How Tua Tagovailoa became Alabama's unlikely legend

From ESPN - January 9, 2018

ATLANTA -- DeVonta Smith heard the playcall come in and knew he had a chance. On second-and-26 in overtime, with Alabama trailing Georgia 23-20, the freshman receiver had just learned he was going to run a go route into the end zone.

He smiled and looked over at his quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa.

"Trust me, bro," Smith told him.

Tagovailoa, the true freshman who replaced starter Jalen Hurts coming out of halftime, did not say a word back. The lefty from Hawaii simply nodded his head, the picture of calm under pressure.

Seconds later, Smith and Tagovailoa connected on a touchdown that now belongs to history -- a 41-yard strike that delivered Alabama its fifth national championship under coach Nick Saban.

"Hole shot," Smith explained, referring to his splitting the coverage to get open.

On the sideline, Hurts saw it all unfold as if in slow motion.

Hurts had been benched, but the sophomore was still engaged, dissecting the coverage on his own. It was instinctual, he explained. He diagnosed a two-high safety shell and thought his backup would not dare try it.

But Tagovailoa did and, moments later, Hurts was holding him in his arms. No one was happier for the freshman than Hurts.

"I love you," Hurts said he told Tagovailoa. "This is what you are made for. You are built for this."

As Hurts recounted the whole ordeal, as he revealed how he learned he was benched by Saban ("Ai not no conversation," Hurts said. "It was a decision he made. He's a boss and he made a great decision."), junior running back Damien Harris was shouting at him.

"We took that s---," Harris said. "They said we ai not supposed to be here. And we won the whole thing!"

That they did.

And without Saban's decision to pull Hurts, who knows?

It took guts. Ask former Alabama tight end O.J. Howard about Saban's decision, and he would tell you it took another piece of the human body, not one suitable for family programming.

Hurts was struggling, having completed just 3 of 8 passes for 21 yards. But he is still a former SEC Offensive Player of the Year with 61 career touchdowns, and he had taken this team to back-to-back championship games.

"He's one of the only [coaches] that could do that," Howard said of Saban's decision, "because he's a legend."

Ask Saban, and there was never a doubt. The offense was struggling, he knew Georgia had prepared all week for a run-heavy game plan and a curveball seemed in order.

"I just did not feel we could run the ball well enough," he said, "and I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did."

Ask players, and there was never a doubt, either.

Maybe they did not expect the quarterback change, but they expected nothing less from Tagovailoa.


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