College News & Analysis

College Football Playoff National Championship Game Recap: Georgia Bulldogs 33, Alabama Crimson Tide 18

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) scrambles with the ball as Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) gives chase Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, during the College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Revenge.

That word was implanted in the Georgia Bulldogs heading into the 2021-22 College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs suffered the most crushing loss of the CFP era in the 2017-18 CFP National Championship to the Tide in overtime. And when it looked like they could avenge that loss in the 2021 SEC Championship as near touchdown favorites, Georgia suffered another crushing loss but this time by 17 points.


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This time, the Bulldogs finally got the revenge and closure they have been seeking against Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, as they knocked off the No. 1-ranked team 33-18. Now, Georgia is on all of our minds.

Both defenses reigned supreme in the first half, as Alabama held a slim 9-6 lead, but things started to get interesting near the end of the third quarter, as there were several game-changing swings in each team's favor.

With a three-point lead late in the third quarter, Alabama had an opportunity to make it a two-score game. Quarterback Bryce Young delivered a big-time throw on third-and-11 that would have put the Tide near the five-yard line, but it was dropped by the receiver. 

That forced Alabama to try for yet another field goal, but Georgia blocked it. Then on Georgia's first play from scrimmage after that, running back James Cook took off for a 67-yard run that put Georgia in scoring position. A few plays later, the Bulldogs scored to take a 13-9 lead. 

That three-play series swung the win probability 20 percentage points in Georgia’s favor.

Fast forward to early in the fourth quarter — when Georgia was up 13-12 — and Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV‘s controversial fumble put the Crimson Tide in the red zone, and they scored shortly after. 

Bennett's fumble caused Georgia’s win probability to fall from 37.5% to 21.6%.

Through that point in the game, Bennett wasn’t having his strongest performance. Alabama dialed up pressure in creative ways — as it did in the SEC Championship game with mug fronts, twists and simulated pressures — and it was undoubtedly affecting the quarterback. Bennett spent 12 dropbacks under pressure and completed only three passes for 15 yards while recording four sacks and a turnover-worthy play. 

After that fumble, Bennett’s name was slandered across the country. However, from that point on, the former walk-on turned it on and led Georgia to victory by making the biggest play of the game. Unphased by Alabama's pass rush, the “Mailman” delivered a 50-yard big-time throw for a touchdown to give Georgia the lead, which they would hold until the end.

 

From Bennett to his receivers, specifically Adonai Mitchell on that contested touchdown, to the run game to the defense, Georgia made the high-level plays it needed to win. The receiving unit dropped just one pass while the rushing attack generated +0.26 expected points added (EPA) per rush — the latter was the highest mark Alabama allowed all season long.

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The Georgia defense caught a couple of breaks — Alabama's receiving unit dropped some of Young's big-time throws and the Crimson Tide's top pass-catcher Jameson Williams went down in the first half with a knee injury — but there’s no denying that Georgia's defense had a standout performance.

Highest-graded defense vs. an Alabama offense since 2014

Defense (Season, Week)

Team Defense Grade

Georgia Bulldogs (2021 National Title)

83.5

Clemson Tigers (2018 National Title)

79.3

Georgia Bulldogs (2018 SEC Championship)

76.7

Georgia shut down Alabama’s offense, allowing -0.2 EPA per play. 

The defensive front dominated against the run, allowing only a 29% success rate, one explosive run and nine yards before contact across 24 carries. The coverage unit shined, combining for more plays on the ball (eight) than receptions allowed (six) on 19 throws over 10 yards downfield. Outside corner Derion Kendrick didn’t allow a single yard in coverage. The slot was a major issue for Georgia in the SEC title game, but it wasn’t this time around. Serving as the team’s STAR (i.e. nickel), William Poole was Georgia's highest-graded player in coverage, as he allowed only 29 yards and one first down on nine targets while forcing three incompletions and generating two passing stops.

While the run defense and coverage on the backend was exceptional, the biggest reason for Georgia’s defensive success was undoubtedly its pass rush. 

The Bulldogs recorded the highest pass-rush grade against a Crimson Tide offensive line in the PFF College era, as they pressured Young on 47.5% of his total dropbacks. On those plays, Alabama generated -0.33 EPA per pass play and Young averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. Eight different Bulldogs generated multiple pressures on first review. 

The off-ball linebackers had a field day, recording 15 total pressures — Quay Walker finished with eight, Channing Tindall had four and Nakobe Dean posted three. Upfront, interior defender Jalen Carter led the way, as he generated six pressures and posted a 23.5% of his pass rush win rate en route to a team-leading 90.2 pass-rush grade on first review. Carter also blocked the field goal in the third quarter.

Bennett may have made the play of the game, but this was a collective team effort. That throw, Mitchell’s contested catch, Cook’s breakaway run after the blocked field goal, Carter blocking that field goal, the pass rush collectively pressuring Young on nearly half of his dropbacks, Kelee Ringo overcoming a rough day for the game-sealing pick-six, Poole’s major improvement in the slot, the playcalling on both sides of the ball and every other player that took the field for Georgia all played a part in the Bulldogs finally getting revenge on Alabama to win the 2021-22 College Football Playoff National Championship.

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