Jalen Hurts, Alabama Beat Georgia in 2018 SEC Title Game; Tua Tagovailoa Injured

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2018

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) celebrates his touchdown against Georgia during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

Quarterback Jalen Hurts replaced an injured Tua Tagovailoa and led the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide to a 35-28 comeback win over the No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Hurts threw a touchdown pass to help tie the game with 5:19 remaining before he scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:04 left on a 15-yard quarterback draw.

Alabama improved to 13-0 and likely secured the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, while Georgia is almost certainly out of contention at 11-2.

Tagovailoa struggled in the first half for the Tide after suffering an apparent left ankle injury, and he left the game for good in the fourth quarter when his right ankle was stepped on. He finished with 164 passing yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.

Hurts had a chance at redemption after he was replaced by Tagovailoa as Alabama's starting quarterback, and he came up big with 82 yards and one passing touchdown as well as 28 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

Junior running back Josh Jacobs thrived for Alabama as well with 83 rushing yards and two touchdowns as the Tide leaned more heavily on their running game than usual.

Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm led the way for the Bulldogs, finishing with 301 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.

Georgia also received a strong showing from sophomore running back D'Andre Swift, who produced 75 rushing yards and one touchdown as well as six receptions for 63 yards and another score.

The Bulldogs scored first when Fromm found tight end Isaac Nauta for a 20-yard touchdown in the opening quarter, but the Tide answered in the second with a one-yard touchdown run by Jacobs.

Georgia then took control when Swift scored a pair of touchdowns in three-and-a-half minutes.

Bama tightened things up before halftime when Jacobs recovered his own fumble for a touchdown to help make it 21-14.

Though Alabama entered the locker room with some momentum, Georgia seized it back with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to Riley Ridley on its first possession of the second half.

Tagovailoa came to life late in the third quarter when he found Jaylen Waddle for a 51-yard touchdown to help trim the deficit back to seven.

Hurts was thrown into the fire in the fourth quarter with Alabama trailing by a touchdown, and he answered by helping to tie the game at 28 on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy.

He followed that with the 15-yard scoring run on the next drive after an unsuccessful Georgia fake punt near midfield. That completed an unlikely return to prominence for the quarterback who was supplanted by Tagovailoa's in last season's National Championship Game against Georgia.

   

Alabama Vulnerable Entering CFP Despite Win

Alabama is undefeated and will be the No. 1 seed in the CFP, but the Tide are far from a lock to win it all after showing against Georgia they aren't bulletproof.

Most notably, the defense struggled at times, as it surrendered 454 total yards, forced no turnovers and got carved up by Fromm for much of the game.

While Fromm is a talented quarterback, Saturday marked one of his best statistical efforts, and it is likely the Tide will come up against even better signal-callers in the CFP.

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is a star in the making, Notre Dame's Ian Book has been spectacular since he took over as the starter in late September, and both Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins are leading Heisman Trophy candidates.

Alabama has holes in the secondary, and if it plays the way it did against Georgia when it faces any of the aforementioned teams in the CFP, it may not prevail.

Also, the Crimson Tide could have a quarterback issue when they reach the playoff.

Tagovailoa returned to the sideline and had his helmet with him after he left in the fourth quarter, so it is difficult to say what his status will be. There's no guarantee he'll be 100 percent if he does play, and if he doesn't, then Alabama will have to rely on Hurts once again.

Hurts looked great Saturday, but he lost his job because of his inability to make plays through the air consistently, and that issue probably hasn't evaporated.

The Crimson Tide will enter the CFP as the favorites to win it all, but they showed they aren't immune to mistakes, and the other CFP teams are keenly aware of that.

   

Tagovailoa Cost Himself Heisman with Saturday's Showing

Tagovailoa entered Saturday's game with a chance to cement his status as the Heisman front-runner, but his struggles and injury woes on a big stage opened the door for Murray to win the award.

Part of the equation was out of Tagovailoa's hands since he left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury that nagged him throughout the game, but it was clear even before his exit he wasn't going to have the type of game he needed to keep pace with Murray.

While Tagovailoa may have entered the day even with or slightly ahead of Murray in the eyes of voters, Murray shined much brighter in a must-win game.

The Sooners needed to avenge their loss to Texas earlier in the season to remain in the CFP hunt, and Murray was the driving force behind their 39-27 win with 379 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

FS1's Skip Bayless was among those who felt Murray did enough to secure the Heisman:

As ESPN Stats & Info showed, Murray may be having an even better season than Baker Mayfield did when he won the Heisman as Oklahoma's quarterback last year:

In Saturday's win over Texas, Murray eclipsed 4,000 passing yards and reached the 40-touchdown mark through the air to go with nearly 900 yards and 11 scores on the ground.

The biggest factors working in Tagovailoa's favor was his team's undefeated record and the notion Alabama has faced much tougher defenses than Oklahoma has.

Tua had a chance to show he could put up big numbers against one of the nation's top defenses, but he largely failed to do so. Tagovailoa was intercepted multiple times in the same game for the first time this year:

He also looked lost in the pocket at times:

The optics of the game did not work in Tagovailoa's favor either because of how well Fromm performed on the other side against an elite defense.

Fromm looked sharp and poised throughout, and the Bulldog was the superior quarterback Saturday:

An argument can still be made for Tagovailoa to win the Heisman given how well he has performed in a difficult conference, but Murray's numbers are too gaudy to ignore.

Tagovailoa deserves some leeway since he sat out fourth quarters because of Alabama's dominance; however, Murray is superior in essentially every statistical category besides interceptions.

The Heisman often comes down to the last thing voters saw before making their decision, and if they compare Murray and Tagovailoa based on that, then the Heisman favorite has to be Murray.

Georgia Likely Being Left Out of CFP Speaks to Need for Playoff Expansion

With Georgia almost certain to be left out of the CFP as a two-loss team, there has perhaps never been a better case to expand the playoffs from four entrants to eight.

The Bulldogs were in or near CFP position for virtually the entire season, and they led Saturday's game for much of the contest before they fell to the nation's best team on a touchdown with just over one minute remaining.

Former CBS Sports reporter Jon Solomon thinks Georgia deserves some CFP consideration even with two losses:

Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press echoed that sentiment:

A 36-16 loss to LSU will likely sink Georgia's CFP hopes, and it makes it especially difficult to put the Bulldogs above a one-loss conference champion such as Oklahoma.

Georgia would firmly be in an eight-team playoff, though, and there is little doubt that it would be capable of beating opponents such as Alabama, Clemson or Notre Dame in a first-round game.

The argument can be made that Georgia is one of the nation's best four squads; however, its placement in the same conference as Alabama makes it difficult to break through. An eight-team playoff would have room for squads that didn't win a conference title, as well as non-power conference entrants such as UCF.

Although the CFP is a massive upgrade from the BCS system, there is still room for improvement, and expanding to ensure teams like Georgia have a chance to vie for a national championship is worth exploring.

   

What's Next?

Alabama will turn its attention toward the CFP and await the selection committee's decision on which team will be the No. 4 seed and likely the Tide's semifinal opponent.

Georgia surely won't be preparing for a CFP game, but it is still in line for a major bowl game since it lost just twice in arguably the top conference in the nation.

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