ATLANTA – What a game. What an event. What a show.
The perfect football clash was blessed with about the most climactic finish possible.
First, the primaries: No. 2 Alabama 32, No. 3 Georgia 28, with the reigning national champion Crimson Tide (12-1) surviving a shootout and sealing a chance to defend their crown against No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) in the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7 in South Florida.
It very nearly was the Bulldogs (11-2) pulling off the most shocking victory imaginable.
It almost didn’t come to be.
Given 68 seconds (with no timeouts remaining) to go 85 yards, Georgia QB Aaron Murray appeared to be intercepted around midfield, which would have calmly sealed Alabama’s victory.
Murray’s wobbly pass flew over the hands of linebacker Sam Hubbard, and bounced off contact between Bulldogs receiver Chris Conley and Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri. The ball boomeranged back the opposite direction, and Nagurski Award candidate Dee Milliner lept laterally to grab the interception.
However, the officials took a second look, and methodically determined the ball hit the ground, giving Georgia second life. They did something with it.
A couple of downfield receptions to Tavarres King and Arthur Lynch helped Georgia reach the 8-yard-line, with 15 seconds to go. The clock restarted when everybody was set, but instead of spiking the ball, Murray, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and head coach Mark Richt chose to go for it right then and there.
Murray’s pass was deflected and then caught by Chris Conley, who was immediately downed at the 5-yard-line. With no timeouts, the final few seconds ticked off, and Alabama’s sideline burst into pandemonium while Georgia’s sideline deflatedly sunk, starting out onto the streamers cascading from the rafters.
UPDATE 11 (7:34 pm) | 4TH QTR 3:15 Alabama 32 Georgia 28
With the season on the line, AJ McCarron and Amari Cooper delivered. Now the Tide need one last stop.
T.J. Yeldon rushed for a first down on a crucial 3rd-and-6, and McCarron hit the bulls-eye Cooper in stride for a 45-yard score with 3:15 left in this wild SEC Championship Game.
It’s the fifth lead change since the final play of the first half. But Aaron Murray will get his chance.
UPDATE 10 (7:11) | 4 TH QTR 12:54 Georgia 28 Alabama 25
Back and forth we go.
Aaron Murray’s 45-yard bomb to Tavarres King and Todd Gurley’s 10-yard touchdown run have officially turned this SEC showdown into a shootout. There have been four lead changes since the final play of the first half, with Georgia leading by a field goal for the moment. Gurley broke Herschel Walker’s school record for freshman rushing touchdowns, with two today giving him 16 on the season.
UPDATE 9 (7:04) | 4TH QTR 14:57 Alabama 25 Georgia 21
It's hard to knock out a defending champion. Less than 7 minutes of game action after trailing by double digits, Alabama is back on top.
On the first play of the final quarter, the Crimson Tide retook the lead when Eddie Lacy finished off a dominant running drive with a 1-yard score.
Alabama has had possession for 28:37 – nearly double Georgia’s time on the field on offense – due to a powerful running game. Both Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon are over 100 yards with a quarter to play, and Alabama has tallied 296 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 39 carries – good for 7.6 yards a tote.
UPDATE 8 (6:51) | 3RD QTR 4:19 Georgia 21 Alabama 18
Didn’t take long for the defending national champions to respond, though a quickie 4-play, 77-yard touchdown drive was aided by a tough call.
T.J. Yeldon finished it off from 10 yards out, and added a 2-point run on the converstion to draw the Crimson Tide within a field goal. But on the preceding play, Georgia’s Damian Swann was flagged for pass interference on an incomplete pass that Bulldogs defenders believed to be too far over the receiver’s head and therefore uncatchable.
UPDATE 7 (6:43) | 3RD QTR 6:31 Georgia 21 Alabama 10
And just like that, a 10-point swing.
Cade Foster's 49-yard field goal attempt appeared to drive straight into the back of an Alabama blocker, who was getting bullrushed by Cornelius Washington. Washington’s right arm also was extended and may have gotten a piece. The deflected field goal bounded into the arms of Alec Ogletree, who sailed through open field to blow the game wide open and grant the Bulldogs a 21-10 lead.
Alabama takes over with 21 and a half minutes remaining, and a berth in the BCS Championship Game looking more and more like it could go to the underdog.
UPDATE 6 (6:24) | 3RD QTR 12:09 Georgia 14 Alabama 10
The talk of halftime was Alabama senior defensive end Quinton Dial (6-6, 304 pounds) lighting up Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray at the end of a Tide interception return. Videos of the play, which occurred well away from the ball, went viral as fans and media questioned whether it was a dirty hit. Dial was not penalized for the block.
Murray proved he’s okay, zooming out of the gates in the second half by driving Georgia 75 yards in nine plays, needing 2:51 to finish off with Todd Gurley’s 3-yard plunge. Georgia retakes the lead at 14-10. Murray completed a 31-yard pass to Tavarres King, but the other 44 yards were all gobbled up by Gurley on the ground.
Attendance was announced at 75,624, the fifth-largest crowd in the SEC Championship Game’s 21-year history.
UPDATE 5 (5:46) | HALFTIME Alabama 10 Georgia 7
Following a disappointing end to the previous drive, Alabama responded with a bang behind tailback Eddie Lacy, who found a hole, made one cut and raced 41 yards to the equalizing touchdown. That capped a quick 70-yard drive for the Crimson Tide, who have stuck with their no-huddle approach and mixed its tempo to disrupt Georgia’s defensive rhythm.
Then Georgia tried to make something happen behind a pair of first-down completions, but Aaron Murray’s long ball was easily intercepted by HaHa Clinton-Dix. At the end of the play, Murray took a shot from 6-6, 304-pound defensive end Quinton Dial, and got back to the sideline under his own power after a quick visit from the trainers.
Clinton-Dix brought the return back onto Georgia’s side of the field, giving Alabama a chance to take its first lead. After halfback TJ Yeldon plunged across on a 3rd-and-2, McCarron was forced to scramble twice, the second time a 22-yard pickup getting the Tide down to the 5-yard-line with 5 seconds left in the half. Alabama elected for the easy points, with Jeremy Shelley’s short field goal to give the Tide a 10-7 lead into the locker room.
Georgia will get the ball to open the second half.
UPDATE 4 (5:23) | 2nd 5:04 GEORGIA 7 ALABAMA 0
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s best drive ended with his worst decision of the game, committing his second turnover on the doorstep of points.
The Tide traveled more than 80 yards, but came away with no points in the middle of the second quarter. It opened when McCarron launched a deep ball, which Bacarri Rambo settled under in position to make the interception or at least a pass defense. But true freshman Amari Cooper swooped in, timed his leap perfectly and snatched it from Rambo, good for a 44-yard gain.
Later on the drive, Alec Ogletree was flagged for roughing the passer, knocking down AJ McCarron on an incomplete pass which would have set up 3 rd-and-6 from the Georgia 10. Two plays later, though, Eddie Lacy was stuffed on second down from the 1 and fumbled, with McCarron falling on the loose ball on Georgia’s 5-yard-line.
That set the stage for a massive mistake by McCarron. On a quick out looking for Cooper, McCarron threw the ball right into the belly of cornerback Sanders Commings, who cradled the interception and took away Alabama’s chance to get on the board.
Georgia did go three-and-out in response, so Alabama has the ball following a punt on its own 30.
So far, the teams have combined for 253 total yards and 7 points. A classic, well-rounded football game, where both offenses are moving the ball but scoring has been tough sledding.
UPDATE 3 (5:00) | 2nd 13:59 GEORGIA 7 ALABAMA 0
You play a big game, you pull out all the stops.
Both teams have attempted a fake punt, and each result was heavily in favor of the Bulldogs. Alabama had the run for a first down, but it was negated by a false start, visibly angering Alabama coach Nick Saban on the sideline.
On the first play of the second quarter, with 4th–and-10 inside Alabama territory and lining up for a coffin corner punt, Georgia had other ideas. The direct snap went to personal protector Arthur Lynch, who lofted a quick pass to Sanders Commings to move the chains.
The trickery paid off a few plays later, when quarterback Aaron Murray delivered a 17-yard strike to tight end Jay Rome for the game’s first points.
In the first quarter, Georgia outgained Alabama 86-71 in total yards, and held the ball for more than eight minutes. The Bulldogs also were 2-5 on third downs – converting a pair from more than 10 yards out – and stopped the Crimson Tide on all three 3rd-down tries.
UPDATE 2 (4:38) | 1ST QTR 6:22 ALABAMA 0 GEORGIA 0
Jarvis Jones made the first big play of the game.
The Georgia junior linebacker with All-America credentials fought off a blog behind the play to catch quarterback AJ McCarron from behind and force a fumble. Christian Robinson was in the right place to gobble it up, giving the Bulldogs plum field position in Alabama territory.
However, the Tide defense stood up. Kicker Marshall Morgan had a chance to put Georgia on the board from 51 yards out, but his laser with plenty of distance was pushed wide right, giving Alabama the ball back. No score after two possessions for each side.
UPDATE 1 (4:23 p.m.) | 1ST QTR 11:42 ALABAMA 0 GEORGIA 0
Football’s a funny game.
Both sides opened with a punt. After the Crimson Tide’s no-huddle offense stalled near midfield, Alabama booter Cody Mandell boomed one to the rafters, but Georgia had good protection and the ball bounced into the end zone, giving Georgia possession on the 20.
Next, when the Bulldogs couldn’t convert on 3rd-and-2, Collin Barber shanked a short punt. Fortunately for Georgia, the ball took a perfect bounce, finally settling in place on the Alabama 19. So no style points for Georgia in the punting game, but the end result was no flipped field in favor of the Tide.
The game kicked off at 4:11 p.m. ET, with Georgia winning the toss and deferring to the second half. The crowd on hand is evenly split, with plenty of red and white around the Georgia Dome.
Fourteen SEC Legends were recognized in pregame announcements and presided over the coin flip. The group included former Auburn fullback James Owens, who broke the Tigers’ color barrier and this year had the school’s Courage Award named in his honor.