Alabama survives slugfest in Atlanta
DEC 01, 2012 7:56p ET
This SEC Championship Game was not one of those occasions.
For those who wonder what a college football playoff is going to look like, this was it. And it was as good as advertised.
With a spot in the BCS Championship Game on the line, Alabama and Georgia put on a show for the ages: a game that featured brutal hits, acrobatic catches, fake punts, blocked field goals and individual performances that had NFL scouts licking their chops and more than a few Notre Dame coaches shaking their heads.
But more than anything it featured running – hard running, fast running, inside and outside running from backs with more guts than size. If you love ground-game football, this was one for the ages.
The outcome was expected. Alabama won 32-28, but how it got there will be remembered for years.
Six lead changes, an SEC championship record, came about because two of the best defenses in the land gave up a total of 906 yards, 463 of it on the ground, also a record.
Georgia scored first in the second quarter on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to tight end Jay Rome, a play set up by a fake punt where tight end Arthur Lynch completed his first career pass to cornerback Sanders Cummings, who made his first career reception.
Alabama answered, making it 7-7 with just under two minutes to go in the half. Then Murray threw an interception to HaHa Clinton-Dix that set up a late field goal to give the Tide the lead.
But the third quarter was when this one became a slugfest, the time when everyone in the Georgia Dome stood a little straighter, realizing they were witnessing something special.
"It was a knock-down, drag-out fight," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Everybody swung until the end."
Georgia opened a 21-10 lead after Alec Ogletree blocked a Cabe Foster field goal attempt and ran it in from 55 yards for a touchdown.
That's when Nick Saban pulled his offense aside and told them they were one score away from being right back in the game. He also told them that this test would determine what kind of football team they wanted to be.
That message resonated with one player in particular.
Eddie Lacy put on a highlight-reel performance, running for 187 yards and two touchdowns. But that doesn't begin to tell the story.
In three consecutive plays in the third quarter, Lacy ran for 32, 15, and 14 yards, most of those coming after initial contact. His longest of the night was 41 yards and he averaged 9.1 per carry, refusing to go down even when it looked as though the entire Georgia defense had hit him, that had fans from both sides gasping.
"The O line and Eddie did a fantastic job," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "When we needed them to step up, they stepped up."
As if the conference championship and playing for a return trip to the BCS Championship Game was not enough, Lacy had the extra personal incentive of playing in front of Alabama's only Heisman winner, New Orleans running back Mark Ingram, who hung around after the Saints loss to the Falcons to watch his old teammates.
"When you're playing behind Ingram, you can't do anything but learn," Lacy said. "Watching him, you have to know to be poised and know that things are not going to go right all the time, but we are in a position to make big plays and get momentum on our side."
This wasn't Auburn or North Texas Lacy and the rest of the Tide was up against, either. Georgia's defense got exponentially better as the season progressed, and their offense gelled after the win over Florida. Their own stalwart back, freshman Todd Gurley ran on 122 yards while Murray went 18 for 33 for 265 yards, the best performance of his career against a ranked team.
"I'm going to tell you that I think it's a crying shame if Georgia doesn't get to go to a BCS Bowl game," Saban said. "I mean, Georgia should go to a BCS Bowl. They played a tremendous game out there today. That was a great football game by both teams and they could have won just as soon as us."
Indeed they could have, and might have if Murray's final pass of the night hadn't been tipped.
Trailing by four, Georgia got the ball back with 1:08 remaining. Murray completed two quick passes and Gurley picked up a first down on a short run. Then Murray threw what appeared to be an interception. But the review booth overruled the call, and the 'Dawgs had new life.
Murray completed three more passes, moving his team down to the eight yard line as seconds ticked away.
Then he tried to hit Malcolm Mitchell on a fade route in the back of the end zone, a play that, had to worked, would have won the game for the Bulldogs. But the ball was tipped at the line and the forward receiver in the pattern, Conley, caught it as the clock expired.
"It hurts," Richt said. "It's disappointing. Hurts a lot. We prepared hard all week, all season, all off-season to get back to the Dome and win. We came up short against an outstanding football team. They played well. We played well. The clock ran out. What are you going to do?"
If you're Georgia you're going to wait to see what the BCS selection committee decides.
"That's up to whoever is deciding," Richt said. "But do I think we are worthy of a BCS Bowl? Yes, I do. I do."
No one who saw this one in person could possibly disagree.
+ SHOW COMMENTS +