6 takeaways from Georgia's epic title win over Alabama
The result of the second meeting this season between the SEC rivals may have been different, but both matchups were compelling contests loaded with future pros all over the field.
Here are six takeaways from the Bulldogs' triumph over Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
Nervy start for Georgia
Stetson Bennett started the game by taking a sack on the opening play, fumbling while scrambling on the second play, and then taking a delay of game penalty on the third play. Outside of a beautiful 52-yard pass to George Pickens, the Bulldogs gained just 101 yards of total offense in the opening half. The seven first-half penalties called on the Bulldogs were the most they had committed in an entire game since Sept. 18, according to Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated.
Defense rules the day
Georgia's historic defense this season has been well-documented, with the Bulldogs holding teams to an absurd 9.8 points per contest. Despite Alabama's constant barrage of offensive talent hitting the NFL in recent years, Saban's teams have always been built on defense, including this year's top-10 unit. While the first meeting between these two saw some fireworks, the rematch wasn't a repeat performance early on.
Although both teams were able to move the ball, finishing drives became an issue and the game's 9-6 halftime score made history as the first national title contest to feature five combined field goals in the opening half.
The Bulldogs' defense kept things going in the second half, with the Crimson Tide managing just a field goal and a touchdown after taking over possession inside the Georgia red zone.
Heisman winner Bryce Young ended up with 369 yards passing, but it took him 57 attempts to hit that number. In the SEC title game against Alabama, the Bulldogs were unable to sack Young and barely pressured him en route to the blowout loss. That changed on Monday as the Georgia pass rush got home time and time again, forcing Young into the first two-interception game of his career.
Bennett to Mitchell an all-time play
Bennett's story of former walk-on turned JUCO transfer into Georgia starting quarterback feels cut from a Disney movie, and the storybook ending was provided on Monday in Indianapolis. The Georgia native had the moment of his life with the Bulldogs down by five midway through the fourth quarter. With the Crimson Tide jumping offside, Bennett wisely took advantage of the free play and launched a pass 40 yards to Adonai Mitchell in the end zone. The freshman did the rest, coming back to the ball to secure an unbelievable catch, the eventual winning points, and one of the greatest moments in the history of the football program in Athens.
Williams' injury changed the game
With John Metchie already out for Monday's game, Alabama needed a massive performance out of Jameson Williams to have a shot versus Georgia. Williams torched the Bulldogs for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC title game and was once again shining with four catches for 65 yards in the opening half. Unfortunately, the Ohio State transfer's knee planted awkwardly after a 40-yard connection, taking him out for the rest of the contest with a significant injury. That hampered the already-thin receiving corps even further, with a number of freshmen taking leading roles for Saban. While Ja'Corey Brooks and Agiye Hall made some plays for the Tide, a couple of key drops on excellent throws from Young were too much to overcome.
The most casual fumble recovery of all time?
Brian Branch is either the coolest guy to ever play football or was unaware as he was making a clutch fumble recovery in the second half for Alabama. Deep in the Georgia zone, the Crimson Tide pass rush forced Bennett into a fumble that almost everyone on the field - likely Branch as well - thought was an incomplete pass. The defensive back casually scooped the ball up with his foot inbounds by less than an inch. Replay would confirm the fumble and recovery by Branch, giving the ball to Alabama at the Georgia 16-yard line. The Crimson Tide would score their only touchdown of the contest shortly after to take a second-half lead.
Former assistants closing gap on Saban
Alabama's loss to Texas A&M earlier this year was Saban's first defeat at the hands of a former assistant. Jimbo Fisher served on the legendary coach's staff during his tenure at LSU. Monday's loss to Georgia represented both Saban's first to Smart and first to any ex-Alabama assistant. The late pick-6 by the Bulldogs also ensured the result would be Saban's second-largest defeat in his Alabama tenure and marked the first time in the last two seasons that the Crimson Tide lost after leading at halftime.
Both the Aggies and Bulldogs have packed a serious punch on the recruiting trail the past few seasons, with Fisher currently holding the top class for the 2022 cycle, according to ESPN.
While the losses suffered this year were noteworthy, there's no debate that Saban is still at the top of the sport. Alabama found itself in the CFP for the seventh time in the eight-year history of the format, and with Young and Will Anderson returning next season, it's likely the Crimson Tide will make it eight appearances in nine years. The 2021 season has just shown that the degree of difficulty for Saban might be rising.
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