While conference championship games in other leagues were floundering, the SEC delivered the best game of the season. Alabama survived Georgia 32-28 in a thrilling finish to the regular SEC season.
It literally came down to the final play. Aaron Murray was able to guide the Bulldogs down to the Alabama eight yard line, and, without any timeouts, Georgia decided against spiking the ball, choosing instead to run a play with about :12 seconds on the clock. Murray released the ball for a fade headed to the right corner of the end zone, but the ball was deflected at the line of scrimmage and, instinctively, caught by receiver Chris Conley at the Alabama five yard line. Conley fell as he tried to cut up field and the clock expired, along with Georgia’s national championship hopes.
The dramatic finish was a fitting end for what Nick Saban would call a “15 round heavyweight fight” prior to the game.
With all the fireworks that ended the game, it started out a bit sluggish, with the first quarter ending with no points on the board. But it all changed on Georgia’s successful fake punt that led to a touchdown, putting Georgia up 10-0.
Alabama would drive all the way to the Georgia five, but AJ McCarron threw his third pick of the season in the end zone to end a promising drive for the Tide. Georgia would stall out on the next drive, and the Alabama offensive line would take over for the next two quarters. TJ Yeldon began to gash the Bulldog defense. Once he began to wear them out, Eddie Lacy came in and ripped off a 41 yard TD run to end the score.
Aaron Murray would try to do a little too much on the next drive and toss an interception to Haha Dix (that’s really his name). Saban would mismanage the clock at the end of the half and allow his team to come away with only three points and the lead going into halftime. The close of the second quarter made the game feel as though Georgia had already given their best shot and Alabama was about to take over.
But Georgia wasn’t done fighting yet. The Bulldogs took the opening kick of the second half and would march 75 yards for a touchdown to take a 14-10 lead. The Tide answered with a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy and a running game the Bulldogs were having problems against. Georgia forced Alabama to attempt a field goal, which the Bulldogs blocked and returned for a touchdown, extending their lead 21- 10.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their defense wasn’t able to rest because of the quick score, and Alabama began to assert itself. Alabama would spend the whole third quarter running over, around, and through the Bulldog defense. The Crimson Tide would have two drives for the remainder of the third quarter and into the fourth, eventually running eleven running plays and getting two touchdowns. It seemed like Alabama’s physical nature had already tired out the Georgia defense.
Trailing 25-21 and on the ropes, the Bulldog offense responded with a big play by Murray and physical runs by Todd Gurley, pulling Georgia back ahead 28-21. The Dawg defense stood tall and finally forced an Alabama punt, but the offense couldn’t get it going and turned the ball back over to the Tide.
Alabama would capitalize on the success of the running game, with AJ McCarron delivering a perfect play action pass to Amari Cooper for a touchdown. Georgia would go three and out, the pressure on the worn out defense. Georgia came through again and forced another Alabama punt, with only 1:08 on the clock.
Georgia was able to get down the field, only to come up five yards short.
Although much will be made about Georgia not winning the big game, the Bulldogs have nothing to hang their head about. They stood toe to toe with Alabama and almost came out the victors. This was not about poor performances in the big moment; it was about hanging with a team that many perceive to be better and showing that they are right there as well.
For Alabama, the Tide was fortunate to survive, making plays when they mattered. The offensive line showed why they are viewed as the best in the country, paving the way for 350 yards. Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon are the only teammates in SEC history to each rush for a hundred yards in the SEC title game. Even AJ McCarron, who did not have a great game, came up clutch when the Tide needed him the most, hitting the go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
While people will always remember the end of the game, and question Mark Richt about his clock management, what will be lost is how Nick Saban mangled the clock early in the game, and was outcoached on the defensive side of the ball. The running game carried the Tide when it mattered and they will now have a chance to win their third BCS title in four years. In the end that will be what defines this game and the 2012 SEC Champions.
What did you think of the result. Is Alabama a lock to knock off Notre Dame? Let us know what you think in the comments!