ATLANTA — In the final analysis, Georgia came up about one successful play short.
Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) breaks free from Georgia defensive back Damian Swann (5) to score a touchdown during the Bulldogs' 32-28 loss to the Crimson Tide on Saturday in the SEC title game. Cooper's touchdown was the game-winning score.
The Bulldogs needed about five more seconds to gain five more yards that would have clinched the Southeastern Conference title and a probable spot in the BCS championship game.
But Alabama held on for a 32-28 win against Georgia in the SEC Championship game on Saturday in the Georgia Dome. Instead of Georgia playing for its first national title in 30 years, Alabama will go for its second in a row.
Georgia and Alabama played well for stretches. Georgia and Alabama also stumbled for stretches. Alabama’s periods of strong play lasted just a little bit longer so the Crimson Tide finished four points and five yards ahead.
Georgia’s close call will be tough to stomach for the Bulldog Nation. Using the advantage of 20-20 hindsight, time management in the final minute could have been more efficient. Georgia had a first down at the Alabama 8-yard line with about 15 seconds to go with no timeouts and the clock set to roll after the first-down chains were set.
Instead taking the safe route by spiking the ball to stop the clock, Georgia went straight for the knockout against a reeling Alabama defense by trying a pass into the end zone. Even if the pass didn’t work, Georgia still should have had time for one more play, two if it got really lucky, assuming Alabama didn’t do something incredible.
But Alabama did something incredible and tipped the pass. The ball fell to the worst possible place, straight to Chris Conley who was in the middle of the field, five yards from the goal line and surrounded by Alabama defenders with no time to reset and try again.
Somebody had to lose and Georgia drew the short straw. Saturday’s SEC title game was one for the ages. Only time will tell whether it’s the best ever. But that would be a good place to start the conversation.
Alabama came into Saturday’s game with the top-rated defense in the Southeastern Conference for two years running. So maintaining momentum wasn’t going to be easy.
Alabama stuffed drives and forced one Aaron Murray interception. The Crimson Tide also made three sacks. But Georgia, especially Murray, persevered.
Alabama had a chance to run away from Georgia after the Crimson Tide scored back-to-back rushing touchdowns late in the third and early in the fourth quarter.
Georgia trailed 25-21 one play into the fourth quarter and needed something positive to at least slow the momentum. Georgia responded with a lightning bolt to re-take the lead. Murray passed 17 yards to Malcolm Mitchell and 45 yards to Tavarres King to the Alabama 10-yard line. Two plays later Todd Gurley bulled into the end zone and Georgia led 28-25 with 12:54 left. The touchdown drive also enabled Georgia’s defense to catch a little rest. Georgia forced Alabama to punt on its next possession and the late-game drama built from there.
Since Georgia’s margin for error was just one play, the what-if game will haunt everybody on the Bulldogs’ sideline for a long time.
The final pass that ended up five yards away from a championship might get most of the attention, but it wasn’t the only one that could have altered the outcome.
What if Georgia had stopped Alabama on third-and-5 a play before A.J. McCarron hit Amari Cooper for the 45-yard game-winning touchdown?
What if Georgia had converted a fourth-quarter third-and-1 when it held the lead, the momentum and the clock was becoming its ally?
What if Damian Swann hadn’t been flagged for pass interference in the end zone in the third quarter?
What if Murray hadn’t thrown an interception near the end of the second quarter and what if it hadn’t been returned 35 yards to the Georgia 47-yard line to set up a field goal?
What if Cooper hadn’t out-jumped Bacarri Rambo for a second-quarter wounded duck of a pass?
What if Murray hadn’t been sacked in the first quarter and turned a 45-yard field goal into a 50-yarder that missed?
Georgia has shown some holes in its rushing defense this season and it came into Saturday with the 11th-ranked rushing defense in the league at 163.4 yards a game.
Alabama simply abused the Bulldogs on the ground and set an SEC title game record with 350 rushing yards. Lacy took MVP honors by running for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Lacy’s tag-team partner T.J. Yeldon would have been a good second choice with 153 yards and one touchdown.
The Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives and and its only pass resulted in an interference penalty on Swann in the end zone.
Georgia allowed 6.9 yards a carry and its need to commit safeties to filling run gaps exposed the secondary to single coverage. McCarron exploited the opening with a 45-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Cooper.
Georgia will await its bowl fate when the invitations are issued on Sunday night. It’s most likely slots are either the Capital One Bowl or the Cotton Bowl.