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The National Championship live blog: Alabama beats Georgia in an overtime thriller

Nick Saban vs. Kirby Smart turned into freshman QB vs. freshman QB. Bama’s won. Nick Saban is a six-time national champ.

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT): Postgame

Stats don’t do this thing justice, but ... here are your stats:

That makes this seem way too rational.

This finish was beyond words.

Overtime

ALABAMA 26, GEORGIA 23. Alabama’s turn. Either the Tide score a touchdown and win, or they have to rely on a spooked Pappanastos to tie.

First-and-10 from the 25: Tagovailoa makes a killer freshman mistake. He tries to buy time, doesn’t throw the ball away, and takes a 16-yard sack.

Second-and-26 from the 41: OH MY GOD. GO ROUTE. DEVONTA SMITH. 41-YARD TOUCHDOWN. BAMA WINS.

GEORGIA 23, ALABAMA 20. Georgia will get the ball first. The Dawgs’ last five drives of regulation: an interception and four punts.

  • First-and-10 from the 25: Chubb has to muscle for three yards.
  • Second-and-7 from the 22: A pitch to Chubb gains one more yard.
  • Third-and-6 from the 21: Humongous sack by Terrell Lewis for a 13-yard lost.
  • Fourth-and-19 from the 34: Blankenship crushes a 51-yarder. Wow. Georgia up three. Georgia is still alive because of place-kicking.

Fourth Quarter

0:00. Oh no. Pappanastos misses it badly.

His plant foot slipped. We’re going to overtime.

0:03. Hurts comes back in to move the ball to the middle of the field, and Bama calls timeout with three seconds left. Guess Pappanastos didn’t want the ball on the right hash.

0:06. Apparently Pappanastos wants the ball on the right hash. Another Tua keeper moves the ball to the 16, then Alabama calls a timeout with six seconds left.

0:49. Another Tua keeper gains one yard and puts the ball on the right hash, and Georgia uses its final timeout with 49 seconds left.

0:56. Roquan Smith eats up Najee Harris for a loss to start the drive, but Harris rumbles for 11 yards on second down. Tagovailoa hits Ridley for nine yards against Parrish, then Parrish is called for a face mask as well. The ball’s already to the UGA 31 with 1:45 left.

A Tua keeper gains six, then Harris is pushed out of bounds for no gain. Third-and-3 from the 24: Tagovailoa lowers his head and runs over Sanders for a first down. Georgia calls timeout with 56 seconds left, ball at the 20.

2:55. From the 25, Fromm fires incomplete to Riley Ridley, then hits Ridley on the sideline for six yards. Third-and-4, clock approaching three minutes left: Michel comes open, but Fromm throws over his head. Three and out. Diggs returns Nizialek’s punt to the Bama 35. What a turn this game has taken.

3:49. ALABAMA 20, GEORGIA 20. Tagovailoa fakes to Damien Harris, fakes a keeper, then swings to Harris for a gain of 17, and Alabama’s already to midfield. Thompson stops Tua for a gain of one, then the freshman throws the ball away under pressure. On a third-and-9, Malkom Parrish is called for pass interference on DeVonta Smith.

From the 33, Tagovailoa hits Jeudy for 20 yards, then throws a beautiful fade toward Ridley. Baker breaks it up.

A keeper by Tagovailoa gains seven, setting up a third-and-3 from the 6, but Thompson destroys Harris for no gain as the clock ticks under 4:30 to go. Bama elects to go for it, but Saban has to call timeout as the play clock is expiring.

Fourth-and-4 from the 7: Ridley!

Tagovailoa’s initial options are covered, but he buys time, and Ridley comes open. Or maybe he stole a pass intended for another receiver. Whichever. Tie game. Wow. WOW.

There’s plenty of time left for Georgia to respond, by the way.

7:10. Mekhi Brown, last seen committing a personal foul and nearly melting down on the sideline, rips down Hardman at the UGA 14 on the kickoff, then Alabama stuffs Chubb for a loss. Hardman gains nine yards on an end-around to set up third-and-short, but Payne stuffs Michel up the middle. Diggs takes Nizialek’s punt out to the Bama 34. The Tide have the ball with a chance to tie.

