ATLANTA--You are Alabama coach Nick Saban. You have 5 national championship rings in your trophy case.
You need one more to match the legendary Paul Bear Bryant, an Alabama ghost you have been chasing for a decade.
But after 30 minutes in Monday night's national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Georgia, you have witnessed some true UFO moments--something happened, but you can't quite explain what they are.
Such as: Score: Alabama 0, Georgia 13
First downs: Alabama 4, Georgia 16
Penalties: Alabama 5 for 26 yards, Georgia 2 for 15.
Third down conversions: Alabama 1 of 6, Georgia 6 of 11.
None of those numbers make sense for a Nick Saban coached team playing in a big game. Alabama is being outplayed on the field and on the sidelines.
When asked about it at halftime, you sound as confused as your team has looked. ""We have to do something,'' you say. ""We haven't been able to throw it effectively at all and I don't think it's just the quarterback (Jalen Hurts). We have to get open and we have to protect better. Defensively we are making too many mistakes.''
So what do you do?
You make one of the boldest moves in championship history, benching Hurts a quarterback who took Alabama to within a few seconds of the national championship last season and who had guided the Tide to 12 victories in 13 games this season and a spot in the national championship game for the third straight season.
And you replace Hurts with a true freshman QB named Tua Tagovailoa, who a year ago was still playing high school in Hawaii.
Yes, he was the top-rated dual threat prep QB in the country last season, but his role this season was a back up to Hurts, playing in only 8 games, completing 35 of 53 passes for 470 yards against teams such as Fresno State, Mercer and Tennessee.
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All the 6-1, 219 pound kid from Hawaii, who played at the same high school as Tennessee Titan QB Marcus Mariota, did, was come up with a second half performance for the ages, completing 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and 3 TDs, including a 41 pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime which gave the Tide a 26-23 victory for the national championship.
Are you kidding me?
How many coaches, including coaches with long term contracts paying them $10 million dollars a year would have the cojones to do that in a regular season game, much less in the middle of a national championship game when your team is losing by two touchdowns.
Nick Saban, who now must be fitted for a GOAT (Greatest of All Time) jacket, with six legitimate on the field national championship.
""We needed a spark on offense, and Tua certainly gave us that,'' said Saban. ""We showed a lot of resiliency.
""I felt like we've had this in our mind,, that if were struggling offensively, we would give it to Tua,'' said Saban. " I thought Tua would give us the better chance and a spark, which we did. We have total confidence in him. We played him in a lot of games and he did a good job. I think all year long we had lots of confidence in Tua and we played him so that, if this situation occurred, he would be ready to play.''
Tagovailoa did do a good job, but Nick Saban did a better job. He didn't panic when Alabama trailed at halftime. He didn't panic when Georgia looked like it had retained control of the game with a 20-7 lead with 6:52 remaining in the third quarter.
He certainly could have tightened up in frustration when he watched kicker Andy Pappanastos miss a 36-yard field as the clock ticked to zero, which would have given the Tide a remarkable 23-20 victory in regulation.
Playing with a roster wracked with injuries--especially on the defensive side--didn't phase Alabama. It didn't phase Saban.
Playing games with freshmen and sophomores in key roles, didn't affect the way Alabama went about its business each week.
Saban wouldn't permit it. It's not in his DNA.
""I trust players'' said Saban, when asked about using inexperienced players in key roles throughout a process which has produced a remarkable 5 national championships in Tuscaloosa in the past 9 years.
Maybe that is why Saban had few qualms about putting basically untested freshman in tough challenging roles.
But it is much more than that. It is a system, it is a process that includes coaching recruiting, game management. It is a mind set that Saban breaks down to its most basic element.
"I like to win,'' said Saban.
On Monday night, Saban and Alabama did just that once again.
While Bryant will remain a mythical figure to many Alabama and college football fans, Saban is now right now next to Bryant on the mountain top[/membership]