One play doesn’t decide the outcome of a game. It is always a collective group of plays that go into whether a team comes away with a win or not. That was certainly the case in Monday night’s thrilling national championship, which saw Alabama defeat Georgia 26-23 in overtime.
The Crimson Tide have now won five of the past nine national title games, which is an unprecedented feat. But Georgia had plenty of chances to win the game. In the end, Alabama, which trailed by 13 points at two different times, did enough to put itself in position to steal the win from Georgia’s grasp.
Looking back, here are the five most important plays of the game.
Four verticals, Cover-2
This was the dagger that gave Alabama a walk-off national title. On the previous play in overtime, and up three, Georgia outside linebacker Davin Bellamy and defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter sacked Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for a 16-yard loss. It looked rosy for Georgia as Alabama faced second-and-26. But the Crimson Tide called four verticals, meaning four receivers would run go-routes down the field.
Tagovailoa, playing in his first-ever meaningful half of action in relief of starter Jalen Hurts, looked to his right and got four-year starting safety Dominick Sanders to move in that direction due to his eyes. This allowed for receiver DeVonta Smith to get open down the left sideline. A 41-yard touchdown later, Alabama was crowned champions.
The botched offside call
If not for how the final play unfolded, this would have been the most important play of the game. An inexcusable officiating error potentially cost Georgia points, which would have made things incredibly difficult for Alabama. With Alabama punting on fourth-and-8 from its own 24-yard line, Georgia receiver Tyler Simmons timed the snap perfectly, ran around the edge and blocked J.K. Scott’s attempt.
Georgia recovered inside the Alabama 30 and would have had a great chance to score at least three points. But the officiating crew called Simmons offside on the play. There was only one problem. Simmons didn’t jump offside and video evidence proved it. Instead of the Bulldogs taking over deep in Alabama territory, the Crimson Tide were able to attempt another punt and got it away clean. It was one of many officiating errors from Monday night’s Big 10 crew, which probably merits its own story.
This play was also blown by the officiating crew. The Tide were facing a fourth-and-4 at the Georgia 7-yard line while trailing by seven points. With only 3:56 left to play in the game, Alabama head coach Nick Saban elected to go for the touchdown instead of the field goal. But just before the snap, running back Najee Harris lined up wide to the left and appeared to move before the play's start. However, no flag was thrown.
As the play unfolded, it looked like Tagovailoa, facing pressure, attempted a pass toward Harris. But coming across the field near the ball was Alabama superstar receiver Calvin Ridley. Held in check to that point, Ridley made the game-tying touchdown with 3:49 left to play in the game.
This won’t center on just one play, but, rather, a series of kicks. The game went to overtime thanks to Alabama’s place-kicker. Georgia almost won the game thanks to its place-kicker. Alabama’s Andy Pappanastos went 2-of-4 kicking, which included an early miss from 40 yards. After hitting kicks from 43 and 30, Pappanastos then also missed a 36-yard field goal to the left as time expired in regulation.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship made all three of his attempts, which included field goals from 41 and 30 yards out. In overtime, Blankenship nailed a 51-yarder to give the Bulldogs a 23-20 lead. Blankenship proved to be a valuable weapon while Alabama needed to make up for Pappanastos’ misses.
The longest nine yards
If you were to scroll through the game’s play-by-play chart, you’d come across an otherwise innocuous moment: “Tagovailoa rush for nine yards to the UGA 44.” It was third-and-7 from the Alabama 47-yard line and Georgia’s defense was playing well. On this play, Tagovailoa looked downfield to pass but couldn’t find anyone open. He scrambled to his right and found a slew of Georgia defenders ready to meet him head-on. But Tagovailoa did his best magician’s trick and somehow escaped. He got away from three would-be tacklers and circled to the other side of the field.
Tagovailoa ran across the first-down marker before he was brought down. That display of athleticism helped spark the Crimson Tide, with Tagovailoa hitting his next four passes on the drive. The series was capped with Tagovailoa hitting Henry Ruggs III for a touchdown. If not for the 9-yard scramble on third down, Alabama punts, with those points never appearing on the scoreboard.