9:24. GEORGIA 20, ALABAMA 13. Hello, Najee Harris. Bama’s freshman running back opens a big drive with a manly 16-yard gain, then Cam Sims takes a short pass and spins upfield for 13 yards before getting destroyed by Trenton Thompson. Foster gains five yards on a sideline pass, then Harris goes off left tackle and springs upfield for 35 yards to the UGA 14. Bama’s in scoring position in under two minutes.

Harris gains two more yards, then Tagovailoa just overthrows Jerry Jeudy in the left corner of the end zone. On third-and-8, after a Georgia timeout, Tagovailoa nearly finds Jeudy in the end zone, and Sanders nearly makes an amazing interception, but he’s still re-gripping it when he steps out of bounds. Pappanastos’ 30-yard field goal is good. One-score game, lots of time left.

11:39. Michel starts the fourth quarter by bullying for a first down to the 23 and gaining four yards off left end and 13 up the middle. Chubb gains seven yards up the middle as well, but he’s stuffed on second down to set up a third-and-5, and Davis blows up Fromm for a nine-yard sack. That’s two straight third-down stops for Alabama. Diggs fields Nizialek’s punt at the Bama 17 and goes nowhere.

Third Quarter

0:00. In only his third carry of the night, Scarbrough gains 16 to start Bama’s drive, then Ridley makes his second catch, a seven-yarder. Scarbrough is stuffed on second down, however, and then Roquan Smith (who else?) sniffs out a screen to Scarbrough for just a one-yard gain. Scott’s punt is fair caught at the UGA 10. The last play of the quarter is a three-yard rush by Michel.

1:55. The kickoff is a touchback, but Bama’s Mekhi Brown loses his mind and swings at a Georgia player, earning a personal foul. Georgia starts at its 40. Two Chubb rushes gain four yards, setting up the Dawgs’ bread and butter: a third-down passing down. Fromm has plenty of time for Ridley to run a comebacker for 13 yards on the right sideline.

Michel almost busts loose but is spun down by Mack Wilson for five yards, then Wilson brings down Fromm for a loss of one as well. This time, though, Levi Wallace knocks the ball away from Ridley. Former QB Brice Ramsey thinks about faking the punt and nearly gets it blocked. It only goes 19 yards. Georgia kind of overthought that one.

5:15. GEORGIA 20, ALABAMA 10. FIELD GOAL. Tagovailoa rushes for nine yards, then Harris moves the chains with a six-yarder. Tua narrowly overshoots Cam Sims in the end zone, then Ridley bobbles and drops a screen pass. Third-and-10 from the 25: Tua gets pressured and has to rush a screen pass to Ruggs. Pappanastos makes sure Bama gets something from the pick, though, with a 43-yard field goal.

By the way:

  • Calvin Ridley (Bama): 5 targets, 1 catch, 9 yards
  • Riley Ridley (UGA): 4 targets, 4 catches, 62 yards

Not quite what one would have predicted.

6:21. INTERCEPTION. Okay, this is getting wild. Fromm’s timing is disrupted by a pass rush. He tries to wing the ball to Michel, but it bounces off of Hand’s helmet and into the arms of Raekwon Davis. Davis returns it to the Georgia 40.

Bama lives.

6:32. INTERCEPTION. We’re throwing uppercuts now. Tagovailoa immediately goes long again, this time to DeVonta Smith, but they can’t quite connect. And on second down, he makes a freshman mistake.

Instead of throwing the ball away on the roll (like Hurts would have), he forces it into coverage. Bama’s receivers are all blocking, however, and only Georgia’s Deandre Baker sees the ball. He picks it off at the Bama 39.

Georgia can put this game away with another score.

6:52. GEORGIA 20, ALABAMA 7. Bama blows up a Hardman kick return at the UGA 7, and after Fromm finds Godwin for 14 yards, Averett trips Chubb up in the backfield for a loss of eight. He gets seven of them back on second down, but it sets up third-and-11. Do the Dawgs still have third-and-long magic in the second half?

