2017 College Football National Championship: Thoughts On Nick Saban, The Game, and How Kirby Smart Has Georgia Primed For Success

Kirby Smart learned one more lesson from Nick Saban during the National Championship Game Monday night. (Photo: Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A friend of mine texted me just after halftime of the National Championship game between Georgia and Alabama and asked me a question.

“You think Alabama really switches [Quarterbacks]?”

My response was matter-of-fact: “Not at all…Unless this game gets out of hand there’s no way that happens.”


When Tua Tagovailoa started the second-half at quarterback for Alabama my mind  started thinking about a lot of different things.

“What about the confidence of Jalen Hurts going forward?”

“Does this mean Georgia has Alabama on the ropes?”

“Is Nick Saban throwing a Hail Mary with this?”

But facts are facts: Georgia was leading 13-0 and Nick Saban had just pulled his starting quarterback, the 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year and 1st-team All-SEC selection who had gone 25-2 as a starter for a freshman whose most extensive game action came against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Mercer in blowouts. Bulldog Nation (myself included) could touch the College Football Playoff Trophy, it felt so close.

Then, as Tagovailoa completed passes at a clip almost three times that of Jalen Hurts (6.9 Yards per attempt to 2.6 for Hurts) and baited Georgia Senior safety, Dominick Sanders, for the game-winning 41-yard touchdown I remembered something the rest of college football should never forget if they want any shot at dethroning the Alabama Crimson Tide in the next decade:

Nick Saban literally does not care about your feelings. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, or who you’ve done it for. He only cares about winning, is relentless in his preparation and you better be too if you’re on his sideline. What Saban did in replacing Hurts with Tagovailoa was a masterclass in what it takes to beat Alabama. You cannot care about the name on the back of the jersey, only the end result; and heaven help you if you don’t have the pieces to compete.

You see to Saban, if you’re on the Alabama roster you’re a starter. It didn’t matter that Tua Tagovailoa was a freshman with eleven pass attempts since November 4th. Nick Saban demands starter level preparation and performance from any and every player wearing a Crimson Tide uniform. So it should not have surprised anyone to see Tagovailoa succeed against Georgia’s secondary (and explain how he did it with the poise of a four-year starter) or that Nick Saban crafted two game plans against a Georgia team that was just as, if not more, talented than Alabama. It was a masterclass in what kind of preparation it takes to become, perhaps, the greatest college football head coach of all-time. What other coach could pull that off in a week? What other coach would attempt to?

Not many. That’s the difference between five championships in nine years and everyone else. But if you’re paying close attention, you’ll see that Georgia’s Kirby Smart isn’t just “everyone else.”The man who spent eleven years with Nick Saban knows what needs to be done and is well on his way to doing it.

Why do I say this? Pair Georgia’s shortcomings in the title game with his recruiting patterns and the method to Smart’s madness on the recruiting trail becomes clearer. He knows, perhaps better than anyone else, what it takes to build a program that can match what Saban has built down in Tuscaloosa.

For example: Georgia didn’t have the luxury of flipping the script on Alabama at Quarterback when they needed to. Want to know why Georgia became predictable on offense? Because that’s the personnel they have. I have all the respect in the world for Jake Fromm, and I think he’s going to be an unbelievable quarterback going forward. But Smart and his staff didn’t aggressively recruit Justin Fields, the number one Dual-Threat/Quarterback in the country, just for show. It was for moments like Monday when Fromm, the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, wasn’t a threat to extend plays with his legs and completed just four passes in the second-half.

That’s just one example of many that could be made of Georgia’s, potentially, legendary 2018 incoming class.

Attention to these details should make every Georgia fan giddy for this program’s future with Smart as head coach. That’s before mentioning that despite Georgia’s flaws this is the same team that won the SEC, won the Rose Bowl, and was a busted play in overtime away from winning the National Title.

Alabama and Nick Saban ruled the day, again. But what’s on the horizon in Athens, Georgia looks to be just as special.

Follow me on Instagram (@adamcubbage), Twitter (@dacubbage), and “like” the podcast on Facebook @bospodcast. Also, be sure to subscribe and listen to all episodes from season 1 and season 2 of the Because of Sports Podcast on  iTunes and please be sure to leave a rating and/or review. The Because of Sports Podcast can also be found on Stitcher.  

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