ATLANTA— First-and-10 with three seconds left. This is what the game came down to between Alabama and Georgia. The Bulldogs had dominated the first three quarters, but the Crimson Tide had mounted a comeback and had taken the lead.
On Alabama’s 39-yard line, sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm took the snap and lofted a pass into the back right corner of Alabama’s end zone towards a hoard of Alabama and Georgia players.
“My job is to box out No. 3 receiver (Zamir White), and I look up and it’s No. 4 (Mecole Hardman) probably the fastest guy on their team,” outside linebacker Christian Miller said. “I just said ‘I better turn the gas on,’ so I’m running with him, trying to box him out, box him out. It was a late ball… We’re already just crowded up there. I just jumped and tried to get a hand on it.”
Alabama tipped the ball away, claiming its 27th SEC Championship with a final score of 35-28.
“When I heard the fans cheering, I didn’t know who had caught it,” Miller said. “Then I saw my teammates celebrating. I just started praying, saying ‘Lord thank you.’”
Georgia ran 64 plays in the win, but one stands out over the rest: It decided to try and fool Alabama on fourth down.
On fourth-and-11 from the 50-yard line, the Bulldogs were lined up in its punt formation with backup freshman quarterback Justin Fields in the backfield. The snap went directly to him. He faked the run to the right and charged up the middle, where he was met by four Alabama defenders, gaining only two yards. Alabama scored the game winning touchdown on the following drive.
“They just trying to win the game; I figured that was going to happen,” Miller said.
In the first three quarters, Georgia controlled the game, scoring 28 points and gaining 376 yards of offense. The 28 points were the most the Crimson Tide allowed since it defeated Arkansas on Oct. 6.
As the lights from fan’s phones died down and the fourth quarter started, the Alabama defense was playing the way it had for most of November, holding Georgia to 78 yards in the final quarter, with only 12 coming on the ground.
“They had formational us in a couple things that confused our players a little bit and sometimes when your players get confused, then they’re confused on things that they did practice,” coach Nick Saban said. “So, I think we just needed to get everybody settled down and making the right adjustments and I think we played a little better in the second half because of it.”
Early in the game, Alabama struggled to stop Georgia in every aspect. The Bulldogs ran for 141 yards by the end of the third quarter, while Fromm had thrown three touchdowns and 235 yards.
Running back D’Andre Swift was a serious problem for the Alabama front for the first three quarters. He ran the ball 16 times for 75 yards and a score. He had also caught three passes for 24 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore often broke Alabama’s tackles and took multiple defenders down with him when he was tackled.
But in the fourth quarter, he wasn’t handed the ball and caught three passes for 43 yards.
“He’s a big talented back that can hurt you in the passing game and he can hurt you with his feet running,” safety Deionte Thompson said. “It was critical stopping him, [and] just slowing him down.”
Fellow running back Elijah Holyfield was the same way, running for 62 yards on 13 carries in the first three quarters. He ran the ball once in the fourth quarter for negative two yards.
The Bulldogs finished with 153 rushing yards, which is the fifth most Alabama gave up this year. The biggest reason for the running success was the Bulldog offensive line, which stifled the Alabama front seven against the run and in the passing game. It gave up two sacks in the game against an Alabama defense that was averaging more than three sacks a game.
Nose guard Quinnen Williams sacked Fromm on Georgia’s first drive. Defensive end LaBryan Ray claimed the second sack Georgia’s last drive.
“We just knew we had to be more physical,” defensive lineman Quinnen Williams said. “The first half they came out and were more physical than us. We knew up front we had to get it together.”
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