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SEC Championship: Georgia Finally Breaks Against Alabama

The streak ended where it started. Alabama snapped Georgia’s 29-game winning streak in their 27-24 win in the SEC Championship. This was Georgia’s first loss since the 2021 SEC Championship. With the loss, Georgia’s fate now rests in the hands of the College Football Playoff committee. In 2021, the committee bailed them out and put them in as the #3 seed, where they started their historic 29-game winning streak by dismantling Michigan. This year, they may find themselves on the outside looking in. Before we look ahead, let’s see some key factors that decided the game.

SEC Championship Recap

Nick Saban remains undefeated. Sure, Alabama will occasionally lose a game; see Week 2 against Texas, but Saban is always scheming and finding a way to improve his team. With the win, Saban is now 11-1 in SEC Championships and undefeated at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (8-0). With the loss, Georgia is 0-4 all-time in SEC Championship games against Saban and Alabama.

Alabama Breaks Georgia’s Defense

At first glance, Georgia’s defense appeared to perform well against the Tide. Alabama was just 3-13 on 3rd downs and was held to 306 total yards. Jalen Milroe and the Tide backfield did just enough to extend drives and keep the chains moving. Georgia’s run defense has shown to be a liability throughout the season. The Bulldogs were not stout enough in the front seven to get the necessary push to make stops when needed. This was apparent on two of the Tide’s final drives in the fourth quarter.

Georgia did an excellent job in the second half against the Tide, holding them to 36 yards on their first four drives. This included forcing the Tide to kick a field goal after a Carson Beck fumble set Alabama up on Georgia’s 11-yeard line to put the game away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Georgia scored a touchdown early in the 4th quarter to make it a 20-17 game, and it seemed that momentum was shifting. Milroe had other plans and marched the Tide down the field in nine plays to put Alabma back up by 10 points.

Kirby Smart trusted his defense, deciding to squib the kickoff rather than try for the onside kick. Milroe set the tone on the first play from scrimmage with a 30-yard run. Two plays later, on 2nd and 8, he ran nine yards to get the game’s final first down and seal the game and Georgia’s fate.

Blame Execution, Not the Officials

Georgia’s social media platforms were buzzing with discussions about the officiating in the game, with many fans suggesting that the referees favored Alabama. The main point of contention was Isaiah Bond’s 22-yard fourth-down conversion in the late 2nd quarter. Upon reviewing the replay, there were suspicions that the ball might have touched the ground and shifted while he was making the catch. Despite this, the officials didn’t pause the game for a review, allowing play to continue.

Alabama capitalized on the situation, scoring two plays later and taking a 17-7 lead into halftime. While it’s tempting to point fingers at the officials for the loss, the truth is that Georgia’s defeat on Saturday night was more about a failure to execute plays rather than any officiating bias. Unfortunately, self-inflicted wounds, not the officials, hurt Georgia the most. Here are three to start with.

  • 2nd Quarter Missed Field Goal: Peyton Woodring missed a 50-yard field goal that doinked off up the right upright. It was supposed to be initially a 45-yard try, but a false start pushed Georgia back. Gary Danielson pointed out on the broadcast that if the ball was five yards closer, it may have gone in. Regardless, Alabama scored a touchdown on the next possession.
  • Alabama 2-2 on 4th Downs: The Georgia defense did a great job against Alabama on 3rd down, yielding only three first downs on 13 attempts. Unfortunately, they allowed Alabama to convert both of its fourth-down tries. The Tide scored two touchdowns on the two drives where Alabama converted on 4th down.
  • Lackluster running game: Georgia’s rushing game struggled, ending the match with only 78 yards gained. Despite starting strong with an 8-play, 83-yard touchdown drive in their opening possession, the Georgia offense went quiet until the fourth quarter. Although players like Ladd McConkey and Brock Bowers were not performing at their best, the team consistently faced challenges while running the ball, often resulting in minimal gains or losses. The offensive strategy seemed lacking in tempo and creativity until the fourth-quarter drives.

Now Georgia Waits

Celebrating three consecutive 12-0 seasons is undoubtedly impressive. A remarkable 29-game winning streak and back-to-back national championships are accomplishments to take pride in. However, what stings are the two SEC Championship losses to Alabama. In 2021, despite a #3 seed acknowledgment from the committee for their regular-season performance, this year poses a more formidable challenge.

Washington wrapped up an undefeated season and secured the Pac-12 Championship with a victory over Oregon, positioning themselves as a potential #2 or #3 seed. Alabama’s recent win seemingly guarantees them a spot in the playoffs, given the committee’s historical inclination to include a one-loss SEC Champion.

Adding to the complexity, Texas, the only team to defeat Alabama this season, won the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma State.

Their path is clouded as Georgia vies for the committee’s favor in 2023. Michigan appears poised to claim the #1 seed unless they stumble against Iowa. Georgia’s primary competition for the final playoff spot includes Florida State and Texas. While the mantra “the SEC just means more” holds weight, Georgia may unfortunately find itself on the outside looking in.

Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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