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Alabama mounting comeback but Georgia still leads as National Championship Game enters final stretch

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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.

Tony Brown rips away an interception, but Alabama can’t cash in

Tony Brown of Alabama ripped away a ball from Javon Wims for an early interception. Photo credit: ESPN
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Alabama’s defense got an early tuenover on Georgia’s first possesison of the half, but the Crimson Tide were unable to convert the turnover into points.

On a third-and-six, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm took a deep shot only to have Alabama’s Tony Brown rip the ball out of the hands of Javon Wims for an interception.

Despite a promising-looking offensive series led by Jalen Hurts, Alabama stalled and had to settle for a field goal try by Andy Pappanastos, who was given the Chris Fowler curse during the broadcast. The kick sailed wide left on the try shortly after a false start penalty pushed Alabama back five yards for a 40-yard attempt.

After one possession each, we are scoreless in Atlanta.

Late TD gives Georgia Tech a spark, but Georgia holds 17-7 lead at halftime

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Still with a chance to make the College Football Playoff, Georgia still has a little business to attend to today against Georgia Tech. So far, good enough for Georgia with the Bulldogs up 17-7 on their in-state rivals at halftime.

Georgia Tech appeared to start the game in horrible fashion with a kickoff return by Jerry Howard initially appearing to reach just outside of Georgia Tech’s own end zone, but an official ruling determined the kickoff should have been blown down for a touchback. But Georgia Tech could not do much of anything with the football on the game’s opening possession and had to punt away to the Bulldogs. Georgia then went on a 12-play touchdown drive covering 61 yards and capped by a Nick Chubb touchdown run on the goal line for a 7-0 lead.

Georgia Tech’s best scoring opportunity came on their first drive at the start of the second quarter but ended in futility with a turnover on downs after not being able to convert on fourth and four from the Georgia 34-yard line. Georgia took advantage and extended its lead to 14-0 five plays later. Jake Fromm connected on a touchdown pass to Javon Wims from 21 yards.

Georgia Tech managed to get points on the scoreboard before the end of the first half. After grinding their way to the Georgia 10-yard line, Ricky Jeune hauled in a pass from TaQuon Marshall after finding empty space amid a defensive breakdown in the endzone.

A win for Georgia would send them to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game still on the College Football Playoff radar. A second loss may not necessarily eliminate Georgia from playoff contention, but it would be more difficult to recover.

On to Atlanta: No. 7 Georgia responds to first loss by running right over Kentucky in SEC rout

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It’s been six days of hearing how they got run over. Six days of hearing how they couldn’t throw the ball. Six days of wondering how their offensive line would bounce back from embarrassment. Seven days after suffering their first loss of the season in humiliating fashion though, No. 7 Georgia bounced back by running right over SEC East rival Kentucky in a 42-13 rout that had the team looking a lot more like the one who was the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff just two weeks ago.

The Bulldogs’ victory was naturally fueled by their ground game, which was bottled up last week at Auburn but returned with a vengeance behind the two senior running backs who said their farewells to the hedges at Sanford Stadium with even more eye-popping numbers for the red and black. Nick Chubb led the way on a day where he also topped the 1,000 yard mark for the season, finishing with 151 yards and two scores — the last of which was a 55-yarder down the sidelines that delighted the crowd and will probably be replayed a few times at next spring’s NFL Draft. His teammate in the backfield, Sony Michel, wasn’t too shabby either with 87 yards and a trio of trips to the end zone as well.

Quarterback Jake Fromm managed to have an efficient outing in the passing game after shaking off an interception on the opening drive of the game. The freshman wound up with 123 yards in the air and threw a beautiful touchdown right into the waiting arms of Javon Wims in the first half. With both phases firing on all cylinders, especially from the second quarter on, Georgia rolled up over 500 yards of offense as afternoon turned into evening in Athens.

The Wildcats looked threatening early after grabbing that initial turnover and were generally hanging around until just before halftime. QB Stephen Johnson likely will spend most of the post-game in the ice tub after numerous hits from that ferocious front seven of the home team, luckily managing only to get sacked three times and throwing for 138 yards. Things were equally difficult for tailback Benny Snell, who was impressive in clawing his way to 94 yards and Kentucky’s only touchdown.

It wasn’t enough in the end however, as Georgia went a perfect 6-0 against the East division and wrapped up regular season play in the SEC with the victory. They’ll head to Atlanta the next weeks as they’ll take on in-state rival Georgia Tech next Saturday before heading to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to meet the winner of the Iron Bowl with a conference title and College Football Playoff spot on the line.

Coaches talk plenty about putting last week behind them and moving forward and it’s safe to say that’s the case for Kirby Smart’s team after another easy romp in conference play.

No. 7 Georgia waxes Tennessee in fatal blow for the Butch Jones era

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There would be no Hail Mary to bail out the Vols this time.

No. 7 Georgia dominated Tennessee from the opening stop and never let up, cruising to a 41-0 victory that could prove to be the final blow of the Butch Jones era in Knoxville.

The Bulldog domination began literally from the first snap, as Quentin Dormady was intercepted by Tyrique McGhee on the very first play from scrimmage. That pick set up a 38-yard Rodrigo Blankenship to put Georgia (5-0, 2-0 SEC) up for good.

The Vols’ next two possessions went three-and-out, and the second led to a 7-play, 54-yard touchdown march capped by a 12-yard scoring strike from Jake Fromm to Javon Wims. Fromm completed Georgia’s next scoring drive — an 87-yard marathon — on a 9-yard scamper on a 3rd-and-goal, staking the Dogs to a 17-0 lead with 7:13 left before halftime.

Another Dormady interception — though this one ricocheted off the leg of his intended receiver into the hands of Georgia safety J.R. Reed, who returned it 34 yards to the Tennessee 26-yard line — set up Fromm’s second rushing touchdown, a zone-read keeper to bury the Vols at 24-0 just before the half.

Sony Michel added a 31-yard rushing score late in the third quarter. Brian Herrian punched in a 1-yard score in the fourth quarter, and David Martin completed the scoring with a 19-yard field goal with 5:24 remaining.

Georgia’s defense utterly owned Tennessee’s offense, limiting Dormady to 5-of-16 passing for 64 yards with two picks and a fumble before he was pulled for Jarrett Guarantano. Six Vols rushers combined to carry 29 times for just 62 yards. The Bulldogs pounded out 285 rushing yards, led by Nick Chubb‘s 109 yards on 16 attempts. The only drama for Kirby Smart‘s team moving forward is who to play at quarterback. Fromm out-played his stats (7-of-15 for 84 yards with a touchdown and a pick, with two rushing scores) and effectively moved the offense up and down the field. But competition is on the way, as opening day starter Jacob Eason returned to action in mop up duty.

Tennessee is still 3-2 (0-2 SEC) this season with a likely bowl appearance waiting, but patience for the Volunteers’ fifth-year coach was at an all-time low before Saturday’s blowout — and Jones himself knew it, as evidenced by his anti-media rant on Monday. Jones has failed to deliver Tennessee its first SEC East championship since 2007, and Saturday’s loss — coupled with the Hail Mary defeat to Florida two weeks ago — all but guaranteed the streak of title-less seasons will stretch to 11. Jones blew golden opportunities to win the division in 2015 and ’16, with Florida and Georgia clearly down but obviously retooling, and the frustration over his failure to cash in was exacerbated by his everything-is-fine-here demeanor — as if he was hired to go 18-8 over the 2-season stretch and nothing more, while conveniently ignoring Tennessee’s 9-7 SEC mark over that span, including an inexcusable 4-4 mark last season despite beating both the Gators and the Bulldogs.

This loss will likely make a comeback effort for Jones impossible, whether or not his official dismissal comes later this weekend or at a to-be-determined date in the fall. Georgia’s players were more talented and executed better than Tennessee’s but, worse than anything for Jones, they simply tried harder than the Vols. CBS cameras captured shot after shot after shot of Georgia players refusing to be tackled, and found none of the the opposite. And when Tennessee did fight as hard as, a 44-yard completion to John Kelly, it still ended in a fumble.