You saw it and you have the same question.
In Monday night’s national title game, Nick Saban benched his starting quarterback at halftime in favor of a true freshman. That true freshman then led Alabama to the overtime win and yet another national championship for the Crimson Tide.
Saban’s reasoning for pulling starter Jalen Hurts — who was 25-2 as a starter — in favor of Tua Tagovailoa?
“We had to throw the ball in the game and I just thought he could do it better,” he said.
Hurts left the game 3-of-8 passing for 21 yards. Tagovailoa went 14-of-24 for 166 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Clearly, Saban made the right call.
And in doing so, he has Ohio State fans and media wondering what would have happened if Meyer would have done something similar with his quarterbacks.
Nick Saban’s loyalty is to winning, while Urban Meyer’s loyalty is to J.T. Barrett. Right?
Probably, but I don’t think the situations are all that similar.
For one, when was Meyer supposed to pull Barrett from a game in favor of Dwayne Haskins? You can point to Iowa, I suppose. The Buckeyes trailed 31-17 at the half and Barrett had already thrown two interceptions. But this was just one game after Barrett had led the miraculous comeback against Penn State. Barrett had just proven Meyer’s trust was correct one week earlier, so there was no way it was going to be called into question seven days later.
Should he have pulled Barrett at the half of that game? In hindsight, absolutely. The only hindsight he had at that time, however, was the 13-for-13 passing the last time Barrett played in a fourth quarter.
By the time it was clear that Barrett wasn’t going to get it done, the game was already out of hand. And the OSU defense wasn’t up for the challenge anyway.
What other game should Barrett have been pulled from this year? It wasn’t going to be Oklahoma. Not in week two. Barrett was 19-of-35 for 183 yards with an interception. And Nick Saban wouldn’t have pulled him then either. Jalen Hurts wasn’t pulled during a 24-10 win over LSU when he completed 11-of-24 passes for 183 yards, or during a 26-14 loss to Auburn where he was 12-of-22 for 112 yards.
And there is a very big difference between pulling a true sophomore who is not having a good game and pulling a fifth-year senior who has seen it all — and come through in the clutch more than a handful of times in his career.
That doesn’t mean Saban wouldn’t have done the same thing and put Tagovailoa in over a fifth-year senior, it just means the situations aren’t as comparable as we might want them to be.
And as Urban Meyer showed in 2015, he will bench a starter. He went with Cardale Jones over J.T. Barrett, and then eventually pulled the trigger on an undefeated Cardale Jones for a J.T. Barrett who simply moved the ball better.
Those people who wanted to see Dwayne Haskins play will tell you that he could have led Ohio State to the playoffs. There is no way to prove or disprove that assertion, however, which is why they can say it so emphatically.
What we can prove, however, is that J.T. Barrett took the Buckeyes as far as he could, which is why it’s not crazy to think that somebody else could have taken them farther. But that doesn’t mean they would have.
And there was still no clear instance to make a move like Saban had at the half of the national title game. Meyer didn’t have a similar situation.
Alabama needed to throw the ball in the second half. Jalen Hurts had just two 200-yard passing games this season, which gives you an idea of how uncomfortable they are with him throwing the ball. J.T. Barrett, meanwhile, had 11 200-yard passing games this year and three 300-yard passing games. If the Buckeyes need to throw the ball, they have shown in the past that — for better or worse — they are fine using Barrett to do it.
Give Nick Saban credit for doing something that wasn’t easy, but it was probably something that other coaches would have done as well. Even Urban Meyer. Remember the way Tim Tebow was used as a true freshman against Ohio State back in January of 2007?
Replacing a limited sophomore who is struggling with a talented true freshman in the national title game goes against many coaching manuals, but it was the right call.
It is an interesting juxtaposition between the two quarterback situations, but there are more differences than similarities.
Given the talented youth at the quarterback position in the national title game, perhaps the real lesson here is that if you are tied to a fifth-year senior at quarterback, you haven’t recruited well enough at that position to win a national title.