Alabama is headed to its second consecutive and third national championship in the last four years after its 32-28 defeat of Georgia. The Bulldogs came literally a few yards away from stealing the SEC championship, but a nail-biter last drive ticked the final seconds away with Georgia just feet from the goal line on Aaron Murray’s completion to Chris Conley.
Oft criticized Georgia head coach Mark Richt is sure to take his lumps for how the last ticks of the clock played out. Yet, with Murray moving the ball effectively on the Alabama defense, he would be hailed a hero had the play gone as called.
Saw after the game that Richt confirmed they were throwing the fade, not the out route
— Smart Football (@smartfootball) December 2, 2012
The Crimson Tide secondary defended the counter-punch from what proved to be the knockout blow. Murray bested counterpart AJ McCarron on the stat sheet, but McCarron made the play that booked a trip to Miami. Alabama’s run game was pounding the Bulldog defense. So on a third down near midfield late, Tide offensive coordinator called a pass play that resulted in the pocket collapsing around McCarron and possession surrendered to Georgia with the Bulldogs leading.
Had Georgia added to its lead, or moved the ball beyond a three-and-out to consume some clock, Nussmeier would have been the quintessential scapegoat for Paul Finebaum Show callers. After all, Georgia’s front was struggling to contain Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon, who combined for over 330 yards rushing. Instead, both he and McCarron gained redemption when on the ensuing possession a pass call delivered the decisive shot.
McCarron sold a play fake, then found a streaking Amari Cooper down the left sideline. Cooper’s perfectly run route allowed McCarron to drop in a brilliantly placed ball over 40 yards through the air.
In his pregame interview with Tracy Wolfson, Nick Saban analogized this match-up to a heavyweight title fight. How apropos, given both teams got up from the mat at various points. Georgia dominated much of the first half every but on the scoreboard. So when Alabama led 10-7 at halftime, momentum was at a deficit much greater than three points.
Georgia’s response out of the locker room was an uppercut. Freshman running back Todd Gurley went for 44 yards on the initial scoring drive, grinding for the final one on a touchdown that set the tone for a Dawged third quarter.
Cornelius Washington made two plays that, had Georgia won, would be celebrated as game changers. The defensive lineman grazed an AJ McCarron pass that prevented a pass interference flag, forcing an Alabama field goal. Washington came through again, busting the line and flailing an arm to deflect the attempt. Alec Ogletree scooped up the loose ball and went 55 yards for a touchdown that put the Bulldogs ahead 21-10.
Eleven isn’t exactly a deficit when one can feel confident writing a Saban-coached team’s eulogy, though. Yeldon carried the Tide down the field in just about two minutes, capping off the drive with a touchdown and very out-of-character two-point conversion.
That two-point call proved to be a critical facet of the entire fourth quarter.
As the Dawgs and Tide traded blows and exchanged the lead three times in the final stanza, applied the extra pressure of needing more than a field goal on every Georgia drive. It dictated the final possession.
Murray led the Bulldogs down the field with savvy. He made the right play on virtually every snap, save a Dee Milliner near-interception overturned upon review, and the final play.
Tight end Arthur Lynch was nails on the final drive. His catch down the middle moved the Bulldogs within less than 10 yards of erasing three decades of heartache. Had the ensuing Murray attempt been a back shoulder fade, Georgia either scores the winning touchdown, or gets a second crack. Amazing how thin the margin between victory and defeat can be.
Awaiting Alabama is Notre Dame. Saturday’s contest served as a national semifinal. If it’s any indication of the upcoming playoffs, college football fans are in for some exciting moments. This year’s SEC championship is an instant classic, among the very best games of the 2012 season — if not the best.
- TJ Yeldon and Todd Gurley played far beyond their years, as each has all season. Tracking their progress in the coming years is a must; both are players who could have Heisman Trophy contention in their futures.
Amari Cooper is another true freshman. Truly astounding the young talent in SEC country; what’s in the water at those high schools?
- That was old school football with an exciting twist. The defenses were hardly exposed as bad, the knee-jerk reaction some are sure to trot out as their irrational retort to the equally irrational assertion that one conference has a monopoly on standout defense.
Points came with greater abundance in the second half because the effective running game of each offense wore down the defenses. That’s not an indictment of those units, both of which feature players with hefty NFL paychecks in their immediate futures.
However, I also don’t see a wide gap between these defenses and those that propelled Notre Dame and Stanford into the BCS. There may not be a gap at all. As mentioned, both sides in Atlanta are loaded with Sunday players. Georgia has Jarvis Jones, John Jenkins, Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo; Alabama has Milliner, CJ Mosley, Adrian Hubbard and Nico Johnson. Similarly, Stanford has Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy. Notre Dame has Manti Te’o, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix.
Scores continue to inflate around the game, but three of these teams plus Florida landing BCS berths proves that defense still determines championships.
- Because the defenses are comparably skilled, I anticipate a competitive national championship similar to the SEC championship. While the score might be lower — Notre Dame’s defense executes more effectively than Georgia but is not as good offensively — a great game should be ahead.
- Georgia may have lost, but the Bulldogs were one of the more improved teams from September/early October. Had Georgia seen Alabama or Florida in the season’s first five weeks, I suspect it would have been run off the field. For further reference, see also: Carolina, South.
There will be significant overhauls made to the defense in 2013, because a bevy of talent is NFL bound. However, if Aaron Murray opts for another season, he will be at the forefront of the 2013 Heisman discussion. He will also command a Bulldog offense that could be among the most explosive in the nation, with Gurley returning and Michael Bennett back from injury.
Of course, Alabama will again be at the front of the SEC race once again. Saban has done an uncanny job loading up on players who replace the departing seamlessly. Should the Crimson Tide win the national championship, Saban will be in the conversation among the very best coaches in the game’s history — if he isn’t already.
An Alabama-Georgia rematch for the ’13 SEC championship already has me amped for the next season, so long as a second installment lives up to the first.