Georgia squanders lead in national championship

The 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta was a game for the ages as Alabama defeated Georgia in overtime. Alabama head coach Nick Saban won his sixth national championship prompting many to call him the greatest college football coach of all time. His coaching was what ultimately led Alabama to the win; they were down 13-0 at  the half, but Saban changed their mindsets (and personnel) to give them motivation to come back and win.

In the Rose Bowl a week earlier, the hometown Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Oklahoma Sooners to advance to the national championship in Atlanta. Many believed that although Alabama was the last team to make the playoffs, they were one of the best teams due to their physical defense and tough offense led by quarterback Jalen Hurts. With Georgia head coach Kirby Smart facing off against his former team, the championship was bound to be an intense game.

Atlanta was the perfect location to host this year’s big game as it has a modern  stadium, and it also turned out to be geographically close to both teams. “The Benz” was filled with fans who made the short drive from all around Alabama and also Georgia fans who only had to drive to downtown Atlanta in order to experience the championship atmosphere. Although many Alabama fans were at the game, Georgia fans still outnumbered them about 7 to 3.

“Both teams being close to Atlanta caused the ticket market to be insane,” said sophomore Jack Hunter. “I think both teams played inspired football because they had lots of fans cheering them on inside the stadium.”

The first quarter was a defensive battle as neither team scored. Hurts struggled passing the ball as Georgia’s edge rushers did not let up on the pressure. Alabama had a chance to score on a 40-yard field goal, but junior kicker Andy Pappanastos missed wide left. Georgia also could not get on the board in the first quarter as freshman quarterback Jake Fromm was intercepted on the first drive of the game.

The second quarter featured 13 points from Georgia as their defense continued to destroy Hurts, giving him no time to get loose and scramble. Georgia had two field goals from sophomore kicker Rodrigo Blankenship and a one-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore Mecole Hardman. Alabama was held to 94 yards in the first half, prompting Saban to make a gutsy coaching move and put true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in for Hurts. Although Hurts led his team to a 26-2 record in his time at Alabama, Saban believed that putting in Tagovailoa was the right move.

“Nothing for Saban is a risky move,” said freshman Jayson Longacre. “If he puts Tua in, that means that he has a lot of confidence in him. If he has a lot of confidence in him, then the whole world should have a lot of confidence in him.”

Tagovailoa had only made 53 throws the entire season, but in the second half threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Tagovailoa extended plays that seemed hopeless, picked apart the Georgia defense that had held Hurts to 21 yards, and brought back Alabama’s passing attack.

Although Alabama was beginning to regain momentum, Georgia silenced that with an 80-yard bomb to Hardman, making the score 20-7 Georgia. They even got the ball back on an interception by cornerback Deandre Baker and had the chance to put the nail in the coffin, but they couldn’t capitalize as Fromm was intercepted on the first play of the drive.

Georgia’s offense began to falter as they took a more conservative approach by running the ball more instead of throwing. Georgia threw the ball 23 times in the first half compared to only nine times in the second half.

The game went back and forth until finally, the score was 20-20, and Pappanastos had the chance to win the national championship on a 36-yard field goal but missed his second field goal of the day wide left.

“Pappanastos doesn’t have a good record as it is, so by adding the pressure of the kick potentially being the game winner, I think the stress got to him,” said freshman Emme Payne.

In overtime, both teams were under immense pressure. Alabama won the coin toss and elected to play defense first as they wanted to be able to know how many points they would need.

Fromm and the Bulldogs came out with only a field goal in overtime due to fact that Fromm was sacked for a 13-yard loss on third down, forcing Blankenship to hit a tough 51-yard field goal.

Alabama started off with Tagovailoa taking a sack for a 16-yard loss on first down. Although they were in bad field position, Tagovailoa threw a 41-yard touchdown to true freshman DeVonta Smith to win the national championship.

Although Alabama played very well in the second half to win the game, many believe that the referees played a big factor in their victory as there were a few key missed calls affecting Georgia.

“There were three main calls that stuck out to me, the first one being when the referees called offsides on a blocked punt by Georgia when the replay clearly showed he was not offsides,” said Benton. “There also was a blatant facemask on D’Andre Swift, and later on in the game, number 30 for Alabama tackled Fromm, and hit him in the head as he was getting up.”

Although Alabama may have defeated Georgia, many fans believe that getting to the national championship was already a huge accomplishment.

“It wasn’t a lost season for Georgia,” said senior Phoebe Liu. “Alabama is a really good team, and Georgia didn’t lie down and let them win. They put up a fight.”