Two of college football's most storied programs put on a classic battle in the Georgia Dome in a rollicking showcase of national importance that pushed both teams to their limits, but second-ranked Alabama (12-1 overall) had just enough to outlast third-ranked Georgia (11-2 overall), beating the Bulldogs, 32-28, to win the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championship before a crowd of 75,624 Saturday evening.
Now the Crimson Tide awaits Sunday evening's Bowl Championship Series announcements, anticipating a berth in the National Championship Game against undefeated Notre Dame (12-0 overall).
The BCS National Championship Game is scheduled for Monday, January 7, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla.
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries to earn Most Outstanding Player honors as the Tide amassed 512 total yards, with Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon (153 yards on 25 yards) both eclipsing the century mark on the ground.
Wideout Amari Cooper caught seven passes for 127 yards and a touchdown and quarterback AJ McCarron passed for 162 yards and a score while completing 13 of 21 passes with one interception.
Safety Robert Lester led the Tide defense with eight tackles, linebacker C.J. Mosley had seven stops and linebacker Xzavier Dickson had five tackles and two quarterback sacks.
The Tide needed every bit of those offensive heroics to withstand a Georgia team that proved to be explosive and opportunistic, building an 11-point second-half lead before the Alabama running game proved to be the difference. But not by much.
Alabama outgained Georgia, but Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray passed for 265 yards and running back Todd Gurley rushed for 122 yards and two scores on 23 carries. Flanker Tavarres King had five catches for 142 yards for the Bulldogs. The teams opened the game by exchanging punts on their first possessions.
Starting at its own 19-yard line, Alabama opened its second possession with a nine-yard run off left guard by Lacy. Lacy then ran for eight more off right tackle on second down before a McCarron pass to Christion Jones was broken up by Bacarri Rambo at the Georgia 47, setting up a second-and-10 at the Alabama 36. McCarron tossed a screen pass to Lacy to the right side that gained six, setting up third-and-four at the Tide 42. McCarron dropped back to pass, couldn't find a receiver and was hit as he threw by Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson, setting the Bulldogs up at the Alabama 40 with 9:33 left in the first quarter.
A false start penalty by Georgia running back Todd Gurley created a first-and-15 at the Alabama 45. Gurley rushed for three on first down. On second down, a successful screen pass to Gurley that gained good yardage was wiped out by a holding penalty, setting up second-and-21 at the Alabama 49. Murray passed complete to flanker Chris Conley for eight yards to set up a third-and-11 at the Alabama 41. Murray threw to receiver Malcolm Mitchell for 12 yards and a first down at the Tide 29. After a Gurley rush for one yard and an incomplete pass, Georgia faced third-and-nine at the Tide 28.
Murray was pressured as he faded back to pass and was sacked by Dickson for a loss of five yards to force a 50-yard field attempt by Marshall Morgan that missed wide right with 6:22 left in the first quarter.
Alabama moved into Georgia territory for the first time on its next possession. Two passes to wide receiver Amari Cooper, a 14-yarder on a quick out patter and a three-yard pass on another quick hitter, reached the 50. Yeldon then rushed for four yards over left guard to set up third-and-three at the Georgia 46. Yeldon was then stopped for two yards at the Georgia 44, setting up an Alabama punt.
The Tide ran a successful fake on the punt, but the play was nullified by a delay of game penalty on Alabama. The ensuing punt was fair caught at the Georgia 13. Gurley rushed for eight yards off left tackle to the Bulldog 21, and then carried for two more for a first down at the Georgia 23. On the next play, Dickson sacked Murray for a loss of two to the 21. On second-and-12, Gurley rushed to his left on a stretch play for 13 yards and a first down.
After an incompletion on first down and a false start penalty, Georgia faced second-and 15 at its own 29. Running back Keith Marshall took a handoff off left guard for two yards to set up third-and-13 at the 31. Murray then connected with wide receiver Tavarres King for a 33-yard gain to the Alabama 36 as King beat Tide corner Deion Belue in a crowd of defenders. A pass to Gurley lost four yards before a pass to Gurley gained four to set up third-and-10 at the Tide 36.
A pass for Conley was incomplete on the final play of the first quarter, the first scoreless first quarter in SEC Championship Game history.
The second quarter began with Georgia completing a 16-yard pass on a fake punt to reach the Tide 20 as tight end Arthur Lynch, who lined up as the protection blocker, threw complete across the middle of the field to Sanders Cummings, a cornerback who was in on punt coverage.
