Monday, October 22, 2018
  • USF Sports Bulletin
  • Joey Knight

From Tua to two-headed QB: Boldest college coaching moves ever

With one bold calculation Monday night, Nick Saban further cemented his mug on the Mount Rushmore of college coaches.

More than that, the arguments hailing him as the greatest of all time are a bit more concrete.

Saban's decision to replace starting QB Jalen Hurts with freshman Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the national title game against Georgia was bold and, in the end, bodacious. Tagovailoa (14-of-24, 166 yards, three TDs, one INT) rallied the Crimson Tide from a 13-0 halftime deficit, tossing a game-winning TD in overtime.

"I just didn't feel we could run the ball well enough," said Saban, winner of six national championships (five at 'Bama). "And I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark."

Was it the gutsiest call in college football lore? Debatable. And you know how we love a good debate around here.

Tell us where you think Saban's decision ranks among these bold moves.

Playing to win
(Miami vs. Nebraska, 1984 Orange Bowl)
While this gamble didn't pay off for Tom Osborne, it reinforced as a guy of integrity in a profession where that virtue can be scarce. With less than a minute remaining, top-ranked Nebraska scored on a 24-yard Jeff Smith option run, cutting Miami's lead to 31-30. Though a tie almost certainly would've assured the Cornhuskers of the national title, Osborne opted to go for two (overtime didn't yet exist in college). "I don't think any of our players would be satisfied backing into (the national title) with a PAT," Osborne told reporters. QB Turner Gill's two-point pass was batted by UM's Kenny Calhoun, clinching the 'Canes' first national title

Two arms are better than one
(FSU at Florida, 1997)
Never in his previous seven seasons as Gators coach had Steve Spurrier dealt with such instability at quarterback. Prior to this showdown against the top-ranked 'Noles, he already had used three starters and seen his team struggle to an 8-2 record. His audacious plan to keep FSU off-balance (and avoid having to use hand signals) was as crafty as it was courageous: Spurrier alternated season-opening starter Doug Johnson (who had thrown seven interceptions his previous five games) and seldom-used senior Noah Brindise each play. They combined for 318 yards, highlighted by Johnson's late 63-yard throw to Jacquez Green an an audibled curl-and-go. A couple of plays later, Fred Taylor scored the game-winner with a 1-yard TD run with 1:50 remaining, clinching a 32-29 Gators upset.

Oh Boise
(Boise State vs. Oklahoma, 2007 Fiesta Bowl)
Mostly forgotten is the fact Broncos coach Chris Petersen made consecutive gutsy calls in what remains one of the most exciting games in collegiate lore. With Boise facing fourth-and-2 and trailing by seven in overtime, Petersen orchestrated a direct snap to backup WR Vinny Perretta, who rolled right and found TE Derek Schouman in the end zone for a 5-yard TD pass. What followed, of course, was the most famous Statue-of-Liberty play ever, executed by QB Jared Zabransky and TB Ian Johnson. Broncos, 42-41.

'We didn't come here to tie'
(Pitt vs. Georgia, 1982 Sugar Bowl)
Truth be told, credit for this gutsy call goes as much to Panthers QB Dan Marino as it does to Coach Jackie Sherrill. Trailing by three and facing fourth-and-5 from the Dawgs 33 with 42 seconds to go, Sherrill called a timeout to discuss his team's options. "(Marino) said, 'Coach, I'm not here to tie the ball game,'" Sherrill would say afterward. With that, Marino backpedaled against a Dawgs blitz, and found John Brown in the middle of the end zone for a 24-20 Pitt triumph.

Holy Buckeye
(Ohio State at Purdue, 2002)
Trailing by three and facing fourth-and-1 from Purdue's 37 with less than two minutes remaining, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel called for "King Right 64 Y Shallow Swap." Translation: He opted to heave the ball instead of trying to grind out a first down. The result: QB Craig Krenzel stepped up in the pocket and flung a 37-yard TD strike to Michael Jenkins, clinching a 10-6 triumph. Ohio State would go on to win the BCS national title.