In truth, it’s basically impossible for any SEC Championship Game to live up to the hype that precedes it. And it’s damn near impossible when the game is billed as a BCS National Championship semifinal, featuring the No.’s 2 and 3 teams in the country.
But when it came to Georgia and Alabama on Saturday afternoon, not only did the game match expectations, but basically blew them out of the water. In what was unequivocally one of the best games in recent college football history, Alabama won a thrilling, back-and-forth, heavyweight fight for the ages Saturday, beating the ‘Dawgs 32-28 in Atlanta.
And ironically, in a game which will be remembered for the brutal physical rushing attack of both teams, it was three separate pass plays in the final five minutes which decided the outcome.
The first came for Alabama, and it came in the fourth quarter with the Crimson Tide trailing 28-25 with four minutes left in the game.
After Alabama’s running game had worn down Georgia the entire second half (the Crimson Tide set an SEC Championship Game record with 359 yards rushing on Saturday), the ‘Dawgs had seemingly stopped Alabama when two straight rushes set up a 3rd and 5 for the Crimson Tide. Knowing that if they didn’t get the conversion the game might be over, Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier took a calculated gamble by letting A.J. McCarron drop back and pass the ball. His quarterback didn’t disappoint, when he found freshman Amari Cooper streaking down the left side for a 45-yard touchdown pass. Just like that Alabama had the lead.
But after both teams traded three-and-outs, it was actually Georgia which got the ball back, and got it with one last chance to win the game. In the end their entire season was decided by two passes, one complete and one incomplete.
Georgia took over on their own 15 and on the fourth play of the drive, quarterback Aaron Murray dropped back and tried to fit a pass into tight coverage. The ball was tipped and intercepted by Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner… Just like that, the ball-game was over and Alabama was going to Miami…
Only, the game wasn’t over. Video replay revealed that the ball hit the ground before Milliner corralled it in, making it an incomplete pass. Just like that, Georgia had new life.
With that new life, quarterback Aaron Murray became methodical. He hit Arthur Lynch for 15 yards. Then he hit Tavarres King for 23 yards. And after Murray again found Lynch for 26-yards and a first down, Georgia was in Alabama’s red zone with about 15 seconds left and what appeared to be a couple chances to find the end zone and win the game.
Except rather than choosing to spike the ball, Georgia made the curious decision to instead hurry to the line and run an immediate play. And when they did, disaster struck.
On the first play after the first down, Murray dropped back into the pocket and had his pass tipped at the line of scrimmage. It landed in the hands of Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley, but the sophomore was unable to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Time ran out, as Georgia’s entire offense looked on helplessly.
Just like that, the game was over. Alabama was headed to Miami.
And really, it was ironic that an incomplete pass ultimately decided a game which had way more offensive fireworks than anyone could’ve imagined. For four quarters, Alabama-Georgia really did feel like a game which would be won by whoever had the ball last.
Ultimately, the story for both sides was the offense, and for Alabama in specific it was the running game. Although McCarron’s pass to Cooper won the game, the Crimson Tide were only in the position for victory thanks to the hard running of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Lacy was the dominant factor early with 181 yards and two touchdowns, while Yeldon finished off the game strong, carrying the ball late for Alabama when they needed him. The freshman finished with 153 yards and a score and picked up the big yards in the fourth quarter when his team needed them.
Of course if there’s joy in Tuscaloosa, it’s nothing short of agony in Athens. For 60 minutes Georgia not only played with Alabama but at times completely outplayed them, yet in the end, fell just short in the waning seconds. In addition, with Florida sitting at 11-1, the Bulldogs also have the bitter taste of knowing that not only will they not play for a BCS National Championship, they won’t get to go New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl either.
That was the reality of this game though for both teams: It was essentially all or nothing. Championship or bust.
And in the end, to the victors go the spoils, and the victor Saturday was Alabama.
The game might not have played out exactly as everyone expected, but it was as exciting as anyone could’ve hoped.
And now the Crimson Tide gets to go to Miami to play for another National Championship.
For all his opinion, insight and analysis, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.