That end zone is not Georgia’s friend.
For the second consecutive year, the Bulldogs have fallen in a championship to Alabama. This was a situation where Georgia had one last shot for a deep pass with three seconds left.
Incomplete. Jake Fromm threw it 39 yards to the right corner of the end zone toward Riley Ridley, Jeremiah Holloman and a host of others. It was swatted away. Alabama pulled off a 35-28 win in yet another heartbreaker.
“The system is what it is. What happens, happens,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “These kids out here today, they battled tooth and nail with what is one of the best teams in the country. We did enough to win the game, and we didn’t finish it.”
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In terms of momentum, it was almost like watching the National Championship over again.
Alabama made a quarterback change and things went in the Crimson Tide’s favor. Sound familiar? It was a reverse swap, and not by choice. Same result.
Tua Tagovailoa went down with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, and enter Jalen Hurts. Alabama had a different type of spark, and scored on consecutive drives.
Hurts looked almost like Tagovailoa did a season ago against the Bulldogs. He found Jaylen Waddle for a 23-yard reception, then Jerry Jeudy capped it off for a touchdown. On the following drive, Hurts did it with his legs on a 15-yard scamper to give Alabama the lead with 1:04 remaining.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised myself,” Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said. “I was aware that he was in the game and what he’s good at. I just think that the quick change-up kind of caught our defense off guard.”
That came after Georgia looked as if it could “seal it,” in the words of freshman edge rusher Brenton Cox. It had a halftime lead for the second consecutive time against Alabama, only for it to vanquish. The Crimson Tide were 0-4 in SEC Championship history when trailing at half, but no longer.
Fromm was at his career-best. Georgia had used a plethora of delayed blitzes to fluster Tagovailoa. D’Andre Swift was leading a run game.
But Alabama was “one play better,” said multiple Georgia players.
“We had a good plan and did some things well,” said tight end Isaac Nauta who had 81 yards and a touchdown. “They made some plays where we couldn’t get down and put more points on the board. They schemed it up well and their guys made plays.”
Georgia had a chance to cushion its lead to three scores, a deficit that would’ve been steep for Alabama to overcome with just over a quarter to go. Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia’s place-kicker who has been nearly-automatic throughout the past two seasons, hooked a 30-yard attempt.
Blankenship walked off the field in distraught. He said when the Bulldogs needed him most, he didn’t come through.
“The play clock got real low, and we kind of rushed it,” Blankenship said. “We rushed to get it off. I rushed my approach. You saw the results.”
One to tie, the next to take the lead and cement yet another postseason win for Alabama. Georgia has yet to be the victor, going 0-3 against the Crimson Tide in a championship game.
Georgia had a sense of control throughout the game, but it came crumbling down as the Crimson Tide scored 21 consecutive points.
After the SEC Championship loss, Georgia awaits its fate for the College Football Playoff and made its case. At the worst, the Bulldogs will be slated against Texas (the Big 12 championship loser) in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
Should being one play away be enough?
“Yeah, for sure,” wide receiver Mecole Hardman said. “That’s up to the committee, though.”