There is one main difference with how Georgia held Alabama to only 18 points to secure a national championship after giving up 41 in the SEC title game: It got Bryce Young on the ground and it got stops in the red zone. Circumstances forced much of the task of winning this game on Young, and things broke differently in the sequel in specific spots thanks to how Georgia executed, especially in the red zone, in order to secure the Dawgs’ national championship.
Mainly, Georgia’s defense turned sevens into threes and kept the game flow from becoming a track meet. The Dawgs’ offense was able to stay within itself because the defense kept breaking serve and not letting Alabama rack up points to force the UGA offense to be pass-happy while chasing the game.
While it is true that Georgia sacked Young four times in the national championship game, three of them came on the final drive when the result was already decided. But one red-zone stop came on a sack, and tells a story of how timely the right pressure can be on the quarterback.
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In the SEC title game, Georgia opted to spy Young at times with defensive linemen. The problem with that became exposed on some of his most back-breaking runs. Here’s Jordan Davis keeping tabs on Young …
And here’s Jalen Carter …
Carter and Davis are exceptional athletes, but it is difficult to ask them to cut off a scrambling jitterbug like Young when he takes off. You can see from the film that they couldn’t, and it produced two of the most back-breaking plays in the 31–7 stretch where Bama snatched the game with five scoring drives in a row.
On a key red-zone stop to force a field goal in the second quarter of the national title game, Georgia opted to attack Young as soon as he broke the pocket and used LB Channing Tindall to do it here. Georgia’s defensive line punctures the pocket and flushes Young to one side. Tindall cleans it up in space. The passing concept and Georgia’s coverage of it means there’s no bail out for Young to throw the ball and it instead becomes a stop on third down.
This comes one play after Bama tight end Cameron Latu dropped a touchdown pass. Where stops in the red zone are concerned, it doesn’t hurt to be lucky in addition to being good.
Although Young had a wide open Ja'Corey Brooks on a crossing route on the first drive of the game, he should have had a wide open Jahleel Billingsley as well. But Billingsley fell down while breaking open, and Bama opted for a field goal.
When you consider the amount of pressure the Dawgs got on the Heisman winner was virtually the same—39% of dropbacks on Monday night versus 36% of dropbacks in December’s SEC championship game—the little things matter in a huge way. This was a one-possession game for most of the night until Kelee Ringo’s punctuating pick-six. The below isn’t a sack, but it is a hurried throw as Quay Walker bears down on Young. If the QB had time to set his feet and deliver the ball, it’s likely on target. Young slams the ground in frustration as the ball falls harmlessly to the turf, and Bama has to kick another field goal.
Despite facing 85 plays, Georgia’s defense bowed up when it mattered the most. On plays that started on the UGA side of the 50-yard line, Bama only gained 53 yards on 30 plays. Georgia bowed up all the way into its own red zone. At halftime of the SEC championship, as Young was running around and away from his defense, Kirby Smart told CBS, “At the end of the day you’ve gotta get to him or he’s gonna get you.”
In the national title game, the mission was accomplished.
“We wanted to affect Bryce,” Smart said after the game, “and we felt like if we could get off the field on third down we'd be fresher and we'd have a chance to rush better. I thought coach [Dan] Lanning, Tray Scott, and [Glenn] Schumann did a tremendous job putting the plan together, but the players carried it out.”
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