He did not come out of nowhere just to inflict upon Georgia an overtime defeat in the Game of Games on Monday night. But you can see it from Tua Tagovailoa’s home of Ewa Beach, Hawaii.
His name does not roll gracefully off the southern tongue, and in the case of Bulldogs senior linebacker Davin Bellamy, his tormentor will forever be known numerically.
> Photos: Bulldogs' dreams turn to dejection
“No. 13, he came in and changed the game, man. Hats off to him,” Bellamy said following Alabama’s 26-23 national-championship game victory over the Bulldogs.
After being shutout in the first half and producing only 94 yards of offense, the Crimson Tide’s decision to replace their known-quantity quarterback Jalen Hurts with freshman Tagovailoa was nothing less than the difference between low Tide and high.
Explained Nick Saban, after winning his fifth national title with Alabama in nine years: “I felt we had (the quarterback change) in our mind if we were struggling offensively, that we would give Tua an opportunity.
“With the absence of a passing game (Hurts was 3-of-8 for 21 yards in the first half) and (not) being able to make explosive plays and (not) being able to convert on third down, I just didn’t feel we could run the ball well enough. I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did.”
If anything, Saban undersold his reliever.
Tagovailoa was adrenaline on the hoof, awakening a drowsy Alabama offense. Alabama churned out nearly three times the offense in the second half as in the first (277 yards), with the new guy completing 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns.
The last score was a walk-off touchdown, a 41-yard connection with DeVonta Smith in overtime that in a blink spun would-be disaster into gold. On the preceding play, Georgia sacked Tagovailoa, leaving Bama with a second-and-26 on Georgia’s 41, and seemingly hard-pressed just to get into position for a tying field goal. But then he hit a streaking Smith, uncovered by both Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders on a picture-perfect throw.
Tagovailoa had appeared in eight games for Alabama this season, starting none of them. He was 35-of-53, with eight touchdowns and one interception.
Georgia said it was prepared for a possible Tagovailoa sighting, if not for the ultimate impact he would make.
“Absolutely, we talked long about it and talked about the ways to play him,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We played enough snaps (of practice prep). We’d seen him on tape. We told everybody at halftime there was no question they were going to him because they were struggling, and they needed some momentum. He provided them some juice, got them some momentum.”
“He’s got confidence in his arm. He scrambles and makes plays, throws the ball down the field,” Smart added, before classing Tagovailoa with his own freshman QB Jake Fromm. “He’s a really talented freshman, reminds you of Jake with a lot of things he did. He’s got poise in the pocket and he made the plays when he had to.”
“We definitely scouted him,” cornerback Aaron Davis said. “We knew that they had a solid backup quarterback and when he comes into the game he likes to pass it. We were prepared for it. We just got on the field and didn’t execute. There were plays that we left out there that we shouldn’t have.”
“It was a heartbreaker man,” Davis added. “We got the sack on the first play. Made it second and long and you felt if we stop them for two more plays we win this game. To see that (touchdown) was devastating to us.
On the last touchdown play, Davis said, “I don’t know what happened over there. Anytime someone is wide open like that it’s really a communication issue. That’s something we can’t have, especially in a crucial moment like that.”
More than that one play, Monday night was about the way Tagovailoa kept bringing Bama back, the Tide trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half and 10 entering the fourth quarter. Saban trusted his arm on fourth-and-4 at the Georgia 7-yard line with less than four minutes to play, and Tagovailoa delivered a patient, perfect touchdown strike to Calvin Ridley in the middle of the end zone to tie the score at 20.
“I really don’t know how we lost that game,” Bellamy said.
The reason is pronounced “Tongue-OH-vai-LO-uh.”