The football gods could not have possibly scripted a better and more meaningful ending to this year’s SEC Championship between Georgia and Alabama.
After being benched in last year’s College Football Playoff championship, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was advised by many to transfer. However, his faith would not allow him to renege on his commitment.Saturday’s game served as sweet vindication. Replacing injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Hurts threw a touchdown and ran for another, giving the Crimson Tide a 35-28 come-from-behind victory over the Georgia Bulldogs. The win resulted in Alabama clenching its eighth SEC Championship game, and its fifth in seven years.
“All year I’ve kinda been waiting on my opportunity; regardless of how it went, my opportunity came today,” Hurts said. “[I] worked hard this week with my teammates, and we found a way to get it done today.”
The Georgia Bulldogs proved to be a more formidable foe than most sportswriters gave them credit for. On Alabama’s first drive, Tagovailoa was sacked by linebacker D’Andre Walker; the tackle appeared to cause the first of two ankle injuries that would eventually force Tagovailoa out of the game. Tagovailoa’s next pass was intercepted at the Georgia 19-yard line.
The Bulldogs opened the scoring with a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Fromm to tight end Isaac Nauta. On Alabama’s next drive, the Tide would tie the game on MVP Josh Jacobs’ one-yard touchdown run.
Georgia’s methodical, balanced drives allowed the Bulldogs to consistently score points, and at the same time, keep the ball out of the hands of Alabama’s dynamic offense. Georgia’s next drive covered 74 yards in 13 plays and burned nearly half of the second quarter. During this drive, the Dawgs claimed the lead on D’Andre Swift’s nine-yard touchdown run.
After an Alabama three-and-out, Georgia jumped to a 21-7 lead when Fromm connected with Swift on an 11-yard wheel route for a touchdown.
Alabama’s Jacobs started the next drive with a 59-yard run to the Georgia 16. Later in the drive, Jacobs ran from one-yard out, but fumbled the ball. However, he was able to recover the fumble in the end zone, resulting in a 21-14 score at halftime.
Late in the third quarter, Tagovailoa connected with the speedy Jaylen Waddle for a 51-yard touchdown, reducing Georgia’s lead to seven, 28-21.
At 11:15 in the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa was forced to exit the game when offensive lineman Jonah Williams inadvertently stepped on his ankle while blocking. Down seven, Hurts would be responsible for guiding the Crimson Tide into the College Football Playoff unscathed.
Hurts’ first pass attempt was a third-down completion to Irv Smith Jr. for Alabama’s first third-down conversion of the game. On third-and-goal at the Georgia 10, Hurts connected with receiver Jerry Jeudy for a game-tying touchdown, 28-28.
When Georgia’s next drive stalled at the 50-yard line with three minutes remaining, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart elected to run a fake punt on fourth-and-eleven. But the Tide defenders sniffed it out, and tackled Georgia quarterback Justin Fields after a two-yard gain.
Alabama took over with the scored tied and three minutes remaining in the contest. Hurts connected on pass attempts to Smith and Waddle for 19 and 16 yards, respectively. On first down from the UGA 15, Hurts ran a quarterback draw for a touchdown, clinching the SEC title for the Alabama Crimson Tide, and maintaining their rank as the #1 seed in the CFP rankings.
“I think that our players deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the resiliency they showed in the game,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “They never game up in the game. We didn’t obviously play our best game, especially in the first half, in terms of execution, but you can’t fault the heart and the will to win that the guys played with.”
Tagovailoa completed 10 passes on 25 attempts for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Hurts completed seven passes on nine attempts for 82 yards and a touchdown. Jones rushed for 83 yards on eight carries for two touchdowns
Georgia quarterback Fromm completed 25 of 39 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
Alabama will most assuredly retain its #1 position in the CFP rankings. Georgia’s football future is not as clear. A second consecutive close game with Alabama may convince CFP voters that Georgia is the best fit for the fourth and final spot in the rankings. However, Oklahoma is currently the #5 seed in the CFP rankings. Because Oklahoma won its conference championship and Georgia did not, there are those who believe that the Sooners should move to the fourth spot.
Final CFP rankings will be revealed on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 12:00PM Eastern Time.