Hurts so good in role reversal for Bama

  • David Simon

With all the current reboots in movies and TV shows, we’re getting a lot of the same stories with just some slight variations thrown in. It’s usually not all that exciting because there aren’t many surprises. As viewers, we go in knowing the basic plot and how things will unfold since it’s been done before.

Saturday’s SEC Championship game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Georgia essentially turned into a reboot of last season’s national championship game — except the similar themes came from out of nowhere to make it one of the more thrilling and memorable matchups the two have ever had.

When Tua Tagovailoa went to the ground with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, his team trailing 28-21 with a chance to go to the College Football Playoff dangling precariously within reach, the most familiar backup quarterback in the country took the field in something of a deja vu moment. It was during last year’s national title game when Jalen Hurts was benched at halftime, Alabama trailing Georgia 13-0, in favor of the freshman Tagovailoa. The Saint Louis product led the Tide back to a 26-23 overtime win for Nick Saban’s sixth national championship.

Tagovailoa went on to win the starting quarterback job and entered Saturday as the clear front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, having led Alabama to a perfect 12-0 record and piling up remarkably efficient stats in blowout victories week after week. His exit with just over 11 minutes to play, requiring assistance as he limped off the field, brought back Hurts to attempt what he was unable to do back in January. Hurts was ineffective through two quarters against Georgia last time around and would now need to rally the Crimson Tide in order to guarantee themselves a spot in the final four.

What ensued was no less dramatic than Tagovailoa’s legendary performance the first time around. Hurts took Alabama down the field for 69 yards in 13 plays, capping it off with a 10-yard strike to Jerry Jeudy to level the score at 28-28. The team went 4 for 4 on third downs, Hurts throwing for completions on three.

Alabama then got the ball back with fantastic field position after Georgia attempted a fake punt at midfield with just 3:05 to play in the game. It was certainly an aggressive call — if not ill-advised on 4th and 11 — as the Bulldogs clearly didn’t want to give Alabama an opportunity at the final possession in a tie game.

But it backfired severely. Alabama was ready for it and the play had no chance. Hurts then led the Tide 52 yards in five plays, finishing it with a 15-yard touchdown scramble on a designed quarterback keeper.

From the sideline, Tagovailoa watched Hurts take the ball across the goal line, raising his arms in the air when his teammate was still a good 10 yards from the end zone. He was the first to recognize the ultimate result and seemed to enjoy the moment just as much as his veteran understudy. The fact that he was still in uniform and on his feet was a good sign, but this moment belonged solely to Hurts.

So much was made in the offseason about whether Hurts would remain at Alabama and about how the program handled his demotion to backup. The transition to Tua seemed to include a lack of communication, at best, or a severe amount of disrespect, at worst. Hurts did and said all the right things throughout, though he finally let out some frustration, venting about how none of the coaches had reached out to him to give him any indication of what they were thinking.

To see how happy his teammates were and the pride on his face during his moment of vindication made this SEC title game a lot more than just a road block to the playoffs.

This reboot had everything. It showed Georgia once again appearing to be the better team. A previously flawless Alabama team seemed overmatched when facing an exceptional opponent, just as it appeared at halftime in January. The Tide needed their backup quarterback to spark a comeback win.

The origin story was duplicated, but completely re-written. There’s a chance that Jalen Hurts still never starts another game for Alabama, but the way he finished the game on Saturday has cemented his legacy. He seized the opportunity when it mattered most and has sent Alabama to another College Football Playoff.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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