Season on the line, Georgia rushes into a deflating finish

With the clock winding down, a trip to the BCS title game in the balance and the ball within a few yards of the game-winning touchdown in Saturday's SEC Championship Game, Georgia had a season-defining decision to make: To spike, or not to spike?

The Bulldogs were already living on borrowed time. Just a few moments before, trailing 32-28 with less than a minute to play and no timeouts, their hopes had been briefly dashed by an apparent interception by Alabama's Dee Milliner that all but clinched the victory for the Crimson Tide. When the pick was overturned on replay, Georgia had new life, and quarterback Aaron Murray made it count: On three consecutive plays, Murray connected with tight end Arthur Lynch for 15 yards, wide receiver Tavarres King for 23, then Lynch again for 26, moving the ball to the Alabama 12-yard line with the clock momentarily stopped at 15 seconds. When the ball was spotted for play, the countdown began, and UGA had only one option at its disposal for stopping it, regrouping and getting the play – or plays – it wanted with the season on the line.

Instead of spiking the ball in the turf to stop the clock, though, coaches instructed Murray to run another play in hurry-up mode: A quick pass into the flat that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Alabama's C.J. Mosley, hauled in by Georgia's Chris Conley at the 5-yard line and marked the official end of the Bulldogs' rally as time expired. In a matter of seconds, their visions of SEC and national championships had been rekindled, stoked and abruptly doused again in one baffling anticlimax.

Because of the deflection, it was initially uncertain whether Murray was attempting to throw the ball to Conley in the flat, where it wound up, or to his best wide receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, in the front corner of the end zone. But short of a major gaffe – i.e., a turnover, a sack or an offensive penalty – a completion short of the end zone was the only result in that situation that guaranteed Georgia would not get to run another play. From a strategic perspective, it was the worst possible outcome, and rushing the decision rather than buying time to get everyone on the same page was the best possible way of ensuring that's exactly how it would unfold.

After the game, Murray said he was attempting to throw the fade to Mitchell, which (barring an interception) would have stopped the clock and given the Bulldogs at least one more shot if he failed to come down with it. In retrospect, Conley would have been wiser to simply bat the deflected pass down, thereby stopping the clock for an incompletion with time for another play. But with the stampede to the line and the chaotic rush to get the snap off, who had time to think?

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