Now that the dust has settled a bit, now that the pain is not as fresh, there is plenty to look back on Monday night’s game and wonder what could have been for the Georgia Bulldogs. When a team loses that type of game, it’s the small things that stick out as what might have made a difference.
Georgia got as close as a team could get to a national championship without winning. We don’t see many walk-off wins in college football, but we saw it in the most important game of the year.
Let’s not bury the lead here. While there are things to discuss, the reason Georgia lost the game is simple. Alabama made the biggest play of the game. Period. End of story. When they needed a big play on second-and-26, Alabama made it with a 41-yard touchdown pass.
On the play before, Georgia had made a big play. It was Alabama’s first play from scrimmage in overtime. The Bulldogs knocked Tua Tagovailoa back to the 41-yard line. All they had to do was have three more great defensive plays, as Alabama was going to have to get mighty close to give their awful kicker a chance to tie it up.
But Tagovailoa made the big play. Just seconds after he was thrown down, Tagovailoa heaved it downfield and it was caught on a sprint by DeVonta Smith for the game-winning touchdown.
Yes, there were some bad calls that went against Georgia. The last thing Alabama needs is help from the officials, and they got a few gifts against the Bulldogs.
The game changed, however, when Alabama coach Nick Saban made the gutsiest call in the history of sports. How many coaches would switch quarterbacks at halftime of a national championship game? Saban would, and he did. That one decision won the title for Alabama.
If Georgia had stopped Tagovailoa on that third down play early in the third quarter, when he avoided several tacklers and got a key first down to keep a drive alive, things might have been different. Alabama would score on that drive after being kept off the scoreboard in the first half.
What if that ball thrown by Jake Fromm had not been tipped off a helmet and into the hands of an Alabama defender? Georgia had just scored to make it 20-7 and then intercepted a pass from Tagovailoa. They had good field position – the Alabama 39 – and if they had gotten 10 more yards they could have extended the lead to 16 with a field goal.
A fluke play gave the ball back to Alabama. The tremendous momentum in Georgia’s favor dried up quickly.
Georgia should have lost the game at the end of regulation. For the Alabama kicker to miss a 36-yard field goal was incredible. It should have been over then, but the hooked kick gave Georgia another shot.
You had to feel good then, didn’t you? Georgia was a team of destiny, and to get another shot was an answered prayer.
But again, in overtime, Alabama just made the bigger play. All the rest is part of the story, but Georgia lost it when Alabama, specifically Tagovailoa, made the biggest play of the night.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has a tremendous opportunity to continue his process. Now he can say to his players, “Look, we were good, but not good enough. We were fast, but not fast enough. We were strong, but they were just a little bit stronger. They were just a little bit better.”
This Georgia program, these players, will be better for this when they play again. This experience will make Georgia hungrier to get back to play for another championship. It might be next year or in a year or two, but this game and this season will be the turn in this program.
It’s hard to hear it now, but at some point, Georgia is going to make that big play. At some point some other team will wonder why they weren’t faster and stronger. This will happen, and it won’t take another 37 years, either.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.