After a Georgia timeout, the Bulldogs had a first down at the Alabama 20. Marshall carried for one yard on first down. Then Murray, off a play fake, found tight end Jay Rome for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 13:59 left in the second quarter. Morgan's extra-point gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead after the 13-play, 87-yard drive that consumed 4:48 of game clock. Cyrus Jones returned the ensuing kickoff to the Alabama 24.
After an incompletion on first down, Yeldon was stopped for a yard loss on a draw play. On third-and-11, McCarron was sacked for a loss of nine yards at the Alabama 14 to force a punt. Cody Mandell's 42-yard punt was returned seven yards by Malcolm Mitchell to the Alabama 49-yard line where Georgia took possession with 12:01 left in the second quarter. Alabama forced a Georgia punt from the Bulldogs 48 after UGA lost three yards on three plays.
The punt by Collin Barber went 34 yards, out of bounds at the Tide 18 with 11:16 left in the first half. On the first play, McCarron passed deep to Cooper on a streak pattern and Cooper outleaped and outfought Rambo for a 44-yard catch at the Georgia 38. Lacy then took a handoff for six yards before racing for 20 more on a handoff up the middle of the Georgia defense to the UGA 12.
A quick pass to Cooper gained a yard and Lacy rushed for three more to the Georgia 8-yard line. On third-and-six, McCarron was flushed from the pocket and missed high as he passed to an open Christion Jones in the end zone.
But a roughing the passer penalty on Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree gave the Tide a first-and-goal at the UGA 4. But Alabama could not cash in the new opportunity, Lacy rushed off left tackle for three yards on first down. On second-and-goal at the UGA 1, Lacy fumbled at the goal line, losing four yards and setting up a third-and-goal at the Georgia 5 as McCarron recovered the loose ball. McCarron then passed for Cooper in the end zone, but his pass was well behind the receiver and right in the hands of Georgia safety Sanders Commings in the end zone for a touchback with 6:41 left in the second quarter.
Georgia punted from its own 24 after three plays and Christion Jones fair caught Barber's 46-yard punt at the Alabama 30 with 5:04 left in the first half. At this point, the Alabama offense re-established its ground game as the Tide marched 70 yards in six plays to a game-tying touchdown.
Yeldon started the drive with a 6-yard run over right tackle, and then gained 6 more on another play off right tackle to the Alabama 42. After a 6-yard pass to tight end Michael Williams on first down reached the UA 45, Yeldon bulled up the middle for 14 yards to the Georgia 41. After another Yeldon rush failed to gain, Lacy took a handoff off right tackle and sprinted 41 yards to a touchdown with 1:59 left in the second quarter. Jeremy Shelley's conversion kick tied the game at 7-7.
Georgia started its next possession at its own 25 following a touchback on the kickoff. On first down, Murray passed to Mitchell for 14 yards to the Georgia 39. Then Murray passed complete to King for 10 more to the Bulldogs 49. On the next play, Murray threw deep from the shotgun formation and Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix intercepted the pass at the Tide 18. Clinton-Dix returned the pass 35 yards to the Georgia 47-yard line with 1:15 left in the first half. From there, Alabama marched 42 yards in six plays to take a slim lead at halftime.
On first down, Yeldon took a handoff on a draw play and gained eight yards. After an incompletion and a Georgia timeout, Alabama faced third-and-two at the Georgia 39 with 42 seconds left in the first half. Yeldon rushed for three yards and a first down at the Georgia 36. With the clock running, McCarron rushed from the pass pocket for nine yards to the Georgia 27, going out of bounds with 14 seconds left in the half.
From the 27, McCarron was again forced from the pocket and raced untouched down the middle of the field for 22 yards to the Georgia 5. Alabama called timeout with five seconds left in the half and a first-and-goal at the UGA 5. From there, Shelley kicked a 22-yard field goal to give Alabama a 10-7 lead as the first half expired.
Georgia started the second half at its own 25 after a touchback on the kickoff and quickly moved 75 yards in nine plays to regain the lead. Gurley carried for six yards off right guard and then for three more off right tackle before Murray passed for 31 yards to King, who beat Belue at the Alabama 35. Gurley rushed for nine on first down and for four more on second down to the Alabama 22 and first down.
Alabama nose guard Jesse Williams was injured on the play and was helped from the field. On first down, Murray passed to Mitchell in the end zone, but Alabama's Dee Milliner broke up the play. Gurley then took a handoff for 18 yards to the Alabama 4. Gurley gained one on first down, and then smashed over left guard for three yards and a touchdown.
Morgan's point-after kick gave Georgia a 14-10 lead with 12:09 left in the third quarter. After a touchback on the kickoff, Alabama started at its own 25. On the first play, Lacy took a handoff from McCarron and raced up the middle for 17 yards to the UA 42.
Good coverage forced a sack of McCarron the next play, losing six yards as Jarvis Jones made the tackle at the Alabama 36. Facing second-and-16, Lacy took a handoff and gained three on a rush at left tackle to set up third-and-13 at the Alabama 39.
McCarron hit Cooper on a short pass and Cooper followed good blocking for 16 yards and a first down at the Georgia 45. Lacy rushed for five yards up the middle on first down. Cooper took a screen pass and eluded two tacklers to gain four yards to set up third-and-one at the Georgia 36, from where Lacy gained two yards and a first down at the Georgia 34.
A hurried McCarron passed to Yeldon on a screen on first down, but Yeldon couldn't hold on. On second-and-10 at the Georgia 34, Yeldon took a handoff and gained two yards over left guard to set up third-and-eight at the Georgia 32.
McCarron passed to Cooper, but the pass was tipped, nullifying a pass interference call and forcing a 49-yard field goal attempt by Cade Foster. Foster's kick was blocked by Georgia's Cornelius Washington and returned 55 yards for a touchdown by the Bulldogs' Alec Ogletree to give the Bulldogs a 21-10 lead with 6:31 left in the third quarter.
It marked the first time an Alabama opponent has returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown since Kentucky did so on October 4, 1997.
Alabama quickly responded with an impressive touchdown drive, marching 77 yards in four plays. The Tide started at its own 38 after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Georgia at the end of Cyrus Jones' 19-yard kickoff return to the Alabama 23. Yeldon rushed for four yards over right guard on first down, and then raced for 31 yards to the Georgia 27.
Yeldon then carried for two yards over right tackle to the Georgia 25. McCarron passed to the end zone for Kevin Norwood who was interfered with on the incompletion to set up Alabama with a first down at the Georgia 10.
In a shotgun formation, McCarron handed off to Yeldon who took the ball up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown run with 4:19 remaining in the third quarter. Alabama elected to go for a two-point conversion and converted it as Yeldon took a handoff and rushed up the middle for the conversion to narrow the Georgia lead to 21-18.
Georgia started at its own 25 after a touchback on the kickoff. Alabama forced a three-and-out and Christion Jones fair caught the Georgia punt at the Tide 26 with 3:04 left in the third quarter. Alabama's offense responded with a brutal touchdown drive that showcased the Tide's physicality, moving 74 yards in seven plays to score in 3:07 of game time in a drive that ended the third quarter and moved the Tide in front as the fourth quarter started.
The Tide offense continued to pound the running game at Georgia. Lacy bulled for 32 yards over right guard before punishing Georgia's Rambo on the tackle at the Georgia 42. On the next play, Lacy gashed for 15 more to the UGA 27, then carried for 14 more to the Bulldogs 13. Lacy was stopped for a loss of two on first down to set up second-and-12 at the Georgia 15.
Yeldon gave Lacy a breather and took a handoff for 13 yards to the Georgia 2 and a first-and-goal. Yeldon carried off right guard for a yard to the Georgia 1 as the third quarter came to an end. The first play of the fourth quarter saw Alabama regain the lead. With nose guard Jesse Williams in at fullback and a three-tight end formation, Lacy took a handoff and bulled into the end zone for a touchdown. Alabama took a 25-21 lead with 14:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.
When the drive ended, Lacy had reached 177 rushing yards and Yeldon had 105 as the Tide has amassed 410 total yards, including 296 on the ground, with still almost a full quarter remaining in a tight game. Georgia rallied with an impressive drive of its own to regain the lead, marching 75 yards in five quick plays to a touchdown in a drive that consumed just 2:03 of the clock. Another touchback on the kickoff set up Georgia at its own 25.
On the first play, Murray hit Mitchell for 17 yards to the Georgia 42. Gurley then carried for a yard. On the next play, King worked free deep for a 45-yard pass to the Alabama 12. Gurley rushed for two yards on first down to the 10. Gurley then took a handoff and bulled up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown run with 12:54 left in the fourth quarter.
