When Nick Saban benched Jalen Hurts at halftime of the national championship Monday – for a true freshman who hadn’t played meaningful snaps all season – Aaron Murray was stunned.
But then it worked.
Tua Tagovailoa led Alabama to a 26-23 overtime win against Georgia, throwing a walk-off 41-yard strike to DeVonta Smith that gave the Tide their first lead of the game.
“Nick Saban finds a way in the second half to do just unthinkable things,” CBS Sports college football analyst Aaron Murray said on Taz & The Moose. “From putting in a freshman quarterback – I’m just like, what is he doing putting in a freshman? A kid who’s played but has not played aghast that type of defense, been in that type of atmosphere. But that is why he’s Nick Saban. That’s why he has six national championships.”
Tagovailoa finished 14-of-24 for 166 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Murray felt Georgia’s safeties and linebackers played too aggressively in the second half, but the game changed in the third quarter. After a Tagovailoa interception gave Georgia the ball in plus-territory, Jake Fromm threw an interception of his own on the very next play.
“I know it was tough because it was bouncing around a little bit, but I think that kind of changed the tide a little bit,” Murray said. “Georgia is feeling great, they just had a turnover themselves, (they’re in Alabama territory), they’re either going to go in for a touchdown and really put it away or even get a field goal at that point. But (the Tide) go down and get a field goal (after the turnover), and any points in that game is huge. So I think that was kind of the swing.”
Georgia was up 20-7 and could have gone up three scores. Instead, it became 20-10 and set the stage for Alabama’s fourth-quarter comeback.
In the end, though, Murray, who starred at Georgia, was appreciative of the Bulldogs’ season – and especially appreciative of the seniors who returned to Athens.
“I would say thank you,” Murray said. “These guys, to come back – any of them could have been in the NFL right now. Sony (Michel), Nick (Chubb), they could have been top-three, top-four round picks, making millions of dollars, all that good stuff. But they saw the potential, they knew the leadership, they believe in Kirby Smart and they accomplished so much this year. To win an SEC Championship game, to beat Oklahoma and win the Rose Bowl – there’s a lot to hang your hat on. It was a memorable season, and I think they’re building something really special at the University of Georgia. Kirby has them on the right track.”