Rapid Reaction: Alabama stymies Georgia for SEC Championship, Playoff bid
Alabama ended any controversy over whether it belonged in the College Football Playoff field and ended Georgia’s run at an unbeaten season in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game.
What didn’t end? Alabama’s dominance over Georgia and the Crimson Tide’s bid for back-to-back national titles.
Bryce Young put the finishing touches on a likely Heisman Trophy campaign to lead the Crimson Tide. He was 26-for-44 passing for 421 yards and 3 touchdowns and added a running TD as the defending national champs defeated the Bulldogs 41-24 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Alabama, leading 24-17 at halftime — already with more points than Georgia had allowed in any game all season — started the first half with a 75-yard touchdown drive taking just 5 plays. Young hit Jameson Williams for a 55-yard score and a 2-TD lead just 110 seconds into the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett was picked off by Bama’s Jordan Battle, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown and a 38-17 lead to salt the game away for the Crimson Tide (12-1).
Tight end Brock Bowers tied Georgia’s school record with his 11th TD catch of the season as the freshman’s 18-yard scoring reception from Bennett brought Georgia within 38-24 in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs (12-1) got no closer. Alabama tacked on Will Reichard’s 41-yard field goal in the final moments.
Georgia, No. 1 in every CFP ranking this season, is sure to make the 4-team Playoff semifinal field along with the Crimson Tide. No. 3 Bama seems a lock to be the top Playoff seed when the CFP committee announces its matchups, plus the other 4 New Year’s Day 6 bowls, at noon ET today on ESPN.
Young had 286 yards and 2 touchdowns passing in the first half alone — Georgia’s season high in passing yards allowed in any game coming in was 332 against Tennessee on Nov. 13. Bama had 537 yards, the most UGA has allowed all season.
Bennett threw for 3 TDs but also 2 costly INTs including the one Bama returned for the pick-six.
Young pulled down the ball and ran for an 11-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left in the first half to put the Crimson Tide ahead 24-17. Just before that, Young scrambled for a first down and recovered his own fumble after Devonte Wyatt knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hands at the end of a 14-yard gain with 56 seconds left in the first half.
Bama receiver John Metchie was injured on the play and didn’t play in the second half, finishing with 6 receptions for 97 yards and a TD.
Young’s career high for rushing yards in a game was 42 against Tennessee this year. But in the first half alone, the quarterback had 40 rushing yards on 3 attempts and the score.
The freshman from California hit Metchie for a 13-yard TD catch to put Bama ahead for the first time at 14-10 with 9:46 left in the second quarter. On the TD play, Young had enough time to point Metchie in the direction he wanted him to run, and the junior receiver beat two defenders to the spot where Young threw it. That protection was there most of the day for Young, as Alabama’s offensive line played way better than it did the previous week when the unit allowed 7 sacks against Auburn.
Georgia had only trailed for 20 minutes and 1 second all season until then. But the Bulldogs lost to Alabama for the seventh consecutive meeting including 2 SEC title games and the CFP National Championship game in January 2018.
Alabama extended its lead to 17-10 on Reichard’s 33-yard field goal with 3:28 left in the first half. That score equaled the most points the Dawgs had surrendered in any game all season (UGA defeated Tennessee 41-17).
But the Dawgs struck back on their next drive thanks to a few Tide penalties. Consecutive defensive pass interference calls put Georgia on the Bama 44-yard line. One play later, Bennett hit Ladd McConkey on a quick pass and the redshirt freshman took it 32 yards to tie the score at 17-17.
On the first play of the second quarter, Georgia capped a 97-yard drive with Bennett’s high 5-yard TD pass to 6-foot-7 tight end Darnell Washington for a 10-0 Bulldogs lead.
Alabama responded quickly, as the nation’s top defense allowed a 68-yard touchdown pass on a slant from Young to Williams, bringing the Crimson Tide within 10-7 just 48 seconds into the second quarter. Williams caught the pass in the middle of the field then cut to the left sideline, where the Ohio State transfer outraced Bulldogs defensive back Chrstopher Smith to the end zone.
Georgia took the lead on a field goal with 6:01 left in the first quarter, but the Dawgs looked likely to pick up more than just 3 points until linebacker Dallas Turner’s sack of Bennett on 3rd down set up 4th and long. UGA drove 52 yards on 11 plays including 36 rushing yards until the sack, setting up Jack Podlesny’s 38-yard kick.