ATLANTA — The play, “Speed out,” was supposed to be a pass from Aaron Murray to Malcolm Mitchell in the back of the end zone.
The ball never got there.
Murray’s final pass of the night got tipped at the line, Chris Conley caught the deflection at the 5 and the clock ran out on the Bulldogs in a 32-28 defeat to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1), the defending national champion, advance to play No. 1 Notre Dame in the BCS title game, Jan. 7, in Miami. Third-ranked Georgia (11-2), bidding to play in its first national championship contest in 30 years, now has to wait on its bowl fate. Florida is expected by bowl observers to leapfrog the Bulldogs and make the Sugar Bowl, while Georgia likely will go to a lesser contest.
“They should get to go to a BCS bowl game. They played a tremendous game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the Georgia players, coaches and institution if they don’t go to a BCS bowl game.”
Georgia, which lost its second SEC Championship in a row, almost punched its ticket to the national title game. Alec Ogletree returned a blocked field goal – Cornelius Washington burst up the middle to knock down Jeremy Shelley’s attempt – 55 yards to stake the Bulldogs to a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
Alabama, with its dominating offensive line, responded with consecutive scoring drives and posted 14 unanswered points. Eddie Lacy rushed for 181 yards and two
touchdowns, while T.J. Yeldon added 153 yards and a score as the Crimson Tide rolled up an SEC Championship record 350 rushing yards on 51 carries. Lacy’s 1-yard run three seconds into the fourth quarter gave the lead back to Alabama at 25-21.
“The offensive line,” Lacy said, “did a great job blocking and creating holes for T.J. and I.”
“They just lined up and played inside drill for awhile,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They just lined up and knocked us off the ball.”
Bulldogs freshman running back Todd Gurley gained 122 yards on 23 carries to become the SEC’s leading rusher with 1,260 yards. Gurley’s 10-yard touchdown, his second of the game, with 12:54 remaining staked Georgia to a 28-25 lead.
Alabama responded by pounding the ball and finally caught Georgia off guard. With the Bulldogs playing eight men in the box to stop the run, AJ McCarron tossed a deep pass over the Georgia secondary, a 45-yard touchdown to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining. The Crimson Tide took the lead back at 32-28.
After both teams traded the ball, Georgia started its final drive on the 15 with 1:08 left in the game. Quarterback Aaron Murray, who went 18 for 33 passing for 265 yards with a touchdown and an interception, threw five completions on the final drive. His 26-yard strike to Arthur Lynch over the middle moved the Bulldogs to the 8 with 15 seconds remaining.
With Georgia out of timeouts, Murray elected not to spike the ball. Instead, he tried to throw a fade pass to Mitchell in the back right corner of the end zone. Murray’s pass got tipped at the line and Conley caught the deflection at the 5 and slipped to the turf. The unfortunate completion for Georgia ended the game, along with the team’s hopes for a trip to Miami.
“We were taking a shot at the end zone,” Richt said. “The ball just got batted.
“We just ran out of time. It’s one of those games.”