In a game that came down to the final play, it was a case of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron delivering on a game-winning touchdown pass and then a battered Crimson Tide defense hanging on by its fingernails against a courageous comeback try by beleagured Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. Three times in the game Bama came from behind to earn the victory.
How close did Murray come to pulling out the win? The Bulldogs quarterback completed a pass to flanker Chris Conley inside the Bama five-yard line. Georgia, however, was out of timeouts, and when Conley went to the ground the clock counted out the final seconds on Bama’s 23rd SEC Championship. Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley tipped the pass, which had been intended to go to the end zone, according to Georgia Coach Mark Richt.
Although there is the formality of the polls and computers putting together the BCS rankings on Sunday, it is a certainty that it will be No. 2 Alabama against No. 1 Notre Dame in the national championship game in South Florida on January 7. Bama will be going for its second consecutive national championship and third in four years.
Alabama improved to 12-1 with the win over previously third-ranked Georgia. The Fighting Irish are in the national championship game with a 12-0 record.
Junior Bama tailback Eddie Lacy was selected as the game’s most valuable player as he ran 20 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns. His sidekick, freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon, had 25 runs for 153 yards ands a touchdown. Alabama rushed 51 times for 350 yards, 6.9 yards per carry.
McCarron completed 13 of 21 passes for 162 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Freshman Amari Cooper had seven receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Alabama had a big game offensively with 26 first downs, compared to 18 for Georgia. Bama’s total offense was 512 yards on 72 plays, an average of 7.1 yards per play. Georgia’s total offense was 63 plays for 394 yards, an average for 6.3 yards per play.
Georgia’s Murray completed 18-33 passes for 265 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and the Bulldogs had another completion on a trick play from punt formation for 16 yards. Georgia’s freshman Todd Gurley had 23 rushes for 122 yards and the Bulldogs finished with 29 runs for 113 yards.
Alabama had three fumbles and lost one while Georgia did not fumble. The Tide suffered only two penalties for 15 yards, while the Bulldogs were flagged seven times for 64 yards.
Bama had a 37:35 to 22:25 time of possession advantage. Both teams were 4-12 on third down conversions and both teams were successful on 3-4 Red Zone opportunities.
Safety Robert Lester led the Tide with 8 tackles with C.J. Mosley turning in 7. Xzavier Dickson was in on five tackles and had two sacks. Adrian Hubbard also had a sack among his four solo tackles.
Alabama would get the winning McCarron-Cooper pass with just over three minutes to play.
After an exchange of punts, Alabama got the ball back at its 45 with 5:24 to play. Yeldon gained three yards and a pass to tight end Michael Williams was open, but Williams had to go to the ground to make the catch. The gain was only two. On third down from midfield, Georgia used a timeout. That would prove costly later.
On third and five, Yeldon took the ball at right tackle, cut back, and made a Hurculean dive to get the first down by inches at the 45. The smart money would have bet on continuing dose of Lacy and Yeldon, but McCarron had other ideas. He found a streaking Amari Cooper going down the left side and into the end zone, where McCarron got the ball to him for what would prove to be the winning score.
Alabama had what seemed to be a lethargic first half, but managed to grab a couple of late second quarter scores – a touchdown and a field goal – and managed to escape with a 10-7 lead at intermission.
Georgia wasted no time in recovering from a late first half swoon. The Bulldogs took the second half kickoff and went 75 yards in just nine plays in under three minutes. The big play was a third-and-one on which Murray put a pass over the head of Deion Belue into the hands of Tavarres King. The 31-yard gain put the Bulldogs at the Alabaama 35.
Georgia’s Gurley did the rest of the work after Tide nose tackle Jesse Williams suffered an apparent ankle injury and left the game with 13:13 left in the third quarter. Georgia and Gurley took advantage of Bama’s bad luck with an 18-yard run to first and goal at the Tide four. Two plays later Gurley took it in and the Bulldogs had a 14-10 lead.
(Williams did return to the game, first as a fullback on Eddie Lacy’s touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, and then back to his nose tackle position, but he did not seem effective and was replaced by Brandon Ivory and Geoffrey Pagan.)
The killer play, though, came a few minutes later. Alabama had made a nice drive to inside Georgia territory, but came up short on a third down play. Talk about a game of inches. Georgia was guilty of pass interference, but bailed out because the pass had been tipped.
That forced a 49-yard field goal effort by Cade Foster. It wasn’t much of an effort. Foster kicked the ball into the line (Cornelius Washington was given the official block for the Bulldogs), the ball bounced back and up into the hands of Alec Ogletree at the 45, and Ogletree took it 55 yards for a touchdown. With six and a half minutes to play, the Bulldogs had scored two touchdowns and taken a 21-10 lead.
