- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: Each day this week we'll review the five biggest plays or moments of the season for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Yesterday, we looked at AJ McCarron's game-winning drive down the field in Death Valley.
LSU was the challenge, but Georgia was the true test. Alabama went to the SEC championship game in Atlanta facing a true win-and-you're-in scenario: either the Crimson Tide or the Georgia Bulldogs would go on to face Notre Dame in the national title game. For the sixth straight year the winner of the SEC would compete for the crystal football. It was just a matter of figuring out which team would represent the conference.
The game between No. 2 and No. 3 in the BCS Standings would not disappoint. Georgia came out firing on all cylinders at first, jumping out to a 7-0 lead while making the Alabama offense look downright confused. Jarvis Jones harassed AJ McCarron into a fumble in the first quarter and an interception early in the second.
But the Bulldogs offense didn't take advantage of the early lull by the Tide. Alabama got the ball back after McCarron's interception and decided to change plans. It was out with the pass and in with the run. The offensive line would decide the game from then on. T.J. Yeldon carried the ball four times and Eddie Lacy punched in Alabama's first touchdown on the six-play drive.
It was back and forth from then on, Georgia finding success through the air with Aaron Murray and Alabama playing it close to the vest behind the best offensive line in college football.
Murray found Tavarres King for 45 yards early in the fourth quarter to set up a go-ahead score from running back Todd Gurley. Alabama's offense stalled the next drive and then Georgia went three-and-out, handing the ball back to the Crimson Tide with 5:25 remaining, down three points.
Alabama looked poised to continue running the ball as it had all night until offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier finally pulled the trigger. On 1st-and-10 from the Georgia 45-yard line, Nussmeier sent two tight ends in to sell the run and instead went play action. The move worked to perfection. Cornerback Damian Swann bit on the run fake and moved inside just enough for Amari Cooper to get two steps on him, finding a seam on the sideline. Though Cooper would stop and look back halfway through his route, he had enough speed to catch up with McCarron's pass that led him into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
"Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and I wanted to come out here and be a big-time player," Cooper said after the game, the freshman oozing confidence. "I envisioned it before it happened and it came true, it happened."
Georgia would make a late push only to end up 5 yards short of the goal line as time expired. Alabama hoisted the SEC title and with it, a ticket to Miami.
"We came into the game and said it was going to be a 15-round fight," UA offensive tackle D.J. Fluker said. Fans will remember the game-winning touchdown pass, but the running game was the key for Alabama. The Tide racked up an SEC title game record 350 yards on the ground. "It was. It went down to the bitter end."
7dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough