Roll them dice: QB switch pays off for Alabama

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench to lead Alabama to a comeback victory over Georgia in the title game.
© USA Today Sports Images

Tua Tagovailoa! A true freshman backup was the shocking MVP as Alabama rallied from 13 points down to win the college football National Championship 26-23 in overtime over Georgia. Key stats plus NFL “market” Power Ratings right now in VSiN City. 

National Championship: Alabama overcomes missed field goal at regulation gun to win in OT

Learn the name, because you’ll be saying it the next few years. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench at halftime for the ineffective Jalen Hurts to lead the Alabama Crimson Tide to another national championship. Nobody saw it coming because the experienced Hurts wasn’t expected to play so poorly! Truly a tale of two halves (and then some!). Let’s look at the first half stats, then the full game. 

First Half

Georgia (plus 3) 13, Alabama 0 

Yards-per-Play: Alabama 3.9, Georgia 4.7

Total Yardage: Alabama 94, Georgia 223

Third Down Pct: Alabama 17%, Georgia 55%

Turnovers: Alabama 0, Georgia 1

Rushing Yards: Alabama 73, Georgia 97

Passing Stats: Alabama 3-8-0-21, Georgia 11-23-1-126

TD Drive Lengths: Alabama no TDs, Georgia 69

Georgia dominated the first two quarters as a field goal underdog on the “first half” betting line. Though, it was a slow, water torture kind of dominance. Only 4.7 yards-per-play. But 55% to 17% on third downs and that huge 223-94 edge in yardage. Alabama’s horrible offensive play from the Clemson game continued. TD drives in that game were 27 and 47 yards. Only 4.0 YPP vs. Clemson. To this point, it looked like the wrong team was favored, and that Alabama might have been a borderline Final Four entry rather than a true superpower. On the bright side for the Tide, they were down less than two touchdowns, and Coach Saban was about to play his ace in the hole. 

Full Game

Alabama (-4) 26 Georgia 23 (in overtime)

Regulaton Score: Alabama 20, Georgia 20

Yards-per-Play: Alabama 5.2, Georgia 4.7

Total Yardage: Alabama 371, Georgia 365

Third Down Pct: Alabama 21%, Georgia 42%

Turnovers: Alabama 1, Georgia 2

Rushing Yards: Alabama 184, Georgia 133

Passing Stats: Alabama 17-32-1-187, Georgia 16-32-2-232

TD Drive Lengths: Alabama 56-66 (25), Georgia 69-93

Tua Tagovailoa was an instant spark, which turned into a 90-minute lightning strike that completely turned the game round before winning it with a 41-yard explosion. Alabama won the second half 20-7, with a 6-3 win in extra time sealing victory. Tagovailoa (which might be a Polynesian word for “Stabler”) made big plays with his arms and his fresh legs. Viewers could see that the Tide was the stronger team down the stretch. Its running backs were bowling over defenders as the fourth quarter wound down. Meanwhile, the Alabama defense only had one bad drive after the break. 

Georgia Second Half Drives

3 and out

4 and a touchdown 

1 and an interception

6 and out

7 and out

3 and out

3 and out

Both sides of the ball were found lacking in the first half for Alabama. Both sides played like true champions from that point forward…bringing Nick Saban his SIXTH career national championship. 

For bettors…Georgia money survived a nailbiter at plus 3.5 or better. Though money line investors can’t believe the straight up win got away from them. Under bettors, particularly those who hit Under 48 and Under 47 hard early in the process suffered bad luck. If Alabama had made an early-game field goal, or it’s short last second try, the game ends 23-20 in regulation. 

Notes from our preview…

“No support yet for the Over even at a key number like 45, though it’s possible the public will go that way in the hours before kickoff because casual fans enjoy rooting for points. (Plus, overtime can only help!)

The case for Georgia (plus): the loss at Auburn taught them what NOT to do in big games vs. elite opponents, and this battle-tested underdog is now ready to compete toe-to-toe for 60 minutes. If Georgia can move the chains and get some points on the board with its elite rushers, then we’re looking at a potential dead heat. There’s not a visible case for “Georgia outright” beyond hoping Alabama suffers turnovers, or is at least a partial pretender in a way that’s hidden by its soft schedule. (The defense didn’t look overrated vs. Clemson!). Something like “these teams are so similar that it’s a virtual toss-up” is the heart of the case for Georgia.” 

The price for “Yes” on the overtime prop was plus 800. Not a payout of true odds, but a windfall for anyone who took a shot. We underestimated Georgia’s chance to control its own destiny vs. Jalen Hurts. Alabama sure played like a partial pretender in the first half. These teams turned out to be very similar, with a surprise sparkplug off the bench being the tie-breaker. 

Alabama finishes the year 13-1, but 6-8 against the market because of overpricing. Georgia can be very proud of a 13-2 straight up record, which caught the market flat-footed to the tune of 11-4 ATS. Given that both of tonight’s “second half” quarterbacks were true freshman (Jake Fromm of Georgia the other), this may be a rivalry we see renewed in the SEC Championship and Final Four for years to come. 

NFL Playoffs: “Market Watch” and “market” Power Ratings

Let’s see how the point spreads have settled for the divisional round in this week’s NFL Playoffs. Last weekend’s survivors travel to face the four bye teams. After running the numbers, we’ll update our estimate of “market” Power Ratings for the final eight entries. 

Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles

Opening Line: Atlanta -2.5, total of 44.5

Current Line: Atlanta -3 (even), total of 41.5

A lot of chatter about this being the first time since the six-team conference format was adopted that a #6 seed has been favored over a #1 seed. We came close several years ago when Green Bay as a #6 was only a 1-point underdog at Atlanta. This time, it’s Atlanta as a road favorite against a top seed that must try to win with a backup quarterback that’s been in terrible form. You can see that Atlanta opened just under the key number of three, and was bet up to it fairly quickly. Though, Philadelphia is getting support at the three, causing many stores to reduce juice on Atlanta (it’s even money at those locales to bet Atlanta -3, while you have to lay -120 on Philadelphia to take the field goal). Stores still at Atlanta -2.5 charge you -120 to lay that price with the Falcons, while allowing even money on Philly plus 3.

Huge drop on the Over/Under…as the first number up was hit very hard by quants and “matchup” handicappers. Atlanta’s defense has been shutting opponents down of late, while Philadelphia’s offense has struggled under Nick Foles. The 34 points they scored against the NY Giants was partly an illusion created by field position points. Philadelphia managed just 5.2 yards-per-play vs. a bad opponent, then only 3.5 yards-per-play the next week in a lucky win over Oakland. 

Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET: Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots

Opening Line: New England -14, total of 47.5

Current Line: New England -13.5, total of 47

The first number up was on the key number of 14. Dog lovers did show their cards quickly enough that the market as a whole moved down to Patriots -13.5. It’s not certain that the public will lay a number this high with the Patriots, while it’s definitely certain sharps would take Tennessee plus 14, particularly if weather looks like it will be an equalizer on a January night in Foxboro. Sports books will take it back to -14 if the public commits to betting a blowout. The total came down a half-point, likely due to the outdoor Under tendencies of Week One and the potential for weather. 


Sunday at 1 p.m. ET: Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers

Opening Line: Pittsburgh -7.5, total of 42

Current Line: Pittsburgh -7.5, total of 41

There had been a Jacksonville bandwagon building momentum in December, led by quants who were suggesting the Jaguars had legitimate championship hopes. Losses to San Francisco and Tennessee to close out the season, and then last week’s very poor offensive performance vs. Buffalo have knocked the wheels off that bandwagon for the time being. Pittsburgh opened above the key number of seven. Not enough support for the Jags showed early to bring it down. You may have heard respected talk three weeks ago that Jacksonville would only be plus 6 at New England. Now the Jags are plus 7.5 at Pittsburgh. Big difference. This total also dropped with the potential of weather, and the potential that defensive, conservative play could command game flow.  

Sunday at 4:30 p.m.: New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

Opening Line: Minnesota -3.5, total of 44.5

Current Line: Minnesota -4, total of 45

Though that’s only a half-point move on the team side, it’s a HUGE half-point because it went away from the key number. Three’s are so common as a finishing margin that an opener of -3.5 would have a natural tendency to drop. This line didn’t drop…and didn’t even stand pat. Respected money was hitting the favorite. We discussed in our game summary of New Orleans/Carolina that the Saints’ defense suddenly looked vulnerable rather than dramatically improved. That could be a key factor inspiring money to hit the rested favorite, particularly indoors when softer defenses don’t get any help from game conditions. This was the only Over/Under to nudge upward off the first lines posted. The only Over in the Wildcard Weekend quartet was in a dome, and did involve the Saints. 

Now to our estimate of “market” Power Ratings. It’s not uncommon to see betting lines for week two of the playoffs to show an extra point of respect for the bye teams. They’re fresher, probably healthier, and had extra time to prepare. It’s not universally true all the time, but there have been years-long stretches where the mix of home field AND the bye helped those teams crush market expectations. We’re going to factor in one extra point for that dynamic this week. 

88: New England

86: Pittsburgh, Minnesota, New Orleans 

84: Atlanta

83: Jacksonville

78: Tennessee, Philadelphia

Philadelphia has obviously fallen off the map. It’s impossible, even for “the sum of all models,” to fully assess the Eagles' issues with such a small recent sample size. It’s possible that we’re seeing an extreme overreaction…and a bye week will help Philadelphia get things in order. If the Eagles are just an 82 that stumbled around a bit, they should be a small favorite. That said, Philadelphia played SO poorly since the Wentz injury that they might be as bad as a 75. Just no way to know. The market’s guess is that the Eagles have sunk down to something around Tennessee or Buffalo level. 

Jacksonville/Pittsburgh is tricky because it’s hard to gauge how fast the Jaguars are falling…and how much of a spread above a TD is respect for Pittsburgh’s bye. This line wouldn’t have been this high before the Jags started their three game non-cover string. 

Not going to pretend that those are pinned exactly. We’ll know more once as numbers go up for conference championship games and the Super Bowl. We did move Atlanta up from last week, as the market had them way too far behind the Rams.

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

Previews of three important Tuesday night matchups…

Texas A&M (11-4 Overall, 5-7 ATS) at #21 Kentucky (12-3 Overall, 7-8 ATS)

7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN

Early Line: Kentucky -7

Texas A&M has been faded by a combined 11 points in its past four games. The Aggies were dealing with the suspension of leading scorer DJ Hogg up until Saturday. The team also played without guard Admon Gilder, who has missed the team's last five games with a knee injury.

Kentucky has also been bet against quite a bit recently, as the line has moved to the side of the Wildcats in each of the team's last five games. The point spread swings have been much smaller, some of which are just a half point, and with Kentucky being 7-8 against the spread, both the public and bookmakers seem to be getting a good read on the Wildcats.

On the Block: Key Analytics Rankings (out of 351 D1 teams)

Offensive Efficiency: Texas A&M 1.052 (104th), Kentucky 1.071 (72nd)

Defensive Efficiency: Texas A&M 0.902 (22nd), Kentucky 0.945 (58th)

Pace: Texas A&M 74.2 (96th), Kentucky 73.6 (124th)

Kentucky's numbers seem a bit misleading as this squad has played a few different styles and paces as John Calipari tries to find what best suits his young roster. Kentucky began the year with four straight games going under the total, followed by seven straight overs, and have since went on a run of three straight unders.

