Saturday, December 1, 2012
Body blows and a haymaker
By David Ching DawgNation
ATLANTA -- Throughout Georgia's postgame locker room, Bulldogs players stared blankly at the floor Saturday night as if they were spent both physically and emotionally -- and it was understandable on both counts.
The Bulldogs' dreams of playing for a BCS championship died at Alabama's 5-yard line when Chris Conley caught a deflected pass and fell to the turf with Georgia out of timeouts. A glance at the final score -- Alabama 32, Georgia 28 -- served as one last punch to the gut on an evening when the second-ranked Crimson Tide and third-ranked Bulldogs traded knockout shots throughout.
"It was a heavyweight championship fight. There was a lot of haymakers thrown," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "They made plays, we made plays on both sides of the ball and we just came up a little short. That's it."
Set up by a punishing runs, Amari Cooper's touchdown catch over Damian Swann proved to be the winning score for Alabama.
Alabama's punishing offensive line and tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon proved to be every bit the physical force Grantham and his players expected leading into the game.
The Tide rushed for 350 yards -- an SEC championship game record -- and three touchdowns and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. And that pounding style began to take its toll in the second half as Georgia's defensive players began to tire.
The Crimson Tide launched a seven-play, 74-yard drive at the end of the third quarter -- hitting paydirt with Lacy's 1-yard touchdown dive on the first play of the fourth quarter -- that did not include a single pass.
Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree took exception to the notion that his defense was worn out, however.
"That's not an issue," said Ogletree, who recorded a game-high 11 tackles. "We condition and work hard just like everybody else. It's just not everybody just manning up and doing their job."
Regardless, Alabama's enormous advantage in time of possession (37 minutes, 35 seconds for the Tide vs. 22:25 for the Bulldogs) was a telling sign that its trademark grind-it-out philosophy was having great effect. Lacy's 181 yards were the third-highest total in SEC title game history and he and Yeldon (25-153) became the first backfield tandem to ever clear the 100-yard mark in game history.
"I know they've got a great offensive line," said Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who finished with six tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. "The only thing you've got to do is get behind those guys and run. Lacy's a great back. He knows how to get behind his pads and make plays, and No. 4 [Yeldon] is, too. Those guys made plays when it counted."
One of the biggest came in the fourth quarter with Georgia clinging to a 28-25 lead. Facing third-and-5 at the 50, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron handed to Yeldon, who powered ahead for a 5-yard gain and a first down to keep the drive alive. On the next play, McCarron hit Amari Cooper for a 45-yard touchdown that gave the Tide its first lead since the opening minutes of the second half.
"That's what you do when you run the ball: You throw deep play-action passes," Grantham said. "That's part of their game plan, so it shouldn't be a surprise."
Georgia's offense went three-and-out on the ensuing drive and punted back to Alabama with 2:17 to play and two timeouts remaining. It was no secret what Alabama would do in such a situation, but the Bulldogs were up to the challenge this time.
They stopped Yeldon for gains of 2, 3 and 3 yards and used both of their remaining timeouts before Alabama punted the ball back with 1:08 to play.
"Everybody knew they were going to run it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We basically played a goal-line defense at that point to try to get the ball back."
And they did. And quarterback Aaron Murray led the Bulldogs 80 yards deep inside Alabama territory on a last-gasp chance to steal the victory. Only the Bulldogs fell a few yards short and watched helplessly as the final seconds ticked away when Conley fell to the ground inbounds at the Alabama 5.
So began the devastating process of dissecting the small corrections that the Bulldogs could have made to alter the outcome. It was still occurring in Georgia's locker room shortly after the confetti fell from the Georgia Dome roof at the game's conclusion -- and it will likely continue for months and years to come.
"I don't even want to remember [tonight]," Jones said. "I'll remember this group that we've got right here. These guys fought from the beginning until the end. I'll just remember we were four seconds away from going to the BCS title. I think we had a great year, a respectful year, and came in here and challenged Bama like a lot of people didn't think we would."