Saturday, December 1, 2018

This One "Hurts"

UGA Sports Communications

Three unanswered touchdowns from No. 1 Alabama lifted the Crimson Tide past No. 4 Dawgs in a 35-28 finish Saturday in the 2018 SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The SEC East Champion Dawgs (11-2, 7-2) scored the first points in the second half with a touchdown to go up 28-14, but the SEC West Champion Crimson Tide (13-0, 9-0) strung together the rest of the scoring to win their 27th SEC Title in school history. For the second straight season, the result came down to the last play, but this time Georgia’s pass went incomplete out of the end zone.

“It was a tremendous atmosphere, the SEC Championship Game once again is one of the best games of the year,” coach Kirby Smart said. “A lot of credit goes to Alabama, they outperformed us in the second half. The game had a lot of momentum swings – up and down, back and forth, which we knew it would. We have a lot of champions on this team and a lot of kids that have a heart of a lion like these two [Jonathan Ledbetter and Jake Fromm at the podium] right here, especially. They lead this team and care about this university and play really hard.”

Statistically, the numbers matched up across the board with Georgia compiling 454 total yards and Alabama right there with 403 total yards. Through the air, sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm went 25-of-39 for 301 yards and three touchdowns. The running back tandem of D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield teamed up for 75 and 60 yards, respectively, on the ground. Swift had two total touchdowns, one running and one receiving.

On the receiving end, Swift had a team-high six catches for 63 yards, however junior tight end Isaac Nauta led in yards with 81 on four catches including a career-long 55-yard catch. Nauta notched the game’s first score, while Riley Ridley was the other Dawg to find the end zone in the game. Ridley finished with four catches for 48 yards and the lone second half score on a 23-yard catch.

Defensively, Georgia forced four three-and-outs on the day, which was led by juniors, safety J.R. Reed and inside linebacker Tae Crowder, with eight tackles apiece. Senior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker played disruptively with five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a batted ball and two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Georgia’s two takeaways came from interceptions from Reed and fellow safety Richard LeCounte.

“These kids battled tooth-and-nail with what is one of the best teams in the country,” Smart added. “We didn’t do enough to win the game, we didn’t finish it, but give Alabama the credit. They made the plays when they had to, but this is a special group.”

At the half, Georgia led 21-14, scoring on three of its six possessions, while also outpacing Alabama in total yards (227-146) and time of possession (20:52-9:08). Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm went 14-of-18 including 10 straight completions that tied a SECCG record for 139 passing yards for two touchdowns. Meanwhile sophomore D’Andre Swift directed the ground attack, totaling 66 yards on 13 attempts with a touchdown. Six Dawgs recorded two catches in the first half.

The Crimson Tide threatened in their first drive of the game, reaching the Georgia six-yard line, but an 11-yard sack by Walker followed by LeCounte’s first-career interception kept the scoreboard clean.

Three possessions later, Fromm connected with Nauta in-between the seams for a 20-yard score. On the seven-play, 60-yard drive, Fromm went 4-for-5 to all different receivers.

After Alabama knotted the score at 7-all, Georgia orchestrated a 13-play, 74-yard scoring drive that elapsed 7:19 off the clock. This time Fromm went a perfect 6-for-6 including two third-down completions. Swift capped the drive with a 9-yard run off the right guard to make it a 14-7 Georgia lead.

Next, Georgia’s defense forced a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the offense and to Swift who proceeded to rack up 44 yards in a 51-yards touchdown drive. The Philadelphia native ended the drive with an 11-yard touchdown catch. On the drive, Swift became the 14th Dawg all-time to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark.

Coming out of the break, the Dawgs’ defense forced Alabama’s third three-and-out and Fromm made it count by dropping a 23-yard touchdown pass into Riley Ridley’s hands for the 28-14 lead.

Later in the third quarter, Crimson Tide narrowed the gap to 28-21 on a 51-yard touchdown catch from receiver Jaylen Waddle. And then with 5:19 left in regulation, Alabama constructed a 16-play game-tying drive with a 10-yard pass from Jalen Hurts to Jerry Jeudy as the equalizer.

The last and game-winning scoring drive occurred in the waning minutes when Hurts scrambled for 15-yards to give the Crimson Tide the 35-28 edge. Hurts went 7-of-9 passing for 82 yards after Tua Tagovailova left the game due to an injury. The SECCG MVP went to Crimson Tide running back Josh Jacobs who had 83 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The College Football Playoff Selection Show Presented by AT&T airs Sunday at noon ET and will reveal the College Football Playoff selection committee’s four playoff teams at 12:30 p.m. The four-hour special will then reveal the CFP selection committee’s complete top 25 at 2 p.m., followed by the remaining New Year’s Six matchups at 3 p.m.

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