82 yards and a touchdown, while gaining 28 rushing yards on five attempts. Last year, that was something people thought he couldn’t do.
“He’s always put the team first,” Saban said. “If this came up, he was going to be ready. This is a great example for guys that you don’t need to run off and transfer the first chance they get.”
But Hurts will most likely transfer. He’s expected to graduate Dec. 15.
There are plenty of teams that could sure use him, but after the Georgia game it just won’t seem right seeing him in another uniform.
Because when Alabama needed him most he solidified himself as Crimson Tide legend.
In his final pre-Heisman tuneup, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray answered the bell, completing 25 of 34 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns in the Sooners’ 39-27 Big 12 championship victory over Texas.
Tagovailoa, a Heisman Trophy finalist along with Murray and Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, finished the SEC title game completing 10 of 25 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown before leaving.
Did he hand the award to Murray? It will certainly add excitement to the Dec. 8 unveiling in New York.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) replaced injured starter Tua Tagovailoa (13) during the SEC title game and led the Tide to a 35-28 win over Georgia.