Sanders Commings comes up with big plays in loss

ATLANTA — When it came to first-half momentum shifts in Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, Sanders Commings was the star of the hour.

But the senior cornerback would have been more than happy to swap his big plays for a victory. The Crimson Tide (12-1) scored 14 fourth-quarter points and withstood a furious rally by Georgia (11-2) as time expired to escape the Georgia Dome with a 32-28 victory, the SEC title and a shot for their second consecutive national championship.

“I’m sure I’ll remember how I played in this game, but I’ll remember the loss more, more than anything,” Commings said.

On the first play of the second quarter, the Bulldogs lined up for a punt on fourth-and-10 at the Alabama 36-yard line. But instead of a kick from Collin Barber, Arthur Lynch took the snap and tossed a 16-yard possession pass to Commings, which two plays later led to Georgia’s first touchdown.

Commings and Lynch agreed that the setting was ideal for the fake.

“It was a fake punt we’ve been working on for a couple of weeks,” Commings said. “Coach Richt called it and I was excited to have a chance to make a play for my team. It was a check thing — if the defense is set up a certain way, we can’t run it.”

“It’s something we’ve had planned for a couple of weeks,” added Lynch, who said it was the first pass he’s ever thrown in his life. “When the linebacker shifts to the left, it’s a perfect look. … When the linebacker shifted, there was like a 15-yard gap that opened, so it would have taken something really stupid for me to mess it up. Fortunately, I threw it up and Sanders got it. It was a better catch than throw, so it was nice that we converted.”

“Well, we’ve been working on that fake punt for over a month,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It wasn’t designed necessarily for Alabama’s defense. It was just designed against a punt-safe situation. … They executed it really well.”

Although he caught plenty of passes during his days at Westside High in Augusta, the second-quarter ruse led to the first reception of Commings’ college career, and it was also the first time the Bulldogs have successfully converted a fake punt since Gordon Ely-Kelso posted a 34-yard run in 2005 against Kentucky.

Some seven minutes later, Commings again came up big when he intercepted an AJ McCarron pass at the Georgia goal line to wreck an eight-play drive and keep Alabama out of the end zone. It was just the third interception McCarron has thrown all season.

“I was manned up outside, and after studying film of them in the red zone, we knew they liked throwing the back-shoulder fade, so I played it and they threw it right to me,” said Commings, who also had three tackles and a pass breakup in the game.

“DBs can catch, too,” said sophomore cornerback Damian Swann. “It’s kind of hard to catch a ball that’s not meant for you, so he made a good play. He’s always made those kinds of plays.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was very impressed with Commings’ performance, offering laurels for his overall play.

“Sanders had a great game,” Grantham said. “He did an unbelievable job. He made a big red-zone interception there and I thought he covered well and made some plays on third down, knocking the balls out. I thought he played his most complete game since he’s been here with me, and I’m really proud of his efforts.”

Missing the first two games of the year as the result of an offseason arrest on domestic battery charges, Commings said that while he felt he disappointed his coaches and teammates, he also thinks he’s had a serviceable 2012.

“I felt I played OK this season; I didn’t get to play in all the games and I felt like I let my team down, but luckily we won those games,” said Commings, who recorded career highs in tackles (nine against Kentucky) and interceptions (two against Tennessee) this fall.

He added that losing a big game by a thin margin is infinitely more painful that coming up short in a beatdown.

“It definitely hurts more when it’s a close game,” he said. “We lost in the last second of the game. If we’d had a few more seconds, I’m pretty sure we would have scored but it’s definitely tough when it’s a close game instead of a blowout.

“It was really tough. Anytime you play in a championship game that goes down to the wire and you lose in the last few seconds of the game, it’s tough. But we’ll bounce back in the bowl game. The seniors will give it their all. It will be our last game in a Georgia uniform.”

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