ATLANTA — The first half of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game went to plan as a low-scoring, hard-hitting, defensive-minded affair. It seemed a bit of coffee at halftime was all that was needed to jolt some life into No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday night though as the two powerhouses started to break things open and put on a show in the second (and far more important) SEC title game for all the marbles.
In front of what amounted to a relative home crowd, it was the Bulldogs who held a 20-10 lead as they chase their first national title since 1980 with the clock winding down to the fourth quarter. Though the low score was representative of how things began, there were still several big plays that jolted both shades of red to their feet in Atlanta.
Alabama corner Tony Brown kicked things off by picking off Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm’s second pass of the game, wrestling a pass out of the hands of Javon Wims in what might be the play of his career given the stage. While it amounted to a bit of an arm punt given the down and distance, it was nevertheless the start that the Tide wanted defensively.
The Bulldogs defense made sure that the turnover was not painful on the scoreboard however, allowing Jalen Hurts (3-of-8 passing, 47 yards rushing) to march down the field but keeping him out of the end zone thanks to a missed throw to wideout Calvin Ridley and then drawing a false start that eventually led to a missed field goal from Andy Pappanastos.
The more curious thing from the Georgia sideline may have been the offensive play calling. The team opened with seven straight passes for Fromm and didn’t run the ball until the first quarter was more than halfway over. Still, tailback Sony Michel picked up where he left off in the Rose Bowl against No. 2 Oklahoma with the team’s biggest play of the first quarter by hitting the edge and jetting up the sideline for 26 yards. He finished with XX on the ground all told while teammate Nick Chubb was general held in check with 16.
That one long run by Michel helped keep the Bulldogs’ third drive alive before it stalled just outside the red zone — a bit of a habit for the team early on. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship calmly nailed a 41 yard field goal to put Georgia up 3-0 and later added another from 27 out.
The Bulldogs’ offense did seem to find a groove right before the break however as they used some big throws by Fromm to drive nearly the length of the field with just 79 seconds left on the clock. Aided in part by an Alabama penalty, the team eventually found pay dirt thanks to a touchdown off a direct snap to Mecole Hardman.
In terms of halftime adjustments, Nick Saban saved up his biggest of the season by pulling the team’s starting quarterback and inserting true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. The lefty breathed life in to the Tide almost right away and completed a remarkable scramble to extend a drive on his second series. That eventually resulted in a touchdown throw to Henry Ruggs III and help cut into some of that lead.
The Bulldogs would mount an impressive response however to seize momentum right back. Just three plays later it was Fromm who found a streaking Hardman down the field, dropping in a perfectly thrown pass over the shoulder and resulting in an 80 yard touchdown after the wideout tip-toed his way down the sidelines. The defense later responded with an interception that would have felt like a killer had their own quarterback not thrown one off a tipped pass just a play later.
There’s just one quarter to go before a champion is crowned and history will be made.