Texas A&M has been a different team without Admon Gilder. In the five games without him, Texas A&M is averaging 13.8 point per game fewer on offense and are allowing 8.2 points per game more on defense. In the team's three game losing streak, the team has had 70.9 possessions per game with 0.898 points per possession, which ranks 313th in the country in that timespan. Gilder is probable for this game, though guard Duane Wilson will likely be on the sidelines for another week.

#8 Texas Tech (14-1 Overall, 8-3 ATS) At #9 Oklahoma (12-2 Overall 6-7 ATS)

7:00 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Early Line: Oklahoma -3.5

While the line was 2.5 points out of favor for Oklahoma on Saturday when the Sooners played West Virginia, the line has tilted Oklahoma's way a good amount this season. Saturday is the first time Oklahoma has been faded all year, though Lon Kruger's bunch has been in many games where the line closed exactly where it opened. Though Oklahoma is 6-7 against the spread against the spread in regards to the closing number, the Sooners are 7-6 when looking at just the opening number.

Texas Tech has been one of the most undervalued teams in college basketball the past month plus, going 5-1 against the spread since the beginning of December. Despite this, the Red Raiders have had the line move in its favor just twice since its season opener against South Florida, and both were just 0.5-point swings to Texas Tech's side. That says bettors have not had confidence in Texas Tech to this point.

On the Block: Key Analytics Rankings (out of 351 D1 teams)

Offensive Efficiency: Texas Tech 1.120 (20th), Oklahoma 1.155 (13th)

Defensive Efficiency: Texas Tech 0.818 (2nd), Oklahoma 0.994 (137th)

Pace: Texas Tech 72.4 (181st), Oklahoma 81.7 (3rd)

Oklahoma runs up and down the court trying to drop 100 points in every game and will disregard its defense at times to create a track meet. That style will clash with an even keeled Texas Tech squad that hangs its hat on playing strong defense. Oklahoma's 94.4 points per game leads the country while the 81.2 points it allows is 317th. This wild pace has led to the total going over in 11 of Oklahoma's 13 games in which there was a total.

The Red Raiders cut off passing lanes really well and make opponents play a lot of isolation basketball, as they lead the nation in opponents' assist to turnover ratio at 0.464. It’s a wide divide between Texas Tech and the next best squad in that category as number two is Grand Canyon at 0.546

Texas Tech will also try to prevent as many second chances as possible, ranking 16th in the country, grabbing 78.2 percent of rebounds on the defensive glass. That will be key with Oklahoma shooting 53.1 percent from the floor, which is 20th in the country.

#5 Purdue (14-2 Overall, 11-5 ATS) at Michigan (14-3 Overall ATS 8-6-1)

9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN

Early Line: Team Purdue -2

Purdue has been bet up in three of its past four games, closing as a favorite of 19 or more points in each of those contests.

Michigan has not been faded in a game by bettors since its trip to Ohio State on December 4. In that span, Michigan is 5-1-1 against the spread.

On the Block: Key Analytics Rankings (out of 351 D1 teams)

Offensive Efficiency: Purdue 1.165 (9th), Michigan 1.098 (47th)

Defensive Efficiency: Purdue 0.856 (8th), Michigan 0.896 (18th)

Pace: Purdue 73.9 (106th), Michigan 68.6 (325th)

Purdue is a team that combines great 3-point shooting with 7-foot bigs in the low post to allow for a variety of ways to score. The Boilermakers are also the only team in the country that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Purdue also has been able to get off to fast starts, outscoring opponents by an average 12.3 points in the first half, which is fourth in the country.

Michigan has slowed games down this year, making the extra pass to try to get the best shot possible. The Wolverines' 1.552 assist to turnover ratio ranks 10th in the nation. On defense, the Wolverines only allow opponents to convert 5.3 treys per game this season. 

If this game comes down to the wire, it is important to note that Michigan makes just 64.2 percent of its free throws, which ranks 328th in the country. Purdue knocks down 75.3 percent of its free throws, which is 48th.

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