Yep.

Fromm to Hardman, 80 yards. He somehow didn’t step out (or it at least, it was too close to call). And now Bama has to answer again.

8:52. GEORGIA 13, ALABAMA 7. Tua’s back out for Drive No. 2, and he goes deep to Ridley on play action. Misses him by about half a yard. He scrambles for three yards on second down, and on third-and-7, he breaks out of a sack attempt, changes direction, and scrambles for a first down to the UGA 44.

Wow.

From that point forward, Georgia is completely on its heels, and justifiably so. Tagovailoa hits a slant to Robert Foster for 15 yards, then hits Henry Ruggs III twice in a row — for nine yards on a screen, then 14 on a slant.

First-and-goal from the 6: Ruggs again.

We have a damn ballgame.

10:51. Georgia goes the wrong way. Chubb loses three yards, then Swift loses eight as the refs miss a face mask grab by Isaiah Buggs. Swift gains four back, and Nizialek’s punt is low. Diggs returns it to the Bama 44. A chance for the Tide to get back into the game.

13:03. In desperate need for a spark, Bama begins the second half with Tua Tagovailoa at QB. He gains four yards on a keeper, then hits tight end Hale Hentges for two yards. Third-and-4: Roquan Smith blitzes up the middle and brings down the freshman. Three and out, and all-SEC offensive tackle Jonah Williams is hurt, too. Probably not the start the Tide were looking for.

It nearly gets even worse. Georgia blocks Scott’s punt, but the Dawgs were offside. Scott’s second chance is a boomer but again too far for its coverage. Hardman gets off a nice return to the Georgia 36.

Halftime

Some stats. Remember that Alabama gained 47 yards on its first drive.

StatBroadcast

And the most important stats:

Bama’s third downs have had fewer yards to go and have been far more disastrous.

Second Quarter

0:00. GEORGIA 13, ALABAMA 0. Whew. Georgia dodges a bullet. After another completion to Ridley, Godwin drops an easy pass, then Averett very nearly picks off a careless pass by Fromm. But another third-and-long draw play works — Michel gains 14 to the Bama 45. The draw has worked well enough that the Tide can’t go all out rushing the passer ... and then the draw works again in an obvious draw situation. The Tide are frustrated.

After an illegal substitution penalty on Alabama, Swift runs left for seven yards and another first down. Then Fromm finds wide open space on the left and gains 14 yards to the 19. After a timeout, Fromm fires to Godwin on the left sideline for a 16-yard gain.

Fromm throws incomplete on first down, but Thompson hits Fromm very late. First-and-goal again from the 1: a direct snap to Hardman scores with seven seconds left in the half. Bama kneels out the rest of the half. The Tide are in serious trouble.

1:19. Another Bama three-and-out. Two Harris touches gain seven yards, but once again Hurts bails out of the pocket to the right and throws the ball away when he had all sorts of room to run on the left. Scott’s punt is fair caught at the UGA 31.

2:14. Georgia predictably keeps things simple, downed that deep in its territory. Two Chubb carries gain three yards. But on third-and-7, Chaney calls a pocket pass, and once again Fromm has time to find Ridley for 16 yards to the UGA 24. Bama’s pass rush has been mostly nonexistent of late.

Finally Bama makes a third-down stop in Georgia territory — a four-yard Michel run is sandwiched by two incompletions, and Nizialek punts. Diggs makes a decent return, but an obvious hold pushes the Tide backwards. They’ll start at their 25.

5:14. On Bama’s first play, a Hurts draw play gains 31 into Georgia territory. But then Bama’s bad habits return. After Jacobs is stopped for one yard, Hurts holds onto the ball for far too long in the pocket, and he’s lit up by Davin Bellamy. A third-and-long draw play does little, and Bama will punt once more. Scott’s punt bounces out at the UGA 5.

