Georgia ends the 2021-22 season on top of the college football world with a 33-18 win over Alabama on Monday night. The victory over the Crimson Tide gives the Bulldogs their first national championship since 1980 and avenges a loss to their SEC rival from the conference championship game in December. Also, in addition to winning his first national title at his alma mater, Georgia coach Kirby Smart defeated his former boss in Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Defense led the way for Georgia this year, and this unit showed up when it mattered on Monday night. In the first half, Alabama outgained the Bulldogs 216 to 153. However, Georgia made key stops when it needed to, holding the Crimson Tide to three field goals and a 9-6 lead at the break. The standout play by this unit continued into the second half. After a 17-play drive that extended 68 yards, the Bulldogs stood tall once again and blocked a field goal to keep it just a three-point game.
The blocked field goal provided a boost of momentum for Georgia. The next series, saw the Bulldogs go four plays for 80 yards and a touchdown to take a 13-9 lead. After an Alabama field goal closed the gap to 13-12, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett fumbled to give the Crimson Tide excellent field position and a chance to regain the lead. After a short 16-yard drive, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Latu to put the Tide back on top 18-13 (the subsequent two-point conversion was unsuccessful).
The Bulldogs then took control of the game. The offense went 75 yards in four plays, capped by a Bennett touchdown pass to wide receiver Adonai Mitchell to take a 19-18 lead (two-point conversion attempt failed). Alabama had to punt after a three-and-out, giving the Bulldogs an opportunity to put the game away. The combination of timely throws by Bennett and a strong running game led the Bulldogs into the end zone for a 26-18 lead. On the next Alabama drive, Young was intercepted by cornerback Kelee Ringo, returning it for a touchdown and a 33-18 final result.
Alabama’s offense suffered a major setback when receiver Jameson Williams was lost for the game due to a knee injury in the second quarter. The absence of Williams was magnified with John Metchie III already sidelined. Although Young had success moving the ball through the air, the Crimson Tide clearly missed their No. 1 receiver. It's hard to gauge just how much of an impact that injury had on the game. However, Georgia had a much better game plan when it came to defending the Alabama offense this time around.
How Georgia Won
* The Best Defense in College Football Delivered
Alabama ran 85 plays to Georgia’s 56. However, the Crimson Tide managed only 4.7 yards per play and kicked five field goals while scoring just one touchdown. Also, the Bulldogs generated three sacks and eight tackles for a loss – numbers this defense didn’t record in the first meeting in the SEC Championship Game.
* Stetson Bennett
Bennett was heavily criticized after a shaky performance in the SEC title game, but the former walk-on made plays when it mattered on Monday night. After a slow start and a costly fumble in the second half, Bennett threw two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and finished with 17 completions for 224 yards and two scores. With Georgia’s defense getting stops, Bennett didn’t need to win this game with his right arm. However, he made just enough clutch plays and throws to lift the Bulldogs to a national title.
* Timely Big Plays
In an even matchup like the one that played out on Monday night, small things played a huge role in the outcome. Georgia’s ability to pop a few timely plays was one of those factors. Running back James Cook had a 67-yard rush, wide receiver George Pickens grabbed a 52-yard reception, and fellow receiver Adonai Mitchell had a clutch 40-yard touchdown catch.
Offensive MVP: Stetson Bennett, QB
Bennett’s numbers were solid (17 of 26 for 224 yards and two touchdowns), and he made the clutch plays to put Georgia in front when the game was up for grabs in the second half.
Defensive MVP: Nolan Smith, LB
This could be an overall team award for Georgia, as the collective stood out more than an individual player. Smith recorded seven tackles (two for a loss) and a sack) in the victory.
What’s Next for Alabama
Alabama missed an opportunity to go back-to-back as the national champions, but coach Nick Saban’s team should be the early favorite in way-too-early top 25 rankings for 2022. Quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. will return, and the Crimson Tide will add another standout recruiting class to the mix. Transfers Jahmyr Gibbs (running back) and Eli Ricks (cornerback) will also bolster the roster. If there’s a concern, it’s finding and developing more weapons for Young at receiver – if Williams and Metchie both go to the NFL. With a favorable schedule and the best quarterback in college football, Alabama will be tough to beat in ’22.
Key Moments from the 2021-22 National Championship Game