ATLANTA — In every game in every sport, there are always game-changing injuries and/or plays. Monday’s College Football Playoff Championship game between Georgia and Alabama was no exception.
And virtually every one of them went against the Bulldogs and all came in the crucial second half.
The Bulldogs had played a near-flawless game in the first 30 minutes. A Jake Fromm interception in the first quarter on a long third down play (essentially a punt) was the only real blemish in the first half.
Fromm had carved up the Tide defense for 126 yards while the running game, which most experts doubted would gain much traction, churned out 97 yards. Two Rodrigo Blankenship field goals of 27 and 41 yards and a Mecole Hardman 1-yard touchdown run with just 7 seconds remaining in the half capped a 13-0 Georgia halftime lead.
The shutout was the first for a Tide offense in the first half since 2007. The Bulldogs went into the locker room with all the momentum and a seeming answer for everything Alabama had to offer.
But the second half had four key game-changing moments that eventually cost the Bulldogs their first national title since 1981 as the Tide rallied for a thrilling 26-23, overtime win.
Tua much for Bulldogs
In a very un-Nick Saban-like move, the veteran Crimson Tide coach pulled two-year starter Jalen Hurts for freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to start the second half. Tagovailoa had not taken a snap since the Tide’s Nov. 13 game against Kentucky and it seemed on the surface to most of those in the press box a move of desperation.
Instead it was just the latest example of the genius that is Saban.
“I felt like that we've had this in our mind that, if we were struggling offensively, that we would give Tua an opportunity, even in the last game," Saban said. "The absence of a passing game and not being able to make explosive plays and not being able to convert on third down, I just didn't feel we could run the ball well enough, and I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did."
Tagovailoa finished the game 14-of-24 for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner on a 41-yard pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime on the final play of the game.
When a blocked kick isn’t a blocked kick that really was a blocked kick
On Alabama’s first possession of the second half, Georgia forced a Crimson Tide punt when Tagovailoa was sacked on third down forcing a JK Scott punt.
On the ensuing punt, Georgia’s Tyler Simmons flew around the left end untouched blocking Scott’s kick and giving the Dogs the ball at the Alabama 29 and poised to blow the game open.
But Simmons was called for offsides negating the block and Scott’s second attempt was a 54-yard blast pining Georgia back at its own 17 instead. Adding insult to yardage loss, replays showed that Simmons was NOT offsides on the play and that the punt block should have stood.
That's using the wrong head
After Alabam's first touchdown of the game, Georgia had quickly just regained the momentum on an 80-yard bomb for a touchdown from Jake Fromm to Hardman in the third quarter for a 20-7 lead. Two plays later the Dogs’ Deandre Baker snagged an errant Tagovailoa pass for an interception at the Alabama 39 to set Georgia up for another possible score.
But Fromm’s next throw, an attempted screen pass to Sony Michel, bounced off the helmet of Alabama defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand and into arms of the Tide’s Raekwon Davis, who returned it to the Georgia 40. Instead of an opportunity to extend the lead even further, Davis’s tip-drill catch set up a 43-yard field goal by Andy Pappanastos to cut the lead to 20-10.
On Alabama’s first possession of the fourth quarter, the Tide drove deep to the Georgia 14 with a chance to cut further into the lead. But, the Bulldogs stuffed Najee Harris for a 2-yard run and forced a Tagovailoa incompletion to set up a 3rd-and-8 from the 12. On the third down play, Tagovailoa was forced to scramble and tried to thread-the-needle to Jerry Jeudy in the back of the end zone.
Georgia’s Dominick Sanders looked to have corralled his first pick of the half as he cut in front of Jeudy. Sanders initially looked to have hauled it in but a replay showed he had a foot in but juggled it as he left the field of play resulting in an incomplete pass giving Alabama a fourth down.
Pappanastos drilled a 30-yard field goal to pull Alabama within 20-13 with 9:34 left.
If every one of those outcomes had changed in the Dogs favor, would we be writing a different story?
No one will ever know. But we all will be left to wonder, that’s for sure.