7:33. GEORGIA 6, ALABAMA 0. Georgia makes up the penalty yardage with a quick flick to Swift on the perimeter; he cuts upfield and gains 15 yards to the UGA 35. Chubb gains five yards on a direct snap, then Fromm runs a keeper of his own for five more and another first down. Fromm misfires to Christian Payne, then Michel gains a yard off right tackle, and then Georgia converts another third-and-long. Fromm has all day to find Ridley for 23 yards to the Bama 30. Little brother’s having a better day than big brother. Scoring opportunity No. 2.

A flip to Mecole Hardman gains nothing on first down, then Swift picks up about three and a half yards between the tackles. But Wims’ first catch is a huge one. He catches a back-shoulder fade under nice coverage. He somehow comes down inbounds, and it’s first-and-goal at the 10 after another passing downs conversion.

Chubb is spun down for no gain, then Fromm throws behind Wims, incomplete. Third-and-goal: a pressured Fromm nearly throws a pick. Blankenship’s 27-yarder is good. Dawgs up six.

  • Yards on the first possession: Bama 47, Dawgs 3.
  • Since: Dawgs 134, Bama 10.

12:52. Bama starts from the 25. Harris gains three on first down, and the Dawgs again swarm a Hurts rush attempt for minimal gain. On third-and-5, Hurts is hit just as he throws, and he fires too low for a wide open Ridley. Scott uncorks a 56-yarder, but he outkicks his coverage and gets lucky that Georgia is called for a block in the back on an 15-yard return.

14:14. GEORGIA 3, ALABAMA 0. Another third-and-long run isn’t as successful; Michel goes up the middle for three yards to set up a 41-yard field goal for Rodrigo Blankenship. He nails it. Dawgs on the board first.

First Quarter

0:00. Following a multi-player shift, Georgia’s first run of the game goes for four yards up the middle, then gains almost nothing on a quick pitch to the left. Goodness, Bama swarms well. That sets up a third-and-5, and against a big blitz, Sony Michel takes a handoff up the middle for seven yards and a first down. Michel takes a delayed handoff five yards, then Chubb grinds out two up the middle, and Bama jumps offside for another first down.

Payne swallows up Michel for no gain from the UGA 45, but Riley Ridley — Calvin’s brother — catches a 13-yard pass, and the Dawgs are in Bama territory for the first time. Georgia tries to pounce but going back downfield, but Anthony Averett breaks up a pass to Wims, then explodes into the backfield for a big sack on Fromm.

On third-and-20, however, Michel takes a simple draw handoff, gets a huge block from Ridley, and tiptoes the sideline for a 26-yard gain.

Those are the plays you need to beat Bama.

Fromm is sacked for a short loss, and the quarter ends with D’Andre Swift’s first carry (a no-gainer). The second quarter will start with Georgia facing third-and-11 from the Bama 27.

6:54. Bo Scarbrough’s in the game for this Bama series. He gains three yards up the middle on first down, then catches a horizontal pass and cuts up for four. On third-and-3, though, Georgia knows what’s coming, and a Hurts keeper is swarmed by Jonathan Ledbetter and Tyler Clark for a short loss. Three and out. JK Scott’s first punt gets a nice roll and is downed at the UGA 21.

9:04. Georgia keeps firing. Fromm throws a nice slant to Godwin for 14 yards over the middle, but Wims drops another ball on the next play. Georgia commits a false start, then Da’Ron Payne forces a throwaway on second-and-15. On third-and-forever, Fromm finds time but no one to throw to, and Deionte breaks up a pass downfield for a well-covered Wims.

Cameron Nizialek’s first punt is a boomer, fair caught 49 yards downfield at the Bama 20.

I’m betting Georgia starts running the ball on the next possession.

9:54. MISSED FIELD GOAL. Alabama’s offense starts out testing the perimeter. Damien Harris gains four wide left, then a pitch to Robert Foster gains eight wide right. Calvin Ridley gains 10 wide right, then Jalen Hurts powers up the middle for 12. Exactly how Bama wanted to start.

Hurts throws the ball away on a rollout, then Dominick Sanders trips Harris up for a two-yard gain. On third-and-8, though, Hurts escapes the pocket and does what he does: scramble for a first down to the UGA 19.

