Getty Images

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

4 Comments

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
ESPN
1 Comment

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.

No. 1 Alabama overwhelms No. 3 Florida State to win biggest opener ever

Getty Images
17 Comments

It’s insanely difficult to get it done, but a blueprint to beat Alabama exists. You have to score. A lot. If you score and keep scoring, eventually the Tide will buckle. No matter how good your defense is, you have to score and keep scoring.

Florida State’s defense was quite good on Saturday night, but it wasn’t near enough to beat Alabama as the top-ranked Crimson Tide handled the 3rd-ranked Seminoles 24-7 in the biggest opening game in college football history.

The final score matches that of the last time Alabama played in Atlanta, a 24-7 win over Washington in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl. And like that game on New Year’s Eve, the Seminoles actually reached the end zone first.

After Alabama opened the scoring with a 35-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal, Florida State strung together by far its best drive of the night, moving 90 yards in 11 plays capped by a 3-yard fade from Deondre Francois to Auden Tate to give the Seminoles a 7-3 lead at the 13:41 mark of the second quarter.

But Alabama immediately answered with its own best drive of the night, an 85-yard blitzkrieg in five plays that ended on a 53-yard rainbow from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley to put Alabama on top at 10-7. That score would hold through the end of the first half, through what would prove to be the pivotal moment of the night, when Francois fired into the end zone to Nyqwan Murray and Tony Brown got away with a clear pass interference.

Florida State was forced to settle for a field goal try, which was blocked.

After a punt to open the second half, Florida State entered a stretch when its offense and special teams quite literally could not hold onto the ball. First, running back Damien Harris blocked a Florida State punt, which turned into an Alabama field goal. The ‘Noles fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Harris again capitalized by racing in for an 11-yard touchdown dash. A 2-point pass from Hurts to Ridley staked Alabama to a 21-7 lead with 1:41 to play in the third quarter.

Needing two scores to tie the game, the Florida State offense took its turn unraveling. Alabama intercepted two consecutive Francois passes, threatening the Florida State offense to the point where the ‘Noles next two possessions — two three-and-outs, two yards gained combined — felt like small accomplishments simply by getting the punt team on the field. Francois was sacked by Ronnie Harrison and came down holding his left knee; he had to be helped from the field and did not return.

Francois finished the night hitting 19-of-33 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, while the Seminoles scratched out only 25 yards on 24 credited carries.

Alabama posted modest numbers offensively: 96 passing yards, 173 on the ground on 42 carries. But when the defense and special teams are as predictably and unflinchingly dominant as they were, 24 points by Alabama feels like 50 by anyone else.

The win pushed Alabama (1-0) to 14-1 in Atlanta, 8-0 in neutral site openers and 11-0 against former Nick Saban assistants. Florida State (0-1) will look to become the first team since Miami in 1983 to win a national championship after losing its opener.

Alabama leading Florida State through one half in Atlanta

Getty Images
4 Comments

Through one half in Atlanta, Florida State-Alabama is exactly the game we thought it would be: a track meet/boxing match combination where each team struggles to maintain offense against the other. A game where Alabama has been slightly better than Florida State, as the Tide holds a 10-7 advantage at the break.

Alabama opened the scoring with a 35-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal, but Florida State immediately responded with its best drive of the night, an 11-play, 90-yard march that ended on a 3-yard fade from Deondre Francois to Auden Tate, giving the Seminoles a 7-3 lead at the 13:41 mark of the second quarter.

Alabama rebounded with a long drive of its own, moving 85 yards in only five snaps, closing on a 53-yard rainbow from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley.

Each team also had its share of missed opportunities. Florida State’s first possession ended on a turnover on downs at the Alabama 34 when Francois didn’t see a wide open receiver streaking down the middle of the field. Alabama’s first touch concluded with a 42-yard missed field goal.

Hurts has completed 7-of-12 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown with seven carries for 43 yards. Damien Harris leads all runners with 47 yards on five carries, though 34 came on one rush — the first play of the game. Alabama’s final three possessions after the touchdown drive all ended in 3-and-outs.

The ‘Noles had a chance to tie the game just before the half, but Ricky Aguayo‘s 37-yard field goal try was blocked. Jimbo Fisher and company will have a gripe after the game, as Alabama got away with what appeared to be a textbook pass interference penalty on Alabama’s Tony Brown inside the Tide end zone that went uncalled. Francois has completed 14-of-22 passes for 161 yards and a score, but FSU has mustered only 24 yards on 13 carries.

Florida State will receive to open the second half.

Alabama trio officially rolls early from Crimson Tide to NFL draft

Getty Images
3 Comments

Not surprisingly, Alabama is losing handful of underclassmen to the NFL — albeit a smaller handful than some had projected.

At the schools annual press conference for junior NFL announcements, a trio of Crimson Tide football players — cornerback Marlon Humphrey, offensive tackle Cam Robinson, wide receiver ArDarius Stewart (pictured) — confirmed that they will be leaving Tuscaloosa and make themselves available for the April NFL draft.

Robinson has been an All-American the past two seasons after earning Freshman All-American as a true freshman in 2014.  He was a consensus All-American this season.  Humphrey was also a Freshman All-American his redshirt season in 2015 before joining Robinson this season as an All-American.

This season, Stewart led the Tide in receiving yards (864), receiving touchdowns (eight) and yards per catch (16).  His 54 receptions were second on the national title runners-up.  The 6-1, 204-pound receiver finishes his ‘Bama career with 129 catches, 1,713 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Both Robinson and Humphrey were given first-round grades from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee.  Stewart received an “other” grade.

There was some good news on the early-entry front as defensive backs Anthony Averett and Tony Brown, who both had considered leaving early, ultimately decided to return to Tuscaloosa for another season.