Lightning never strikes in the same place twice. So they say.
But try telling that to the Georgia players, coaches and fans who filtered out of the Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta for the second time in 326 days. Feeling like they had been mugged. For a second time. By the same person.
Back in January at the 2017/2018 National Championship, Georgia held a comfortable lead going into the second half. So big was that lead that it was larger than any half time deficit a Nick Saban led Alabama team had ever been faced with.
The then true freshman talent, who had played little more than a handful of bit part appearances during the season was asked to come on in the biggest game of his life and turn the gargantuan deficit around. He did. And in the most dramatic of ways Tua Tagovailoa became a nationwide phenomenon and overnight sensation.
You couldn’t help but feel for starting quarterback Jalen Hurts who had led his team to the National Championships.
Hurts had come up against a resurgent Bulldogs team rebuilt by ex Alabama and former Saban wingman Kirby Smart. This was as good a team as the Crimson Tide had faced all season and the Bulldogs had mastered how to stop the Hurts run game. Hurts had been neutralised and was subsequently asked to sit out the second half of perhaps the greatest college football game witnessed in living memory.
The rest is history as Alabama were once again crowned champs and Tagovailoa their king.
Fast forward 326 days and the two sides met again, in the same stadium but this time battling it out for the SEC title and with it a shot for a National Championship. Ironically, a Georgia win would likely set up a Play Off berth against Clemson or Notre Dame and if successful another Natty Ship game against the Crimson Tide.
Karma was sitting bolt upright in her bed.
In quite the most bizarre twist of fate the Crimson Tide were again trailing at half time. Tagovailoa who had injured his knee earlier in the season was not living up to his early season spectacular form. Now, this is being unkind to Tagovailoa who has blazed a trail of quarterback play perhaps never before seen in college football. Tua will set all sorts of records this year and likely smash them all next season.
But a recurrence of the knee injury and then a subsequent ankle injury in the second quarter saw him disappear to the dreaded medical tent and then up the tunnel.
Losing to a Georgia side who were playing the way they should have earlier in the season, the sight of Tagovailoa limping to the locker room was not what Nick Saban, his coaches or the Crimson Tide fan base wanted to see as they scripted their comeback.
But this is when that second bolt of lightning struck, right in the middle of the field and straight through the heart of this Georgia side.
Jalen Hurts who had quietly, methodically and professionally sat throughout the season as a back up – playing a bit part role, principally when the games were so far out of sight that Tagovailoa was rested – got the chance he had been waiting for since January. In fact this wasn’t just a chance. It was redemption.
In an incredible parallel to the January National Championship game, Georgia had set their defence up to nullify QB1. In January they were caught out when the southpaw, non running Tagovailoa made his half time appearance. The Bulldogs were caught off guard, unable to react sufficiently and quickly enough to stop him from wrecking damage.
In the SEC game the Georgia defence was set up to nullify the southpaw, non running Tagovailoa. At half time they faced the lightning quick, unpredictable Hurts and again were found wanting in their flexibility.
If you are reading this, the chances are you watched or have since seen a rerun of this fascinating game. Hurts drove his team up the field on numerous occasions in the third and fourth quarters to deliver knock out blow after knock out blow.
Hurts ran for a touchdown in the final score of the game, clinching victory which was just reward, justice, redemption – call it what you will for the pain he suffered in January. The smile on his face said it all. The big Man upstairs works in mysterious ways right enough.
In fact, no more endorsement was necessary than when Nick Saban with arm round Jalen Hurts shoulder and close to tears told the world how proud he was of his quarterback.
And from a man who makes Bill Belichick’ press conferences seem like a Night at the Apollo and who continually resembles a bulldog chewing a wasp, this was indeed praise of the highest magnitude.
Having followed Alabama for many years I have rarely if ever seen Saban quite so emotional. But it was those once in a generation games. Made special because of that National Championship game less than twelve months previous. Bama had been on the ropes for most of the contest. They knew not only how much of a game they had been in, but how close they had come to blowing a truly remarkable season.
Now the speculation starts. Does a fit Tua Tagovailoa start in the Oklahoma Play off game? Given the two starting quarterbacks on show this is the box office game, Tua v Kyler Murray. The only other college superstar likely to prise the Heisman away from Tagovailoa.
But more importantly, as is expected and Jalen Hurts transfers at the beginning of his Senior year, he leaves with his head held high. His attitude and professionalism beyond question and while there are aspects of his game he continues to work on, NFL scouts will be watching with a keen focus.
He deserves to be a starting quarterback and will receive no shortage of offers. I am sure he will pick the right team and with a good season propel himself into the 2020 Draft.
Just, please don’t let it be Auburn.
photo credit : The Sporting News