Morgan's point-after kick gave Georgia a 28-25 lead with 12:54 remaining.
Alabama started its next possession at its own 11 after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Milliner following Cyrus Jones' return to the Alabama 21. Yeldon took a handoff on the first play and gained 10 to the 21.
McCarron passed to Cooper on a screen for one yard. Yeldon took a pitch sweep left for 11 yards to the Alabama 33. Yeldon took a handoff off left guard for four yards to the Tide 37 to set up second-and-6.
Yeldon took a pitchout around left end for seven more and a first down at the Alabama 44. Lacy entered for Yeldon and took a handoff up the middle to gain two yards to the Tide 46. Another two-yard gain by Lacy set up a third-and-6 at the Tide 48.
McCarron dropped to pass on third down, but was flushed from the pocked and rushed for two yards to the 50, forcing an Alabama punt. Mandell's 42-yard punt was fair caught by Georgia's Rhett McGowan to set up the Bulldogs at their own eight-yard line with 7:14 remaining.
On first down, Murray passed incomplete for King. Gurley took a handoff for nine yards on second down to the Georgia 17 to set up third-and-one. Gurley was stopped for no gain on third down to force a Georgia punt. Christion Jones fielded Collin Barber's 46-yard punt off a bounce at the Tide 37 and returned it eight yards to the Alabama 45, setting up the Alabama offense 55 yards from the end zone with 5:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Tide moved 55 yards in four plays to take the lead again.
On the first play, Yeldon took a handoff to the left side for three yards to the Tide 48. On second-and-eight, McCarron passed to tight end Michael Williams who slipped while making the catch for a two-yard gain, setting up third-and-five at the 50. Georgia called its first timeout of the second half after the teams lined up, stopping the clock with 4:01 remaining. On third-and-5, Yeldon muscled past tackler Shawn Williams for a five-yard gain and a first down at the Georgia 45. On the next play, McCarron faked a handoff and passed deep to Cooper down the left sideline. Cooper had beaten Georgia cornerback Damian Swann on a streak pattern and took in the pass at the goal line for a 45-yard touchdown.
That gave Alabama a 32-28 lead with 3:15 remaining after Shelley's conversion kick. Georgia started again at its own 25 following a touchback on the kickoff. Tide linebacker Adrian Hubbard spun around a blocker and sacked Murray on first down for an eight-yard loss at the UGA 17.
On second down, Clinton-Dix broke up a pass in the middle of the field to set up third-and-18 with 2:33 remaining. On the next play, Murray threw deep beyond everyone for an incompletion that forced Georgia to punt it away.
Christion Jones fair caught Barber's 47-yard punt at the Alabama 36-yard line with 2:17 remaining. On the first play, Yeldon rushed up the middle for two yards and Georgia used its second timeout of the half. On second down, Yeldon took a handoff off left tackle and gained three yards to the Alabama 41.
Georgia used its final timeout with Alabama facing a third-and-5 with 2:06 left on the clock.
On the next play, Yeldon took a handoff off left tackle and gained three yards to set up a fourth-and-2 at the Alabama 44 with the clock moving under the 1:25 mark. Alabama then let the clock run, calling its first timeout of the second half with 1:16 left in the game and facing a punting situation. Mandell punted 41 yards to Mitchell, who fair caught the punt at the Georgia 15 with 1:08 left and no timeouts.
On first down, Murray passed to tight end Arthur Lynch for 9 yards to the UGA 24. Lynch stepped out of bounds with 1:01 remaining. On second down, another pass to Lynch was broken up. On third down, Gurley took a handoff for four yards and a first down, going out of bounds to stop the clock with 51 seconds remaining.
Murray threw downfield on a seam route on the left side for flanker Chris Conley, but Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri broke up the pass and the ball was deflected into the air. Milliner scooped up the errant ball at the Georgia 49 with 43 seconds remaining.
But an official's review reversed the ruling, setting up a second-and-10 for Georgia at the UGA 28 with 45 seconds remaining in the game. Murray passed to Lynch for 15 yards to the UGA 43 with 38 seconds left.
Murray then passed to King on a crossing route for 23 yards to the Alabama 34 with 30 seconds remaining. Murray then passed to Lynch for 26 yards to the Alabama eight with 14 seconds left, but the clock continued running.
Murray's next pass was deflected but caught by Conley in the right flat, but Conley slipped down at the Alabama 5 and time ran out.
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