Two big penalties against the Bulldogs helped Alabama get back one of the touchdowns in a hurry. Georgia was guilty of a roughing penalty on the kickoff return that enabled Alabama to start from its 38. After a 21-yard gain by Yeldon to the Georgia 37, the Bulldogs were guilty of a pass interference in the end zone. From there Yeldon got the handoff going left, cut back, and scored the touchdown with 4:19 to play in the third quarter.
Alabama elected to go for the two-point conversion, Yeldon up the middle, and he made it easily to cut the margin to three points, Georgia leading 21-18.
Alabama went to its running game, and specifically to Eddie Lacy, to retake the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. After forcing a Georgia punt, the Tide went 75 yards in seven plays. Lacy started the drive with a 33-yard run, then tacked on back-to-back runs of 15 and 14. He took a break while Yeldon ran it down to the goalline, and then Lacy dove in for the TD and a 25-21 Alabama lead.
That advantage would last two minutes and three seconds.
After a kickoff into the end zone, Georgia went 75 yards in just five plays, the big one a 44-yard Aaron Murray pass to a wide open Tavarres King to the Bama 12. On second and eight from the 10, Gurley went up the middle, slipping tackles, and got into the end zone. The Bulldogs had a 28-25 lead with 12:54 to play.
Fortunately, Alabama was able to mount its winning drive and then hold on defensively for the championship.
Adrian Hubbard got a sack on Murray that put the Bulldogs in a bind. After two incompletions the Dogs had to punt it back to Bama with 2:17.
Georgia burned two timeouts and forced a Tide punt with Alabama having burned only a minute.
From there, Murray and mates got a fortunate review of what seemed to be a game-clinching interception by Dee Milliner with 45 seconds to play. But the replay showed the ball had hit the ground, just an incompletion.
Murray took advantage of the second chance with a 34-yard pass to Lynch at the Alabama 8. With time running out, Murray found Conley, but he couldn’t find that timeout he needed. The seconds ticked down, 5…4…3…
In the first half, both teams showed they had fake punts in the repertoire. Alabama’s, a run by Vinnie Sunseri, failed because the Tide was flagged for delay of game before getting it off. Georgia’s worked. Coming out of an end-of-first-quarter break, the Bulldogs lined up to punt from the Tide 36 on the first play of the second quarter. Instead, up back Arthur Lynch, normally a tight end, passed to Sanders Commings, normally a cornerback, for a 16-yard gain to the Alabama 20.
Two plays later Aaron Murray connected with back-up tight end Jay Rome, who was uncovered, on a 19-yard touchdown pass. Marshall Morgan’s extra point kick made it 7-0 a minute and a second into the second quarter. The fake punt play helped sustain a 13-play, 87-yard drive.
Alabama had an incredible offensive squander, but still managed to get back into a 7-7 tie late in the first half, and then, incredibly, had a 10-7 lead at intrmission.
First the offensive disaster: Amari Cooper made an extraordinary leaping catch of an AJ McCarron pass to get a drive started from the Bama 18 to the Georgia 38, a 50-yard connection. Two Eddie Lacy runs for 6 and 20 yards made it first down at the 12. It looked like Bama might have to settle for a field goal when a third down McCarron to Christion Jones pass was incomplete in the end zone. But the Bulldogs were guilty of roughing the passer, giving the Tide four downs from the Georgia 4.
Lacy’s first run got three yards, but when he tried to put the ball over the goalline on second down the ball was knocked out. McCarron recovered the fumble at the five. On third down, McCarron tried to whip a pass past Commings to Cooper, but it was intercepted.
Fortunately, the Tide got the ball back at its 30 after a Georgia punt. From there the Tide took just six plays to even the score. Two six-yard Yeldon runs, a short pass to tight end Michael Williams, and a fine up-the-middle run by Yeldon made it first down at the Georgia 41. When Yeldon was caught for no gain on the next play, he was replaced by Lacy. The big tailback went over right tackle and down the sideline for the touchdown with 1:59 to play in the second quarter. Jeremy Shelley kicked the tying point.
Georgia went to its two-minute offense and Murray moved the Bulldogs to near midfield, but on his third pass of the drive he was picked off by sophomore safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix caught it at the Alabama 18 and returned it to the Georgia 47.
Bama had the ball with 1:15 until halftime.
Two Yeldon runs for first down at the Georgia 36. McCarron had to scramble and went out of bounds at the Georgia 27 with 14 seconds to play. Another McCarron scramble went to the Bulldogs 5 where the Tide called time out with five seconds remaining in the first half. The final play of the half was Shelley’s 22-yard field goal that gave Alabama a 10-7 lead.
Georgia had one field goal try in the first half, a missed 50-yarder by Morgan.
Alabama had bad turnovers in the first half, but none led to Georgia points. Murray’s interception and brilliant 35-yard return ty Clinton-Dix led to the Tide being able to lead at halftime, important since Georgia would receive the second half kickoff.