One play may not decide a game, but that doesn’t mean it won’t stick out.
Enter fourth-ranked Georgia’s punt unit — and Justin Fields, believe that or not — and the fake punt gone awry during the fourth quarter of Georgia’s 35-28 loss to No. 1 Alabama.
The Crimson Tide had just tied the game on a 10-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jalen Hurts to Jerry Jeudy. Georgia had squandered a 21-7 halftime lead, and took the field with little momentum having just given up a seven-minute scoring drive.
The Crimson Tide faithful, quiet for much of the first half, had come back to life. They were about to get a lot louder.
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The Bulldogs moved near midfield following a 26-yard catch-and-run by D’Andre Swift. But three plays later, they faced fourth-and-11. At that point, the newly-rejuvenated Crimson Tide had all the momentum, and a backup quarterback oozing with confidence. They’d get the ball back, but likely face a long field if they were to take the lead. At the very worst, the Crimson Tide would start at the 20-yard line.
Then, the fake.
Fields took the direct snap, instead of punter Jake Camarda. The freshman took a few steps to the left, then turned to his right and appeared geared up to throw. He had a gunner running a slant route, but was tackled before much could happen. On fourth-and-11, Fields gained two yards.
“Before the fake, we went over the look countless times,” Fields said. “The look was there, but it’s just, when the ball was hiked, (the Alabama defender) went right to the guy. Can’t do anything about it.”
On the next five plays, the Crimson Tide covered 52, and took their final lead of the night on a 15-yard touchdown scramble by Hurts, capping a wild, back-and-forth affair that ended in more heartbreak for the team from Athens.
But, back to that fake punt. It was open, arguably, had Fields had one or two more seconds before his protection collapsed.
While Alabama did manage to get each receiver covered (Kirby Smart said afterward that the unit waited too long to snap it) Fields actually had a man coming across on a slant rout, and another out in the flat. A split second or two longer was what Fields needed.
Smart said he didn’t want Alabama to have time to properly align. They did, and were able to cover up each receiver.
Saban did say in his postgame press conference that the Crimson Tide lined up in punt-safe formation, so it may not have worked anyways.
And while the play may not have cost the Bulldogs the SEC crown, it’ll certainly be one of the major plays people point to as a turning point in the Alabama comeback.
Georgia is now 0-for-3 on special-teams fakes in 2018: Two failed fake field goals, one apiece against LSU and Auburn, and the fake punt failure Saturday.
“We’re just an aggressive team, and we want to win,” Bulldogs tight end Isaac Nauta said. “We thought that we could get them there and move the chains, and have the chance to put ourselves in scoring position.
“They sniffed it out, and did a good job. A lot of credit to them.”