Georgia Wins the CFP National Championship
Another year, another SEC National Champion. That much was certain before the opening kickoff in tonight’s CFP National Championship. Truth be told, that was the only certainty. Through our panel of writers predicted an Alabama win by a four-to-two margin, things could have gone either way. Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs fielded a historic defense. Nick Saban runs a historic dynasty. In the end, though Smart brought the better performance out of these equal talents, and Georgia wins the CFP National Championship by a final score of 33-18.
Trading Field Goals
For the first time in the playoff era, neither team managed to score a touchdown in the opening half of a CFP National Championship. Instead, both defenses held stout when it mattered most. Both offenses managed a few sustained drives. On the stat sheet, anyway, it looked like deja vu all over again as Bryce Young again found seams and piled up 206 passing yards in the first half.
On the other side, Stetson Bennett completed 65% of his first-half passes for 127 yards. Neither effort looked pedestrian, even though Bennett looked shaken at various times in the half. Unlike the teams’ first matchup in the SEC Championship, however, Bennett kept his composure enough to keep from turning the ball over. As Smart suggested earlier this week, Alabama is simply too good of a team to give free points.
Despite the yard totals, however, neither team managed a touchdown. The kickers, however, saw plenty of work. Will Reichard hit a 37-yarder to cap Alabama’s opening drive to take a 3-0 lead. Jack Podlesny knotted the game at three with a 24-yarder three-and-a-half minutes into the second. Reichard returned serve on the next drive from 45 yards out. Five minutes later, Reichard hit another 37-yarder to push Alabama’s lead to 9-3. Then, Podlesny hit one from 49 yards out, a season-high, to close the gap to 9-6. That represented all of the scorings in the first half.
Jameson Williams Goes Down
Jameson Williams looked well on his way to duplicating his monster effort against Georgia in the SEC Championship. He started the game with four receptions for 65 yards. Young sent several balls on a tight rope to Williams through traffic.
Unfortunately, Williams suffered an injury in the first half and went to the locker room. Instead of relying on his most-trusted weapon, Young had to rely on several younger receivers for the rest of the game, as Williams never returned. Young still put his passes on target, but the receivers’ inexperience showed. Several drives stalled on dropped passes, likely resulting from nerves and slight timing issues.
Georgia Dials Up Pressure
That Young managed as many yards as he did in the first half is really a testament to how good he is. Smart said Young had elite spatial awareness, and he showed it in the first drive. Facing a punishing rush from Jordan Davis who broke through the middle of the line, Young, at first, appeared to fumble leading to a scoop-and-score by Georgia. Replay, however, showed Young had enough awareness and strength to manage enough forward movement in his arm to reverse the play.
That said, Georgia dialed up plenty of pressure from several areas. While they managed just a single sack from Channing Tindall, Georgia kept Young uncomfortable for most of the first half. As a result, the rest of the unit worked in tandem to keep Alabama out of the end zone for the entire first half. That is not an easy feat.
Adjusting in the Second Half
With two coaches as good as Saban and Smart, we certainly expected a few adjustments going into the second half. For his part, Saban told fans going into the locker room that one or more of his young players needed to step up in Williams’ absence. He said that his team had plenty of opportunities to make plays and extend drives, but they missed the opportunities. As usual, Saban’s comments ring true.
On the other hand, Smart told fans that he wanted to see Bennett stay calm and keep his cool. Alabama has too much talent on its defense to expect a clean pocket a majority of the time. Bennett needed to make plays and keep his composure. He certainly fared better through the first half than the teams’ previous matchup, but Smart was right. Georgia needed more out of their quarterback.
Surprisingly, both teams adjusted in the same way in the third quarter. Georgia’s strength this whole season has been running the ball. They did not do it very effectively in the first half. In the second half, however, Georgia ripped off two straight double-digit runs. The drive, however, stalled on an intentional grounding penalty putting the Bulldogs behind the chains yet again.
