INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Through the good, bad and ugly, the Georgia Bulldogs found a way to claim the program’s first national championship since 1980. It also ended a seven-game losing streak against Alabama by downing the Crimson Tide 33-18 Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Most of the good came for the Bulldogs in the final eight minutes of the game.
Trailing 18-13, Stetson Bennett took the free play awarded by an Alabama offside penalty and connected with freshman wideout Adonai Mitchell for a 40-yard touchdown pass.
Five minutes later, Bennett threw his second touchdown of the final frame of action to another freshman in tight end Brock Bowers. This time, it was a 15-yard pass for the score.
Then, the final blow that sealed the deal for the Bulldogs came with less than a minute remaining in the contest.
Heisman winner Bryce Young dropped back to pass looking for a touchdown to draw within two points. On the attempt, Young lobbed the ball into triple coverage that was picked off by Kelee Ringo — an interception that Ringo returned 79 yards for a pick-six.
All of that good followed a pretty ugly string of events that seemed to have set the Bulldogs back from their championship quest.
It all started with a sack on Bennett by Alabama’s Harris. While going down on the play, Bennett tried to throw the ball away to avoid the lost yardage. But, the play was deemed a fumble by the officiating crew that proceeded to be recovered by Brian Branch at the Alabama 16-yard line.
Four plays later, the Crimson Tide scored their only touchdown of the night when Young connected with Cameron Latu from three yards out.
But Georgia bounced back scoring 20 unanswered points to finally get a 41-year old monkey off its back. Bennett also finished the game going 4-for-4 while throwing for 83 yards and the two touchdown passes.
Early on, however, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the Bulldogs as they did just enough to stay afloat.
As a matter of fact, it was a low-scoring, field goal kicking competition between Georgia’s Jack Podlesny and Alabama’s Will Reichard to begin the contest.
On the opening possession of the game, Reichard split the uprights from 37 yards out to put the Crimson Tide up 3-0 5:05 into the game. Podlesny tied things up in the opening minutes of the second quarter after connecting on a 24-yard field goal.
A little over a minute later, Reichard responded with a 45-yard field goal for Alabama to regain a 6-3 lead. Alabama’s advantage doubled with 7:07 remaining in the first half with another 37-yard field goal by Reichard.
With 3:09 left before halftime, Podlesny drew the score 9-6 with a 49-yard field goal.
Georgia’s offense had its opportunities to capitalize on numerous Crimson Tide miscues, but, due to bad plays and execution, it couldn’t break through for a touchdown.
The Bulldogs finished 4-for-12 on third down attempts and tallied 10 penalties for 70 yards. At halftime, Georgia had more penalty yards (49) than rushing yards (26).
Even so, they only trailed by three at halftime with both kickers remaining perfect on their combined five attempts.
Thanks to Jalen Carter’s left hand, though, Reichard’s perfect streak ended in the third quarter.
Reichard trotted out onto the field to attempt his fourth field goal of the game after the Crimson Tide’s offense yet again went three-and-out. Already connecting on his first three attempts, Reichard’s fourth attempt was blocked by Carter to keep the score 9-6.
On the ensuing drive, the Bulldogs put up their first touchdown of the night off a 1-yard rush by Zamir White, giving UGA its first lead of the night.
It’s safe to say that it wasn’t a perfect outing for the Bulldogs by any stretch of the imagination. Georgia didn’t need perfection, it just needed the good to outweigh the bad and the ugly.
And, when Nolan Smith sacked Young to finish the game, there was enough good for the Bulldogs to claim their third ever national championship.