Alabama Dashed Georgia’s Hopes For Second Time In 2018

328 days. That is how long it had been since Georgia’s heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the national championship. On December 1st, the 328th day, the Bulldogs were caught napping again as the Crimson Tide played the tortoise and slowly snuck up and won the race before Georgia knew what happened. Alabama won the SEC championship once again, by a final score of 35-28, giving Nick Saban his eighth SEC title and his sixth at the Capstone.

Just like last season, it looked as if Georgia was going to roll past Alabama and Kirby looked to be the first of Saban’s former assistants to take down the mentor. Once again, however, Alabama and St. Nick dialed the right plays and the Bulldogs fell flat on their backs just like Charlie Brown, as Lucy pulled the football away at the last second.

Speaking of dialing the right plays, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has caught a bit of flak this week for his fourth quarter fake punt on 4th-and-11 with backup quarterback Justin Fields trying to hide in the backfield. The call failed, nonetheless, and gave the ball to Alabama near midfield in time for quarterback Jalen Hurts to engineer the game winning drive.

Hurts entered the fold in the fourth quarter when starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa injured his ankle in the fourth quarter and the former Crimson Tide starter was called upon to rally the team from a seven point deficit. Tagovailoa had struggled mightily in the game with the only bright spot being a 51-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle that pulled Alabama to within 7 late in the third quarter. Unfortunately – and many believe it was his performance in this game – that kept the Hawaiian gunslinger from hoisting the Heisman trophy last Saturday night.

Similar to the 2017 National Championship game, Georgia had several plays that led to their undoing against the Crimson Tide, with the biggest being the aforementioned fake punt. What many might forget about, however, is Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s missed wide left on a 30-yard field goal that would have given the Bulldogs a 17-point lead and may have took the wind out of Alabama’s sail late in the third quarter. Alabama gained momentum from the junior kicker’s miss and scored quickly on the Tagovailoa strike to Waddle for a 10-point swing.

Another Georgia mistake that Alabama took advantage of was the fake punt. The Bulldogs lined up to punt with the game tied 28-28 and the ball at the 50-yard line. Fields was in the backfield looking as if he would be blocking for the punt, but the ball was snapped directly to Fields and the Alabama defense knew it. The Tide had lined up in its normal defense and Smart and the Georgia defense neglected to either use a timeout or take a delay-of-game penalty and punt the ball. The former Alabama coordinator went through with the play, however, and most have to wonder if Saban wouldn’t have called timeout and vetoed that call in the same situation if Smart called that play at Alabama.

The play resulted in the Crimson Tide taking over possession at their own 49-yard line and was the second consecutive week that Alabama successfully defended a fake kick, as Auburn failed on a fake field goal try the week before. Note to the Sooners, Tigers, and Golden Domers, it is not wise to run a fake kick against Nick Saban’s defense. Just like the missed field goal, Alabama drove down the field – this time guided by Hurts – and engineered a scoring drive when the former starting quarterback went into the end zone on a 15-yard scamper. The touchdown run gave the Crimson Tide its first and only lead of the game with 1:04 left in the game and proved to be the difference in a 35-28 game.

Some may say the stakes weren’t was high as last year, when Georgia squandered a 13-point lead in the national championship, but that’s debatable, as a win would have all but ensured the Bulldogs a spot in the College Football Playoff and an opportunity to play for a championship. With the loss, Georgia was relegated to the Sugar Bowl to play the Texas Longhorns, which isn’t where the Bulldogs planned to be to start the season.

Call it luck or call it fate, but if there were two words that described Alabama’s perseverance, it would be ‘carpe diem’. The Crimson Tide could have packed it in and started thinking about what a travesty it would be to have such a dominant regular season and drop their first post-season game of the year. Just watching the game, it showed that the Alabama players sensed an opportunity to seize the moment – such as the missed field goal or fake punt attempt – and capitalized on timely Georgia mistakes.

Georgia led in every major statistical category – total yards, first downs, and time of possession – except for the one that mattered most, the final score. Tagovailoa finished second in the Heisman trophy voting Saturday night, but I’m sure the sophomore signal-caller would have traded the trophy for Jalen Hurts coming in for him in relief and keeping the Tide’s unbeaten season intact while keeping them on path to a national championship.

So many aspirations hung in the balance during those four hours Saturday afternoon, from an undefeated season and an opportunity to be the first team to finish 15-0, to an SEC championship, to the 1-seed in the playoffs, to a chance to be the first team since 1999 Florida State to go wire-to-wire #1 in the AP poll. Alabama did not want to have the distinction of getting into the playoffs – which they likely would have – as a 4-seed without winning a conference championship.

The Crimson Tide will not have to worry about that now, as Alabama will face off against Heisman winner Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma Sooners on December 29th in the Capital One Orange Bowl with a spot in the CFP National Championship game on the line. The Tide defense will also get an opportunity to avenge Tagovailoa’s Heisman trophy snub – as some call it – to Murray.

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