Things stall out from there. Roquan Smith chases Josh Jacobs down for a gain of just two wide left, then Hurts misses a wide open Ridley open in the right corner of the end zone. His defender fell down, but Hurts overthrew him. On third-and-8, Hurts again throws the ball away on a rollout. After a false start, Andy Pappanastos’ 40-yarder never has a chance. Georgia catches a massive break, and we remain scoreless.

13:38. INTERCEPTION. Georgia comes out throwing — as with the Rose Bowl, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney chooses to play against type out of the gates — and Alabama’s ready for it. The Tide swarm Chubb for a loss of one on the game’s first play, then a quick pass to Terry Godwin gains five.

On third-and-6, the pass rush nearly gets home, but Fromm floats a ball to an open Javon Wims. But it hangs in the air just long enough for Tony Brown to catch up and rip the ball away for an interception.

An arm punt, more or less, and Bama will start at its 36.

15:00. Alabama wins the toss and defers to the second half, Georgia will get the ball first.

Not going to say a word about the pregame show and who did or didn’t walk onto the field beforehand. All I need is this:

Oh hell yeah let’s go.


Preview

by Christian D’Andrea

The 2017 college football season reaches its thrilling conclusion at last, and as tradition, it’s a bad time to hate the SEC.

College football’s most discussed conference is football’s equivalent of Schroödinger’s Cat, simultaneously beloved and reviled depending on observation. On Monday, the Southeastern Conference will prove unavoidable when Alabama, college football’s gold standard, attempts to fend off Georgia, an unholy union of Bitcoin and wheat pennies vying to return to greatness through a combination of old tricks and new blood.

The two SEC rivals meet on Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN (live stream).

Kirby Smart built his name as the architect behind present Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban’s defenses during stints at LSU, the Miami Dolphins and Alabama, but it’s his offense that will keep Saban up late in the run-up to Monday’s season finale. The Bulldogs are powered by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, two tailbacks who run like glitched NFL Blitz sprites. Their ability to find space and alienate defenses has cleared the way for freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to shine en route to a 13-1 campaign.

But proteges and first-year passers are a vital part of Saban’s gridiron diet. The robotic play caller has chewed up former assistants like Will Muschamp, Derek Dooley, and Mark Dantonio en route to six NCAA titles. A win Monday will make it seven — and four in the past seven years. And while Fromm has been an efficient drive-extender against a litany of quality opponents this fall, he’s never seen anything like the Crimson Tide. Alabama ranks first in the country when it comes to total defense and third in passing defense in another stellar season in Tuscaloosa.

That’ll give Smart plenty to plan for Monday. He’ll have the chance to take the reins from his mentor’s hands, but he’ll have to reverse the rising tide that swallows up Saban assistants to get there.

Pregame reading

The wide-open game started to shut down at the end, though. Georgia went scoreless for three straight late possessions before scoring to force overtime, and OU grew conservative; including overtime, the Sooners’ final four drives produced two punts and two field goal attempts.

“OU played not to lose!” became one of the game’s overriding narratives, and hey, that’s what happens when you lose. But it’s not completely fair, primarily because ball control was one of the things that made the Sooners offense so special this season.

Because one SEC team had to beat the ACC champ and reigning national champ while the other SEC team had to beat the Big 12 champ that beat the Big Ten champ that beat the Pac-12 champ? Georgia earned its spot fair and square, and Alabama was a better choice than the committee's alternative, because it — earmuffs — didn't give up 55 points to Iowa.

Fromm wasn’t supposed to be in this position this season. He entered the season as Georgia’s backup behind five-star sophomore Jacob Eason. An Eason injury in Week 1 cracked open the door for Fromm, who has stayed in the job by calmly running a much-improved offense.

  • Kirby Smart could become the first coach since Bob Stoops to win a national title in his second year as an NCAA head coach. So what makes him so good?

After a down 2016, Smart has built UGA’s defense into a monster in his second season. The Dawgs have allowed 13.2 points per game, third best in the country behind Alabama and Clemson. They are No. 8 in Defensive S&P+ entering their Rose Bowl showdown with Oklahoma and Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield.