The Alabama Crimson Tide were staring down the intimidating barrel of a gun loaded with hungry Georgia Bulldogs, who lead 13-0 at the half.
Georgia created a wall on defense that continually stumped star dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts. Freshman Jake Fromm exuded cool, calm and collected on the other side of the football, running up a 13-point second quarter to stun a Tide team back in the title bout for the third straight year.
Bama’s first half made memorable by defensive slip-ups, offensive inefficiency, and fistfights on the sideline (no seriously, remember how a Bama player punched a coach? Nobody talks about that).
An act of desperation or genius pushed Alabama head coach Nick Saban into turning to back up freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the second half. He went on to lead the Tide to a heroic overtime victory, outscoring the Bulldogs 20-7 in the second half and 6-3 in extra time.
And with that comeback march, three teams futures massively changed. Tagovailoa destroyed Georgia’s magical season that survived quarterback injury, while also changing Alabama’s future at signal caller, as the incumbent Hurts was forced to watch his starting job slip away with every completion made in route to the 166-yard, three touchdown Tagovailoa show.
Following the game, the ripple effects started to expand. It was clear that Tagovailoa could not return to the bench, previously showing flashes of talent in garbage time earlier in the year. The comeback victory against the SEC Champions cemented his stop while simultaneously nailing the coffin closed on a less than impressive Hurts year.
The game secured not only Alabama’s future but also the Bulldogs’, turning the disappointing season finally into a strong recruiting year behind returning stud Fromm at quarterback.
But the team most affected by the second half of the heavyweight bout was only recently revealed in an article on Bleacher Report.
”I wanted to leave the school,” Tagovailoa told a group of seventh and eighth graders in Hawaii, according to Hawaii News Now’s Taryn Hatcher (via Bleacher Report).
“So I told myself if I didn’t play in the last game, which was the national championship game, I would transfer out. If I gave in, I don’t think I would have seen the end blessing of where I am now.”
”I called my dad and asked him if my offer to the University of Southern California was still available,” he said. “I wanted to leave. I told my dad I wanted to go to a school where I thought it’d be easier for me and wouldn’t challenge me so much.”
Sidestepping the fact he hinged his Tide career on playing in the championship, following a start-less season, Tagovailoa seemed set to leave and find field time elsewhere. The impact for the Trojans would have been massive, especially after last season’s USC quarterback Sam Darnold headed to the NFL.
The following is purely speculation in the highest order, considering the variables are: A move that is off the table and a quarterback who attempted a mere 53 passes thus far in his career.
However, speculative scrutiny be damned, this is the offseason.
In this world, Saban stands by the quarterback who led his team to the title game, watching Hurt’s bumble and fumble his way through the second half. The Bulldogs hoist the golden trophy while a disgruntled Tagovailoa pulls the Georgia confetti from his neck, his head already on the California beach training for the next season with a fresh team.
A few short weeks or months later, the Trojans get a call that turns their concerned frowns heavy with the task of replacing Darnold, fade into gleeful smiles as the Hawaiian product tells them he is headed to LA LA Land.
Tagovailoa joining the Trojans would make for a massive change in the quarterback trend of the school, because of how he plays the position. For more than 18 seasons of football, USC has had a line of pocket passing quarterbacks that made for statues behind their centers. From Carson Palmer, to Matt Leinart, to Mark Sanchez, to Matt Barkley, to Cody Kessler, to Sam Darnold, USC signal callers stuck with air travel.
None of the following made their name running with the ball and were far more apt pocket passers above all else. The line of USC staples provides a perfect mold for Tagovailoa to shatter.
The Trojans tossing pig skin in recent memory recorded 325 rushing yards (Darnold over two seasons), minus -425 (Cody Kessler over four seasons) and minus -113 (Matt Barkley over four seasons).
Tagovailoa already has 133 yards to his name, despite backing up Hurts for the entire season. He joins the Trojans as the best mobile quarterback for USC in years.
But Tagovailoa is a different type of quarterback. He is not the mobile passer that dashes at the nearest sign of trouble. As he showed in the title match, Tagovailoa wants to flip through his progressions, using his agility to extend a passing play rather than force a run. The style he is trying to build on seems to be in the Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson vein.
It is a raw set of skills but with a strong arm and aptitude for extending passing plays pars very nicely with hard nose running ability, tucking the ball when necessary and diving uphill against the teeth of a mean Georgia defense. His necessary nack for hanging in the pocket and taking the front line abuse is a double-edged talent on the ground, giving him power with speed.
His legs give the Trojans a fresh flare, but his arm will keep the offense right on pace. Tagovailoa is legendary for his deep go route pass to win the contest in overtime, but he made his money all game long against Georgia with quick in routes and screen passes, a staple of USC’s passing attack. The addition of the Bama transfer allows the Trojans to build on their playbook and keep the staples in the system that averaged 34.5 points per game in 2017. But when those fail, he can throw a sexy deep ball.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, the Tide put Tagovailoa did make his way into the game. The rest is history.