No. 2 Alabama earned its spot in the national-championship game against Notre Dame with an impressive 32-28 victory over No. 3 Georgia in a wildly entertaining game.
The defenses dominated the first half of this game and the first quarter ended without either team getting on the scoreboard. Georgia was first to break through, but it took some trickery to build momentum.
Tight end Arthur Lynch hit Sanders Commings on a fake punt, and that extended a drive which culminated in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Jay Rome.
Alabama looked ready to respond as it drove down deep into Bulldogs territory, but quarterback AJ McCarron made an uncharacteristic mistake and was intercepted in the end zone. The Crimson Tide's defense held, and the offense decided its best strategy was to hand the ball off to Eddie Lacy. This proved to be the right thing to do, and Lacy scored on a 41-yard run.
In the second half, Georgia answered Lacy with freshman running back Todd Gurley, and he tore up the Tide's defense during the Bulldogs' first drive of the third quarter. He deservedly capped it off with a three-yard-touchdown run and gave his team the lead.
Alabama managed to move the ball and was ready to cut the lead to just one point with a field goal, but the 49-yard attempt was blocked and Alec Ogletree returned it 55 yards the other way for a score.
Instead of panicking, the Tide stayed calm and stuck with their running game. Their next two drives featured only one passing attempt, and T.J. Yeldon and Lacy each scored touchdowns to give their team a 25-21 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
But Georgia connected on a deep ball to get into the red zone, and then went back to Gurley to regain the lead.
With all of Alabama's success on the ground, a play-action pass was inevitable, and Alabama dialed up misdirection at exactly the right time on a 45-yard-touchdown pass to Amari Cooper to take a 32-28 lead with just over three minutes left in the game. The Tide's defense then clamped down and held on for the victory.
Lacy finished with 181 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while Yeldon scored once and picked up 153 yards on 25 attempts. For Georgia, Gurley had 122 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
These two teams stood toe-to-toe and slugged it out all game long, and Alabama's punches had a little more power late in this game.
After Eddie Lacy's long touchdown run, Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer decided he wanted to see more of the same and came up with a plan to keep watching the Alabama running back long after the college football season ends:
My reality TV show idea: Average-Sized Dudes Try and Tackle Eddie Lacy. Just imagine that.— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) December 1, 2012
The play that overshadowed the first half came after Aaron Murray threw an interception. As Ian Rapoport notes, Quentin Dial's block during the return was unnecessary and downright dirty:
That hit on #Georgia QB Aaron Murray by Quinton Dial, the cheap shot during the INT, was quite illegal. In NFL, that's a penalty and fine.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 1, 2012
Murray was understandably scared in the brief moments before impact, as Bleacher Report showed:
Aaron Murray's face right before the cheap shot by Quinton Dial twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 1, 2012
But the most shocking moment in the game came when Georgia blocked a third-quarter field-goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown and a 21-10 lead. Mike Freeman, J.A. Adande, Bryan Fischer, Pat Forde and Robert Flores are all talented and successful writers for various major media outlets, but they were all reduced to simple reactions after this incredible play:
Oh my God!— mike freeman (@realfreemancbs) December 1, 2012
Wow— J.A. Adande (@jadande) December 1, 2012
Oh my.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) December 1, 2012
Wow, Dawgs.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) December 1, 2012
Wow. Just. Wow.#ALAvsUGA— Robert Flores (@RoFloESPN) December 1, 2012
The Tuscaloosa News' Cecil Hurt noted that Alabama made a statement when it closed the deficit to three points, and sure enough, it ran the ball right at the Bulldogs from that point on:
And when you line up and run a straight handoff for 2-point conversion, you are telling the other team they cannot stop the run.— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) December 1, 2012
ESPN Stats & Info noted that Alabama had incredible success on the ground in a formation that in no way hid its intentions:
Alabama rushing with 2+ tight ends today: 24 Rush, 244 Yards, 3 TD. #BAMAvsUGA— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 2, 2012
Sporting News' Matt Hayes summed up this game perfectly. Maybe the national championship will be this entertaining, but I doubt it:
Best game of the season.— Matt Hayes(@Matt_HayesSN) December 2, 2012