INDIANAPOLIS -- No. 3 Georgia exorcised myriad demons Monday night, overcoming No. 1 Alabama, coach Nick Saban and decades of close calls to win the 2022 College Football National Championship and claim its first crown since 1980. What started as a field goal fest opened up in the second half with the Bulldogs creating big plays on both sides of the ball and ultimately stemming the defending champion Crimson Tide, 33-18.
After being clearly rattled in the first half, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett played poised and confident over the final 30 minutes, throwing the final two offensive touchdowns of the game while completing 17 of 26 passes for 224 yards. Alabama QB Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, coughed up a deep interception -- his second turnover of the night -- that defensive back Kelee Ringo returned 79 yards for a touchdown to ice the game with less than a minute to play.
The Dawgs scored the game's final three touchdowns. Bennett found star freshman tight end Brock Bowers for a 15-yard score with 3:33 to play. On Georgia's prior possession, Bennett hooked up with Adoni Mitchell for an astounding 40-yard touchdown on a free play created by an offsides penalty on the Tide.
Alabama went with a pass-heavy attack despite leading most of the game as Young finished 35 of 57 for 369 yards with a touchdown and two picks. It's the first time in his career that Young finished a game with more interceptions thrown than touchdowns. However, Young was without his top two pass catchers for most of the game due to another significant injury suffered in this second Alabama-Georgia meeting of the season.
Bama booted field goals of 37, 45 and 37 yards in the first half. The Tide hit on two big plays with Young finding Jameson Williams for 40 yards and later Cameron Latu for 61 yards. However, Williams -- Bama's leading receiver -- suffered a non-contact knee injury on his catch, leaving the Tide shorthanded for the duration of the contest.
Georgia connected on kicks of 24 and 49 yards to trail 9-6 at halftime. Bennett linked up with George Pickens on a deep post for 52 yards to create their team's first field goal and its best play of the opening 20 minutes.
Young committed the game's first major miscue early in the third quarter as he sailed a pass intercepted by Georgia's Christopher Smith at the Bama 43. He responded by driving the Tide down the field on the next possession only for Georgia's defense to come up big again by blocking a 48-yard field goal attempt.
A 67-yard run by James Cook, the longest allowed by the Tide since 2015, put the Dawgs into the red zone. They found paydirt later for the first touchdown – and their first lead -- of the game as Zamir White rumbled into the end zone to give Georgia a 13-9 lead. On the next possession, Young found Agiye Hall, who dropped a key pass on the prior drive, for 28 yards down to the UGA 5; however, Alabama stalled again and kicked its fourth field goal of the game from 21 yards out.
Bennett gave the Tide the ball back a couple plays later in the fourth quarter as he fumbled while being sacked on third down. Defensive back Brian Branch, scooping up a ball he thought was an incomplete pass, lucked into a fumble recovery with Alabama taking over at the UGA 16. Young hooked up with Latu for a 3-yard TD reception, putting the Tide back on top 18-13 after a failed two-point conversion.
"I just knew there was going to be no way we were going to let a turnover like that stop us from winning a national championship," Bennett told ESPN after the game. "I wasn't going to be the reason we lost."
The Dawgs took off from there, responding with Mitchell's touchdown, extending their lead to eight points on the back of Bowers' score and then clinching their national championship win with the game-ending pick six.
Let's take a look at our five major takeaways from Georgia's national championship win.
1. Recruiting matters: At least, it does when you want to win national titles. Georgia winning its crown Monday didn't happen by accident. There's one thing Kirby Smart learned coaching under Saban that was more important than any schematic advantage: The most brilliant coach on the planet can't win a national title with good players. You need great ones. That's why recruiting has been a priority at Georgia since Smart took over.
Smart's first season at Georgia in 2016 saw him bring in a class ranked sixth nationally in the 247Sports Composite. He's never hauled in a group ranked lower than fourth in the five classes since. The depth of the Dawgs' talent was evident throughout the night as Georgia's defense flew all over the field and stopped an Alabama offense few teams could even slow. Georgia is a team that is so talented, it somehow managed to win a national title using a former walk-on at quarterback.
2. Georgia's pass rush was helped by its run defense: One of the reasons Georgia could get so much pressure on Young was that it could blitz from anywhere it wanted because it knew Alabama couldn't run the ball consistently. The Tide tried to do so in plenty of different ways but only had inconsistent success. Early in the game, Alabama tried to get Brian Robinson on the edge with tosses and sweeps. Those didn't work. Georgia loaded the box with defenders, playing only one high safety. Later in the game, the Tide tried to run at the heart of the Dawgs defense and outmuscle it. That didn't work then, either.
Alabama finished with only 30 yards rushing on 28 carries, but even if we take away sack yardage (Young finished with -43 yards), it managed only 73 yards on 24 carries (3.04 yards per touch). Robinson was held to 68 yards on 22 totes a week after tearing Cincinnati's defense apart for 204 yards and 7.85 yards per carry.
3. Stetson Bennett was Stetson Bennett, and for Georgia, that's enough: It wasn't a great game by Bennett. He was not overly efficient and held onto the ball for a second longer than he should have before releasing it across multiple plays. That includes the aforementioned fumble that occurred as he was sacked from behind, a mistake that led to Alabama's lone touchdown of the night. It was a moment that immediately brought to mind Bennett's turnovers in the SEC title game that ultimately led to Georgia's downfall.
They didn't this time. Instead, Bennett kept his cool and atoned for fumble with two touchdown drives. One ended with a beautiful throw to Mitchell, who made a spectacular grab to secure the six points, while the other was more methodical. Ironically, it was a drive reminiscent of the one Young led late in the Iron Bowl to lead Alabama to victory over Auburn and keep the Tide in the playoff race.
4. The Jameson Williams injury was massive: It's hard to say whether the outcome would've been different, but you can't ignore what Williams' loss meant to the Alabama offense. Latu stepped up to fill the void, catching five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, but he doesn't provide the kind of home-run threat Williams offers. Hall tried to play that role, but he caught only two of the eight passes thrown his way, and his third-quarter drop led to a series of events that turned the game around.
Williams' injury was the second straight suffered by one of Alabama's top two wide receivers against Georgia. John Metchie III, the team's second-leading pass catcher, tore his ACL in the SEC title game. Once Williams was hurt, Young was down his two best game breakers. Coupled with the absences of two key defensive backs on the other side of the ball, it's only fair to note that the Tide were hardly at full strength in the game.
5. Like it or not, you may see this game plenty more: This is already the second time we've seen Alabama and Georgia play in the CFP National Championship. I don't think it'll be the last. These are two teams built to win national titles, and they weren't even the best versions of themselves this season. While Alabama had a tremendous year, few will tell you that this was one of Saban's best teams. As for Georgia, while its defense is elite in every sense of the word, there are still holes on offense. Bennett played capably well, but he's not a five-star game-changer type, and the Dawgs hardly had elite receivers.
So not only are these two great teams, but they're two great teams that can get better. As I said, we're going to see them in this game again. At least in more SEC Championship Games. Probably in the CFP, too. It might even be next season. If that doesn't help speed up playoff expansion, nothing will.
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Georgia Bulldogs championship gear released
The Dawgs have won their first national championship in 41 years! You can now buy Georgia championship shirts, hats, hoodies and much more to celebrate the historic win. Get gear here now!
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