- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATLANTA -- Georgia’s 32-28 loss to Alabama in Saturday’s SEC championship game will go down as perhaps the game of the year and very likely the most exciting contest in the two decades that the conference has staged this game.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the final seconds ticked off the clock with Georgia 5 yards short of a game-winning touchdown -- the difference between playing for the BCS championship and not even reaching a BCS bowl game.
Here are the highs and lows of Saturday’s loss:
1. Special-teams plays
After an atrocious 2011 season on special teams, Georgia was a much more competent team in that area in 2012 -- but never more so than against Alabama. The Bulldogs pulled off their first fake-punt completion since 2005 early in the second quarter when tight end/punt protector Arthur Lynch hit cornerback Sanders Commings for a 16-yard gain that set up Georgia’s first touchdown. Also, Cornelius Washington blocked a field goal that Alec Ogletree returned for a 55-yard touchdown to put Georgia up 21-10 in the third quarter. On the flip side, Marshall Morgan missed a 50-yard field goal -- points that could have made a difference when the Bulldogs drove deep into Alabama territory on their final possession.
2. Murray’s performance
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray certainly didn’t play a perfect game, but perhaps his composed performance against Alabama finally put to bed the criticism that he wilts in the spotlight. Murray hit multiple big throws and finished 18-for-33 for 265 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His second-quarter interception was badly underthrown and he missed open receivers here and there, but this was an enormous step in the right direction against perhaps the nation’s top defensive team.
3. Line holds up
Many analysts viewed Georgia’s offensive line as a possible weak link entering the showdown with Alabama’s defense, but Will Friend’s troops held their own against the powerful Crimson Tide. Alabama sacked Murray three times, but he had time to pick apart the Tide’s secondary on multiple occasions. In addition, Georgia tailback Todd Gurley rushed 23 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns -- a season rushing high for an Alabama opponent and just the second time this season that an opponent has rushed for 100 yards or more against the Tide.
1. Run defense
Alabama’s punishing offensive line and its talented tailback tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon simply overpowered Georgia’s defense on Saturday. They finished with 51 rushing attempts for 350 yards -- a record for the SEC championship game -- with Lacy rushing for 181 yards and Yeldon 153. They became the first teammates to each rush for 100-plus in the SEC title game and helped Alabama build an enormous advantage in time of possession (37:35 to 22:25), which began to show as the Tide moved the ball on the ground easily against a tiring Georgia defense in the second half.
2. The ending
Regardless of whether you agree with the Georgia coaches’ decision to run a play at the Alabama 8 instead of spiking the ball as the clock ticked down and the Bulldogs were out of timeouts, they fell victim to the worst possible outcome. When Murray dropped back to throw a fade to Malcolm Mitchell in the end zone, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley deflected the pass and it fell into receiver Chris Conley’s hands at the 5. He fell to the turf with the completed pass and the final seconds ticked off the clock. Would it have made a difference if the Bulldogs followed conventional wisdom and spiked the ball to regroup before attempting a potential game-winning play? We’ll never know.
3. Costly mistakes kill momentum
Georgia seemed to be on the verge of running away with the game after Ogletree scored on the blocked field goal, but a pair of costly 15-yard penalties on Alabama’s ensuing drive helped the Tide right the ship. And it started on the very first play, when Georgia’s T.J. Stripling was flagged for a personal foul for fighting after the play. That moved the ball from the Alabama 23 to the 38. Four plays later, Georgia’s Branden Smith was hit with a pass-interference penalty on a pass to Kevin Norwood in the end zone. That moved the ball from the Georgia 25 to the 10. Yeldon scored on the next play to make it 21-16 and he then scored on a two-point run to help the Tide move within a field goal.