After forcing a punt, however, Alabama turned the ball over on the second play of the next drive. Facing pressure, Young threw into the waiting arms of Chris Smith. Georgia could not do anything with the drive, and Alabama forced a second punt.
The Robinson Show?
Then came Alabama’s first adjustment: giving the ball to another familiar weapon. Without Williams, the Crimson Tide seemed short of weapons. Seemed to be the keyword there. Veteran running back Brian Robinson touched the ball just seven times in the first half.
On the next drive, however, the Crimson Tide leaned heavily on Robinson. Indeed, through both the air and on the ground, Robinson saw nine touches and rumbled for 53 total yards through Alabama’s longest drive in the game.
Once the drive stalled, however, it looked like more of the same. Alabama lined up for a field goal. This time, however, Georgia would keep any points off the board after blocking Reichard’s fourth attempt.
After the block, we could feel a potential momentum shift. James Cook showed his playmaking skills. With a deep cut on the opening play of the ensuing drive, Cook dashed for 67 yards, putting Georgia in the red zone on a single play.
Bennett scrambled on the next play for four yards. Then, Kenny McIntosh rumbled for a few more. After a facemask penalty added a yard, Georgia did as Georgia does. They got yet another running back involved, and Zamir White snuck in behind Davis, called in as an extra blocker, for a one-yard touchdown run. Suddenly, Georgia, now up 13-9, found themselves with their first lead of the game.
Alabama Chips Away
Saban’s Crimson Tide teams are certainly not ones to shy away from adversity. Using a steady balance of run and pass, Young led the offense methodically down the field. Covering 72 yards over 10 plays, Alabama looked determined to chip away or retake the lead.
Ultimately, however, Georgia’s vaunted red zone defense did its job yet again. They held Alabama to another field goal attempt. This time, Alabama’s front-held Georgia and Reichard hit a 21-yarder to chip away at the lead. Shortly into the fourth quarter, Alabama cut it to 13-12 in favor of the Bulldogs.
Official Review Changes the Tide
On the next drive, Georgia tried to establish the run again. White gained five yards on the first run, but Ladd McConkey lost three yards on a trick play. Again, Georgia faced a tough down-and-distance. That offered Alabama the perfect moment to pin their ears back. They did so, causing a Bennett misstep, a fumble, called a recovery on the field.
After a long booth review added some drama to the moment, the officials upheld the call. All the review did was add controversy, as different angles seemed to show the ball loose before Brian Branch stepped out of bounds. As is usually the case in a game this big, fans will certainly argue the call ad nauseam, especially if it proves outcome-determinative.
It looked that way several plays later when Young hit tight end Cameron Latu in the end zone for Alabama’s first touchdown of the game. Just like that, the “comeback” was complete, and Alabama took an 18-13 lead.
Not So Fast
On the next series, Bennett stared his adversity down and took control of the game. Dialing up pass after pass, Bennett took advantage. He started with an 18-yard dart. Alabama interfered on the next pass. Bennett added a 10-yard bullet. Then, he shook off a sack and threw the ball on a string for a 40-yard touchdown strike to Adonai Mitchell. After failing to convert for two, Georgia retook the lead 19-18.
Georgia’s defense held strong for a three-and-out, and Georgia played to its identity on the next drive. With a healthy balance of run and pass, the Bulldogs marched down the field and capped off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown reception by phenom Brock Bowers. Georgia now held a 26-18 lead.
With Young looking to move the ball, Georgia then stripped Alabama of all hope. Kelee Ringo picked off an errant Young pass and returned it for a touchdown, giving Georgia a commanding 33-18 lead with less than a minute left.
Georgia Wins the CFP National Championship
Unsurprisingly, Georgia held onto its lead. Saban has worked miracles before, but that lead was simply too big. As a result, Georgia wins the CFP National Championship, claiming their first title since 1980 and shaking off the Alabama burden they have carried for so long.