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The Story Behind the Alabama Back-Up QB That Led Crimson Tide to National Championship Game Victory

Alabama+QB+Tua+Tagovailoa+hoists+the+championship+trophy+after+leading+the+Crimson+Tide+to+a+comeback+victory.
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa hoists the championship trophy after leading the Crimson Tide to a comeback victory.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa hoists the championship trophy after leading the Crimson Tide to a comeback victory.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa hoists the championship trophy after leading the Crimson Tide to a comeback victory.

"THE PLAY" courtesy of @ESPN

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Every athlete dreams of being that special player who makes that game-winning final play of a championship game. The latest to live out that dream is University of Alabama’s freshman quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa as he threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide-receiver DeVonta Smith in the first overtime period of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 8.

Tagovailoa is originally from ‘Ewa Beach, Hawaii, a division of the city of Honolulu, where he attended Saint Louis School for all four of his high school years, the same school that Tennessee Titan’s quarterback Marcus Mariota (Tagovailoa’s mentor) attended.

Tagovailoa  is St. Louis High’s all-time leading passer having eclipsed former Saint Louis quarterback Timmy Chang’s record of 8,001 yards during his senior year, finishing his high school career with unbelievable numbers including 8,158 passing yards, 1,727 rushing yards, and 111 total touchdowns (84 passing and 27 rushing). He also led his team to a state championship 30-14 victory over Kahuku High, the then number one team in the state.

Tagovailoa has a unique story when it came to choosing where he would play his college ball. As a child he always wanted to attend the University of Southern California. USC was at the top of his commitment list for more than a year before Alabama ever spoke to him. In May of 2016, took recruitment visits to Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss. He just fell in love with Alabama, but there was one problem. Alabama already seemed to have Jake Fromm in the fold and didn’t have room for Tagovailoa. However, Fromm flipped his commitment from Alabama to Georgia, and Tagovailoa jumped on the opportunity to become a part of the Crimson Tide.

“You can’t really lose yourself if you’re a kid from Hawaii going to Alabama,” Tagovailoa told SEC Country. “Things down here in Hawaii are similar to Alabama. We go to church every Sunday. People are treated like family there just like here. There are many similarities there, and you want to be somewhere that feels like home and that’s what Alabama feels like.”

However, Tagovailoa began second guessing his decision during his freshman season with Alabama. He was considering transferring as he felt he was not given a fair chance in his competition for the starting job with returning quarterback Jalen Hurts. Although he played in seven of the team’s twelve games, he played only in garbage time blowouts which made him continuously more frustrated. Former Alabama offensive coordinator and current FAU head coach Lane Kiffin goes as far as saying there was “no doubt” Tua was going to leave had he not played in the championship against Georgia.

In October of 2017, Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban was asked about a pick six that Tagovailoa had thrown to Tennessee. “You probably don’t know Tua very well,” Saban said, “but he says thank you and apologizes for everything, and he was apologizing for [the pick six].” His next time on the field he completed five of his next seven passes for a total of 106 yards, and, to top it off, a touchdown.

Apparently, Saban took notice of his play because he had a feeling he would play him in the championship before it even started. “We’ve had this in our mind that if we were struggling offensively, that we would give Tua an opportunity, even in the last game,” Saban said. “No disrespect to Jalen, but the real thought was, you know, they came into the game thinking we were going to run the ball and be able to run quarterback runs, which we made a couple of explosive plays on. But with the absence of a passing game and being able to make explosive plays and being able to convert on third down, I didn’t feel we could run the ball well enough, and I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did.”

Tagovailoa definitely gave them a “spark” as he came into the second half throwing two touchdowns on his first two drives. He came in after doing the spectacular by throwing an interception while trying to force a throw to a receiver that was not open, but Alabama’s terrorizing defense got it right back. Tagovailoa managed to complete his comeback in overtime with a play that Saban is very familiar with.

Saban uses a concept that his entire defense had been inspired by. As the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, Saban’s Cover-3 scheme was beaten badly by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ four verticals concept. Saban learned to adapt to the situation and figured out a complicated system that would be very effective in defending the four verticals scheme. Then, Saban and his offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (who will be leaving Alabama to become the offensive coordinator of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills) came up with a play that uses the general idea and framework of the Steelers’ play but added their own twist to it. This play is known by the Alabama offense as “Seattle.”

So, Alabama gets the ball for their possession of the first overtime period trailing 23-20 after Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blakenship hit a 51-yard field goal to stake the Bulldogs to a three-point lead on the opening possession of the first overtime period. Tagovailoa takes the first-down snap and is pushed back 16 yards before he is finally sacked. The Crimson Tide are now looking at a second-and-26 from the 41-yard line. At the line of scrimmage, Tua calls out “Seattle!” Against Georgia’s Cover-2, the four verticals play allowed receiver Smith to get free after Tagovailoa froze the Georgia safety on his left by focusing on the receiver streaking down the middle of the field. The rest is history as Tagovailoa threw a perfect strike to the open Smith streaking down the sideline on what may be the greatest play of both Tagovailoa’s and Smith’s college football careers.

“Tua probably couldn’t have thrown that pass if I could have gotten ahold of him after the sack,” Saban admitted in the post game press conference, “but I couldn’t get out there fast enough.”

With the season over and Alabama winning its fifth championship title in nine years, the question becomes: who is Nick Saban’s starting quarterback next year? Hurts and Tagovailoa will have to battle it out, but the smart money is saying look for the kid from Hawaii to be under center when Alabama opens it 2018 season.

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The Story Behind the Alabama Back-Up QB That Led Crimson Tide to National Championship Game Victory