ATLANTA – It’s way past cliché at this point to say that Alabama reloads instead of rebuilds under coach Nick Saban with a cavalry of five-star recruits. But the Tide’s win 26-23 win over Georgia for the national title was a perfect example of how true the trite statement is.
While freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will go down in Alabama folklore thanks to his three-touchdown second-half performance after replacing Jalen Hurts, he was far from the only freshman impact contributor the Alabama offense had in the second half.
Wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the man who Tagovailoa found in the end zone for the game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass, is a freshman. So are running back Najee Harris and Jerry Jeudy; both players came up big for Alabama as the Tide erased a 13-point second-half deficit and sent the game to overtime.
In typical Saban style, the coach praised the contributions his team got from freshmen after the game while looking ahead to what will be another highly ranked recruiting class after National Signing Day commences in February.
“Najee Harris played really well. Jerry Jeudy made a nice catch at the end. So this was, I think, one of our best recruiting classes, this freshman class from last year, especially with the offensive talent,” Saban said. “So that’s something we have to build on in this year’s recruiting and continue to build on because we’re going to lose a lot of good players who are seniors, probably have several players go out for the draft.”
The presence of Saban’s 2017 recruiting class is a big reason why we have Alabama at No. 1 in our absurdly early 2018 Top 25. And here’s how those offensive members of it who aren’t named Tua did on Monday night.
WR DeVonta Smith: The touchdown catch from Tagovailoa was Smith’s eighth career catch as a member of the Crimson Tide.
Saban said the 41-yard catch came on a play called “Seattle” which is four streak routes. As Georgia lined up in a cover-2 defense, Smith sprinted past the cornerback. The safety was late to the ball. Ballgame.
The catch was Smith’s first of the game as well. He ends his freshman season recording catches in eight games — meaning he had just one reception in each of them. And the OT catch is also his longest of the season (and short career).
The Louisiana native was a four-star recruit and the No. 6 wide receiver in the class of 2017 when he enrolled at Alabama.
RB Najee Harris: Harris was the most touted member of Alabama’s freshman class. The five-star recruit and California native was the top player in the country according to Rivals. But he didn’t play until the fourth quarter on Monday night.
Yeah, that’s how loaded Alabama’s backfield is. The team returned Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs from last year’s team, leaving Harris No. 4 on the depth chart. He entered Monday’s game with 55 carries for 306 yards.
He had his most productive game of the season against Georgia, carrying the ball six times for 64 yards and ending up as Alabama’s leading rusher as a result. All six of those carries came in the fourth quarter as Alabama’s newfound dynamic offense loosened up Georgia’s defense with long passes.
With one or more of the backs ahead of him potentially going pro, Harris is primed for a much bigger role in 2018.
WR Jerry Jeudy: Jeudy entered Alabama as another five-star recruit and the No. 3 wide receiver in the country. After going without a catch in Alabama’s first game of the season, he had receptions in each of the Tide’s next six games.
However, he entered Monday night’s game with just one catch for 36 yards over the past five games. He had one catch Monday night, but it was a big one.
Jeudy’s only reception of the game came on a first down with Alabama at the Georgia 33 with less than six minutes left in regulation. The 20-yard catch put the Tide at the 13 and set Alabama up for a game-tying touchdown throw from Tagovailoa to Calvin Ridley with less than four minutes left.
Both Jeudy and Smith are set up for bigger roles in Alabama’s offense whether Ridley declares for the NFL draft or not. And as their performances late in the game Monday night showed, they’re more than capable of increased responsibilities.
More College Football Playoff coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Alabama stuns Georgia in overtime 26-23 to win national title
• How ‘Hawaiian Tebow’ Tua Tagovailoa became an Alabama legend
• Alabama wins national title over Georgia: Sports world reacts
• The 6 plays that helped Alabama win the College Football Playoff national title
• After misses, Alabama K Andy Pappanastos relieved and happy for teammates after OT win
• How much more pain can Georgia take?
• Alabama OL Bradley Bozeman wins title, immediately proposes to girlfriend
• Controversial missed calls helped Alabama’s comeback over Georgia
• Protests, long lines, cheers and boos greet Trump at championship game
• Alabama benches QB Jalen Hurts for freshman backup
• ‘F— Trump heard yelled in tunnel as Alabama hit field
• Lane Kiffin tweets frustration with Alabama’s playcalling
• Alabama LB Mekhi Brown punches Georgia player, goes after staff member on sideline
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