WHAT WENT WRONG?

A dou­ble-digit lead, in a high-stakes game, squan­dered away to cost Ge­or­gia a po­ten­tial spot in the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

The Telegraph (Macon) - - Front Page - BY JOSH MIXON [email protected]­con.com

A dou­ble-digit lead, in a high-stakes game, squan­dered away to cost Ge­or­gia a po­ten­tial spot in the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

That’s a sen­tence that would make a 2012 Mark Richt shud­der, and the Bull­dogs did just that last Satur­day, twice lead­ing by dou­ble dig­its against No. 1 Alabama but even­tu­ally fall­ing af­ter the Crim­son Tide scored two late touch­downs.

It wasn’t all bad for the Bull­dogs, of course. A team does not build a 21-7 lead, and later 28-14, against the top-ranked team in the coun­try with­out play­ing one of its best halves all sea­son.

Jake Fromm played ar­guably his best game as a Bull­dog, go­ing 25-for-39 for 301 yards and three touch­downs. The team ran for 153 yards, with 135 com­ing from D’An­dre Swift and Eli­jah Holy­field.

The Bull­dogs held Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa to 164 yards pass­ing with two in­ter­cep­tions – and a 15.1 quar- ter­back rat­ing. The prob­lem came when Tago­v­ailoa went down with a high an­kle sprain in the fourth quar­ter.

Jalen Hurts, benched for Tago­v­ailoa in the 2018 Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off Na­tional Cham­pi­onship, en­tered. The Crim­son Tide trailed 28-21 mid­way through the fourth quar­ter, but two Hurts touch­downs – one pass­ing, one rush­ing – granted Alabama its come­back win, and Hurts his redemp­tion story.

So what went wrong for the

Bull­dogs to squan­der, twice, a dou­ble-digit lead?

GE­OR­GIA’S JUSTIN FIELDS “PLAN” WENT AWRY

Kirby Smart used Bull­dogs quar­ter­back and for­mer No. 1 re­cruit Justin Fields spar­ingly, and when Fields did touch the ball, lit­tle hap­pened. Fields ran four plays. He fin­ished 0-for-1 pass­ing and recorded three rushes for 6 yards.

Smart’s use of Fields var­ied through­out the reg­u­lar sea­son: Fields played in ev­ery game ex­cept Florida in Jack­son- ville, and threw for 121 yards against UMass on Nov. 17.

“It’s def­i­nitely chal­leng­ing,” Fields said af­ter the SEC ti­tle game. “You’ve just got to be ready at all times. I needed to see what this kind of foot­ball meant. It’s kind of a bless­ing in dis­guise.”

Two of Fields’ rush­ing yards against Alabama came with the score tied in the fourth quar­ter, on fourth-and-11 near mid­field.

THAT FAKE PUNT

Smart was heav­ily crit- icized by fans and me­dia for his de­ci­sion to run a fake punt in such a tight sit­u­a­tion.

On fourth-and-11, with 3:04 left and the score tied, Fields took the snap out of a punt for­ma­tion, then rolled to his left. When he planted his feet and looked back to his right, both of his re­ceivers were cov­ered up, forc­ing the fresh­man to tuck and run with the ball.

Smart said the punt unit took too long to snap the ball, which al­lowed the Crim­son Tide (which was set in its punt-safe de­fense) to iden­tify the for­ma­tion and sniff out the fake be­fore the play even hap­pened.

“We thought it was there, and it was there (Satur­day),” Smart said. “… I talked to the guys be­fore the game and said, ‘If we get an op­por­tu­nity to run it, we’re go­ing to run it.’ It was there, we just didn’t get the snap be­fore they cov­ered the guy.”

Five plays later, Hurts dashed into the op­po­site end zone.

SEC­OND-HALF OF­FENSE STALLS

Ge­or­gia’s of­fense man­aged just seven points in the sec­ond half, and none af­ter the 12:39 mark in the third quar­ter.

It all started when Ro­drigo Blanken­ship, UGA’s nor­mally re­li­able kicker, missed a 30-yard field­goal at­tempt that would have put the Bull­dogs ahead by 17 with 8:20 left in the third. Three of Ge­or­gia’s next four drives stalled at mid­field, in­clud­ing the afore­men­tioned failed fake punt.

“They got a lit­tle more pres­sure,” Smart said. “They were able to af­fect us in the pocket. They con­trolled the run game a lit­tle bet­ter. We still dom­i­nated the line of scrim­mage, but it didn’t come to fruition.”

So, it won’t be a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive play­off ap­pear­ance for UGA. The Bull­dogs, in­stead, face Texas on Jan. 1 in the All­state Sugar Bowl (8:45 p.m., ESPN).

JA­SON VORHEES [email protected]­con.com

Alabama quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts, left, re­placed in­jured Tua Tago­v­ailoa in the SEC Cham­pi­onship game last Satur­day and ac­counted for two TDs in the Crim­son Tide’s come­back vic­tory.

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