Now, the true freshman has earned legendary status in Alabama's rich football history by leading the Crimson Tide to a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in the College Football Playoff National championship game. Saban then called in freshman freshman Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback to start the second half to replace a struggling Jalen Hurts.
Tagovailoa found Smith wide open for a 41-yard touchdown pass to clinch the title and a 26-23 win for Alabama against Georgia.
"You can't really lose yourself if you're a kid from Hawaii going to Alabama", Tua said (via SEC Country). Still, it's impossible not to imagine that had the officials been just a little sharper on Monday night and called any one of these three moments in the game correctly, the Bulldogs could have held on to win their first national championship since 1980.
Alabama stormed back from a 13-0 halftime deficit and was in position to win it with 3 seconds to go in regulation, but Andy Pappanastos missed a field goal try from 36 yards, sending the game into overtime with both teams tied 20-20.
Tagovailoa rewarded the move on his second drive, breaking loose on a third-down scramble that turned into a touchdown drive for the Crimson Tide.
Tagovailoa was named offensive player of the game, making plays running and passing.
After Georgia kicked a field goal to go up 23-20 in overtime, Tagovailoa's extra period got off to a terrible start when he was sacked on the first snap for a major loss. This was a insane demolition derby, with tensions so high that one Tide player had to be restrained from going after an unidentified man on the sidelines and another player needed emergency personnel to cart him away with some kind of medical issue.More news: 'Dead' Spanish prisoner wakes up in morgue
Alabama will certainly still be among the favorites again going into next season, regardless of how the quarterback situation shakes out.
Georgia, under the ex-Bama defensive coordinator Smart, looked a lot like a typical powerhouse Crimson Tide team, beating Bama at its own game in a way that so few teams have been able to do over the past decade.
Georgia sacked Tagovailoa on third down on his first possession.
During the punt on fourth down, Georgia blocked the kick and recovered the ball in the red zone.
Alabama's defense gave Tagovailoa another chance.
Coming off a year in which sports and politics were joined at the hip, the first big sporting event of 2018 was set up to continue the trend. "You've got to make it happen, and they've got to believe that".
"He's built for stuff like this", he added.More news: Molson Coors snaps up Aspall Cyder in UK
Following the victory, Tagovailoa addressed reporters in a news conference, mere feet from were Saban Saturday. "I couldn't be prouder of him taking advantage of the opportunity".
He finished with 166 yards and three touchdowns. "The players can learn from this game".
"I just thought we had to throw the ball in the game, and I thought he could do it better", Saban said in an interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi.
As a coach, Saban had seemingly seen it all.
It won him his sixth national championship.
Like, who sits their starter for a true freshman in a National Championship Game, and it actually works? It paid off. The quarterbacks bought in, the team bought in and Tagovailoa rewarded Saban's trust.
Not even the high-risk decision to go away from Hurts and give a true freshman quarterback a shot.More news: James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa
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