It couldn’t have been scripted any better, really.
Kirby Smart and fourth-ranked Georgia prepared for Jalen Hurts’ entrance – an emergency substitution after Tua Tagovailoa went down in the fourth quarter — all week.
When the time came, though, it was Hurts who got his redemption story and the Bulldogs (11-2, 7-1) left feeling a sense of deja-vu. The worst possible kind, and one that likely ended the team’s College Football Playoff hopes.
“We did a good job with (Tagovailoa),” said Bulldogs defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter. “Jalen came in and surprised us a bit, a more mobile quarterback. I wasn’t necessarily surprised myself. I just think the quick change-up kind of caught our defense off guard.”
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On paper, it really couldn’t have gone much better for the Bulldogs.
Trailing 28-21 midway through the fourth, Nick Saban had no option but to throw Hurts onto the field. His Heisman-candidate quarterback limped off with a rolled ankle, and was carted to the locker room. Most will remember Hurts as the quarterback Saban pulled at halftime nearly a year ago, trailing 20-7 at halftime of the CFP National Championship.
Everyone remembers how that one ended up, which brings us to the latest edition of Georgia-Alabama.
Hurts’ first drive, backed up in the shadow of his own goalpost, ended with the junior buying time out of a collapsed pocket, then tossing the game-tying score to Jerry Jeudy.
The Bulldogs prepared for Hurts, they swore. They just couldn’t stop him.
Georgia’s offense stalled near midfield the following drive. Then came the fake punt, which fooled nobody (Crimson Tide defense included). Then came Hurts’ second moment of redemption.
After the pocket collapsed once again, Hurts took off on a scramble. 15 yards, to be exact. And a touchdown to boot.
With 1:04 to go, it was Hurts that was celebrating a signature moment, not Tagovailoa, and certainly not the Bulldogs, who led 21-7 at one point and faced chance after chance to put the game out of reach.
And in the end, it wasn’t Jake Fromm who could celebrate arguably his career-best performance (in the first half, at least). Fromm finished with 301 yards and three touchdowns, but the Bulldogs’ failure to capitalize on second-half drives — three of them stalled out at midfield — will certainly loom over what looked to be a massive night for Georgia.
“(I’m) sick,” Smart said. “We’ve got to play better in the fourth quarter. We wanted to come out and be the more physical, dominant team and play the second half and win. We couldn’t close the deal. I don’t know what it is.”
But instead, it was another incredible game. And more incredible hurt for the Bulldogs, whose playoff aspirations were swatted down on Fromm’s last-gasp throw to the end zone.
Depending on how the rest of the top-10 fares Saturday night, it’ll likely be New Orleans that’s the destination for the Bulldogs. Not the Playoff — at least that’s what’s expected given the Bulldogs are now a two-loss team without a conference title.
“We just go into the film room, watch the film, go fix the areas we can improve in,” said Bulldogs defensive back Deandre Baker. “Then we go from there.”