A team of destiny. That’s how this Georgia team will be remembered. The Bulldogs came into the season picked by many to win it all. A clash with recent powerhouse Clemson, in Charlotte, launched Georgia into one of the most dominating regular seasons in recent history, and, after a humiliating loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship, Georgia’s fire was rekindled. They then marched through the College Football Playoff on their way to their first national championship since 1980 with a 33-18 win over Alabama.
Alabama has been the mountain Georgia has not been able to climb while Head Coach Nick Saban has been at the helm. The scenario played out almost perfectly for Georgia. The SEC Championship fed into the idea that Alabama was in Georgia’s head and set up for the perfect opportunity: a chance to take down the defending national champions for all the marbles.
Georgia came out on top late Monday night behind some clutch plays by quarterback Stetson Bennet and a game sealing pick six by Kelee Ringo. But Georgia’s win was not easily earned. The game started with teams trading field goal after field goal on it’s way to a 9-6 half time lead for the Crimson Tide, but the biggest story was that of Alabama’s Jameson WIlliams. Williams, who was the hero of the SEC Championship, with over 180 receiving yards and two long touchdowns, went down with a knee injury early in the second quarter. The Tide was already without one of their best wide receiver’s, John Metchie III, and now they’d be without 59% of their receiving core’s production.
The stingy defenses continued swapping blows until Alabama’s 17th play, a 68 yard drive endimg with a blocked field goal. Four plays later Georgia’s Zamir White found the end zone from a yard out after James Cook took off for 67 yards on the first play of the drive giving the Bulldogs a 13-9 lead. Alabama again went down the field before coming up short of the endzone once again. The field goal was good and Alabama cut the deficit down to 1.
This is where the fireworks began. On the ensuing possession Bennett would be hit by the Tide’s Christian Harris and force a fumble which was recovered by Brian Branch; however, several reviews would result. Was it a pass or a fumble? If a pass was it an intentional grounding? If it was a fumble did Branch get his foot down before recovering the fumble? In a too close to call review the referees ultimately allowed the play on the field to stand and Alabama took over on the Georgia 16 yard line, down 13-12. Facing a third and goal, Young found Cameron Latu for a 3 yard touchdown on the scramble giving the Tide an 18-13 lead after the failed two point conversion.
Georgia immediately responded with big plays and cashed in from 40 yards out after Bennett dropped a dime to Adonai Mitchall. A failed two point conversion later Alabama trailed, 19-18. With the momentum shifting and Alabama running out of gas Georgia forced a three and out and went right back to work. They continued gashing Alabama’s defensive line and ultimately gave up a touchdown pass to star freshman tight end, Brock Bowers, to put the Bulldogs up 25-18 with three and half minutes to play. With Young leading Alabama into Georgia territory, a miscommunication led to an interception that Ringo took 79 yards for the exclamation mark to a dominating fourth quarter, and ultimately a national championship.
Remembering back to the key factors in both these matchups, big plays, turnovers, and non offensive touchdowns, Alabama won all three in the first game which led to a 21 point swing in Alabama’s favor. ‘Bama won by 14. This time around Georgia won all three areas. They used big plays to set up 23 points. They won the turnover battle 2-1. They scored the lone non-offensive touchdown of the game. Just as these factors went Alabama’s way in Atlanta, this go ’round the chips fell to Georgia, and that was the difference maker.
Kirby becomes Saban’s second former assistant to beat him, and ironically both have won a national championship (JImbo Fisher won a national title with Florida State in 2013). While many may try and look to this game as a passing of the torch, don’t think Alabama is going anywhere. Alabama finished the game without their 2 starting cornerbacks, 3 of their top 5 running backs, their top 2 wide receivers, 2 linebackers (1 starter), and 2 of their starting linemen. Despite all of that the Tide found themselves in the fourth quarter with an 18-13 lead. While they may have run out of gas against a well-deserved champion in Georgia, this team brings back a ton of talent that will be poised to return to the national championship stage.
This college football season, from it’s offseason to the season itself, will go down as the craziest in this sport’s history. Alabama will head into the offseason with the same feeling it gave Georgia just 37 days ago, and Georgia heads into the offseason a national champion.