ATLANTA – It reeked of a panic move by Alabama. Put the freshman quarterback in the game, at halftime of the national championship. Bench the guy that got you there. Desperation.
But on the Georgia sideline, Jake Fromm had reason to be wary. He knows Tua Tagovailoa. He knows him very well, in fact. He knew it could work.
“I definitely know he’s a great player,” Fromm said. “The way he can make plays with his arm and his legs, he played great for Alabama tonight.”
Fromm and Tagovailoa may be from opposite ends of the country – Fromm is from Georgia and Tagovailoa from Hawaii – but they came up together at various quarterback recruiting and development camps, such as Elite 11. They became “pretty good friends” through that process, according to Fromm. And they ended up going against each other for the national championship, when each entered the season as the No. 2 quarterback for their team
Fromm had a strong game most of the way, passing for 232 yards. It was his 14th straight start in a remarkable freshman season.
Tagovailoa, on the other hand, hadn’t made any starts, but Nick Saban put him in the game with the offense sputtering and scoreless in the first half. It worked, as he passed for 166 yards, including the game-winning 41-yader to Devonta Smith in overtime.
“I’m so proud of him, the way he played,” Fromm said. “Obviously I wish he wouldn’t have made a couple plays. But Tua played great.”
Tagovailoa also created plays with his feet, running for 27 yards – a number that includes sack – and also scrambling to create passes. When he led Alabama to a score on his second series, clearly a spark was lit under Alabama.
“I feel like 13 definitely lit a spark,” Georgia senior outside linebacker Bellamy said. “Him being able to pass the ball opened up the running game more. He could also run it too. So hats off to him, man.”
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said they anticipated Saban going to the backup.
“We told everybody at halftime there was no question there were going to him because they were struggling and they needed some momentum,” Smart said. “He provided them some juice.”
Fromm, for his part, had some throws he’d like to have back. There were two interceptions, one that ricocheted off a helmet right in front of him in the second half. But the first interception looked like a decent throw, just grabbed away by the Alabama defender after it was bobbled.
Had Georgia held on to win, Fromm’s 80-yard touchdown throw to Mecole Hardman, perfectly placed, would have gone down in the annals of Georgia football. So would his clutch play, with the Hardman touchdown just one of many third-down conversions.
“He’s a great quarterback. He’s a composed quarterback. He’s not a freshman anymore in our eyes,” said Hardman, a sophomore. “He’s just a great quarterback. He made the right calls. He made the right reads. Sometimes he has a bump here and there but he gets back up and he keeps himself calm. He kept us calm. He kept us in the game. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a leader of this team. He’s a leader to the fullest, and I expect him to take us where we need to go.”