ATLANTA -- "We weren't even supposed to be here," running back Damien Harris said as he bounced around the Alabama locker room. "But we won this (expletive). We won this (expletive)."
The Crimson Tide -- part of a debate that consumed the sport as a team that didn't win its own division, let alone a conference title -- rallied to take down Georgia 26-23 in overtime Monday night in the all-SEC College Football Playoff championship game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Yes, they indeed won this (expletive), as Harris put it. And it was every bit a byproduct of the boldest of calls from Nick Saban: benching his starting quarterback of two seasons, Jalen Hurts, for Tua Tagovailoa.
"Coach brought the quarterbacks together and said that I was going to start the second half," said Tagovailoa. "... Who would've thought I would've ever been here right now in this moment?"
In a legend-making performance, or at least one that will make him one in the Yellow Hammer State, the Hawaiian threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns, capped by a 41-yarder to DeVonta Smith in overtime to give the Crimson Tide their 17th title and the fifth under Saban.
"We needed a spark on offense," Saban said.
That's because with Hurts at the controls, the Alabama offense was sputtering. The QB hit on just three of his eight first-half attempts for 21 yards, which included overthrowing Calvin Ridley on a sure-fire TD on the Tide's first possession after a defender had fallen down.
The Crimson Tide went into the locker room scoreless with all of 94 yards, while Georgia went for 223 through the air via freshman QB Jake Fromm.
"I felt like that we've had this in our mind that, if we were struggling offensively, that we would give Tua an opportunity, even in the last game," Saban said. "No disrespect to Jalen, but the real thought was, you know, they came into the game thinking we were going to run the ball and be able to run quarterback runs, which we made a couple of explosive plays on.
"But with the absence of a passing game and being able to make explosive plays and being able to convert on third down, I just didn't feel we could run the ball well enough, and I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did."
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That spark can be pinpointed to an exact moment, when on 3rd and 7 at their own 47-yard line, Tagovailoa scrambled to his right, with a pair of Bulldogs defenders on him and another closing. But he spun out of tackle, ran back to his left and past the Georgia 44 for a first-down.
Four plays later, Tagovailoa hit Henry Ruggs III for a 6-yard TD to cut the deficit to 13-7. In his first action since Alabama shellacked Mercer 56-0 on Nov. 18 and his most substantial playing time of the season, Tagovailoa wasn't without his troubles.
He tossed an interception at Alabama's 26-yard line and was saved by his defense getting a pick of its own via Raekwon Davis (he was also saved a second INT in which Dominick Sanders pinned it up against his leg in the back of the end zone, but it wasn't ruled a catch).
But Tagovailoa would lead scoring drives of 15, 71 and 66 yards before delivering Alabama's only lead on that final pass, a laser to a wide-open Smith, a play that came right after he had been sacked for a 16-yard loss.
"We called four verticals on that play," Tagovailoa said of the game-winning throw. "After the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play. And throughout that process, we got the ball. It looked like they were running two-trap. The corner trap on that single receiver side, and I held the safety in the middle as the over was coming. I looked back out, and he was wide open, Smitty was wide open so I hit him, and here we are now."
But it's not just about where they are after coming back from last season's gut-wrenching loss to Clemson to claim the title. It's also about where they're going, and specifically who's directing them after seeing a freshman come off the bench to solve top-10 defense in two-plus quarters of play.
To his credit, Hurt spoke glowingly of Tagovailoa despite losing the spotlight on the biggest of stages, saying "He's a great quarterback and we've got that mutual respect in the quarterback room." But it's undeniable that the Crimson Tide will enter the spring with a quarterback question, it not a quandary on their hands.
Hurts, despite being among the top-10 in the nation in pass efficiency (153.7) and throwing just a single interception on the season, has taken his fair share of criticism in winning 25 of his first 27 starts. Despite having talent on the perimeter like Ridley, he threw for just 2,081 yards this season (down nearly 700 from a year ago) and had six fewer touchdowns with 17.
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He's been more rusher than passer with 1,809 rushing yards the past two seasons and while Hurts has limited turnovers, he's also limited the explosive capabilities of Saban's offense. Alabama was 91st in passing this season (193.9) and 87th a year ago (210.3).
Tagovailoa is another story, throwing for more yards in a half than Hurts did in eight games this season. His 24 attempts equaled the most Hurts had in any game this season.
But to his credit, Saban seemed to take a step toward defusing the situation before it gets started, saying "I also think I should say that we would not be here in this championship game if it wasn't for some of the very good plays that Jalen Hurts made throughout the course of the year.
"We have two guys that we have really good confidence in."
But one now has a championship win on his resume; the other has a tough loss as a freshman on this stage and a stalled effort his second opportunity in a title game. How can Alabama possibly turn back the clock after a glimpse at what its its offense could be? The future for Hurts simply may not be at QB, while Tagovailoa has provided the Tide with a new path at the position.
The confetti is still littered across the Mercedes-Benz field, and already the seeds for that debate have not only been planted, them seem a formality. Tagovailoa brought the Tide back from 13 down and in the process likely claimed the job for his own.
Alabama has been crowned, again, and it came from finding a jolt it so badly needed.
"If you've got to go in, if your number's called, then you've got to do what you've got to do to ... give the team the best opportunity to win the game," Tagovailoa said.
Alabama, as Harris cried out, wasn't even supposed to be here. The QB that led them to victory? He wasn't even supposed to be on the field.
"I couldn't be prouder of him taking advantage of the opportunity," Saban said.
The Crimson Tide have gone from fourth seed to champions and Tagovailoa -- who threw more passes in one night than he had in the past eight games combined -- has officially arrived.