INDIANAPOLIS — The Georgia football team passed the ultimate test, holding together and finishing strong, beating Alabama 33-18 in the CFP Championship Game.
Providing critical analysis is one thing, but recognizing program greatness is another, and the 2021 Bulldogs have etched their place in college football history with a dominant defense and resilient offense.
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The individual numbers and position group grades don’t matter at this stage of the season so much as the cumulative effect: It was a one-game season, a pass-fail situation, and Kirby Smart and his program came through in history making fashion.
Alas, there is room to take a look back at the performances in the CFP Championship Game in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Bennett aced the final exam portion of the game, 4-of-4 passing in the fourth quarter for 82 yards and 2 TDs, feeding off the play-action attack in the final stanza to capture offensive player of the game honors. Bennett finished an unspectacular 17-of-26 for 224 yards and 2 TDs, but he overcame 5 sacks, penalties for intentional grounding and delay of game and a costly fumble at the UGA 16 to find success when it mattered most, with the game on the line.
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RUNNING BACKS (B+)
James Cook turned in the biggest play of the game, a momentum-shifting 67-yard burst through the heart of the Alabama defense to set up the Bulldogs’ first TD of the game with 1:20 left in the third quarter. Zamir White got the bulk of the carries, 13 for 84 yards, pounding out decisive gains on the final offensive scoring drive of the game. Kenny McIntosh was once again electric, reeling in 3 catches for 23 yards, and ripping through the Bama defense for a 6-yard gain to set up White’s 1-yard TD run.
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George Pickens made a sensational 52-yard diving catch and drew a key pass interference penalty on the go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Brock Bowers was as reliable as ever leading UGA with 4 catches for 36 yards and yet another TD grab. Adonai Mitchell made a tremendous 40-yard TD catch, out-leaping the defender for the football. Jermaine Burton had 2 catches for 28 yards and drew a pass interference flag. Darnell Washington’s only catch, a 9-yard, accounted for a first down.
OFFENSIVE LINE (B)
The Georgia offensive line grew bigger and more powerful inside when Jamaree Salyer shifted from left tackle to right guard, and sophomore Broderick Jones enter at left tackle. Justin Shaffer had a personal foul for hands to the face, and Salyer was whistled for a false start. Sedrick Van Pran appeared to play well, but may have been late on a snap leading to a motion penalty.
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DEFENSIVE LINE (A-)
All-American and Outland Trophy winner Jordan Davis will remembered as the face of the 2021 Bulldogs, and he sealed his legacy with a performance more impactful than his 2 tackles and PBU represent. Nolan Smith had another big game, 7 stops, 2 TFLs and a sack. Travon Walker’s backside pursuit saved a touchdown on a 24-yard catch and run, and the likely first-round pick also had a sack. Devonte Wyatt had a roughing the passer penalty that set up Bama at the UGA 6-yard line.
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Nakobe Dean was sensational with his 4 tackles, but also impressive pass coverage, which included a PBU at the goal line. Channing Tindall had 8 tackles including a sack that stopped Alabama on a third-and-goal at the 6. Quay Walker had 8 tackles and a pivotal QBP on a pivotal third-and-goal situation at the Georgia 3 that forced Bama to settle for a field goal. Robert Beal had 3 stops and a sack, outweighing his fourth quarter hands-to-the-face penalty in this chippy game.
Cornerback Kelee Ringo had a couple of rough patches in coverage this season and even earlier in the game, but like Bennett, he came through in the clutch with his game-clinching 79-yard interception return for a touchdown. Lewis Cine was a deserving defensive player of the game, as his run support on Brian Robinson featured some massive — and necessary — collisions. William Poole went from not playing for four years to making plays on the biggest stage on Monday night. Christopher Smith was also firm with a third down PBU in the second quarter, and Derion Kendrick finished the season not allowing any touchdown passes on him.
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SPECIAL TEAMS (B+)
Jalen Carter’s field goal block sparked the turning point in the game, as James Cook ripped off a 67-yard run on the next play. Punter Jake Camarda was elite, his booming 55-yard punt (with no return) flipping the field after UGA’s first possession. Camarda also dropped a punt down at the Tide 2-yard line that Brock Bowers downed. Jack Podllesny was clutch, hitting field goals of 24 and 49 yards in the first half when the offensive was sputtering. There were some mistakes, Ameer Speed with kick-catch interference, and a Smael Mondon hold that negated what would have been a 59-yard kick return by Kenny McIntosh.
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Bryce Young admitted the Bulldogs’ defensive coaches threw some new things at him that he didn’t handle as quickly or as well as needed. Todd Monken, meanwhile, played all the cards up his sleeve in the fourth quarter with savvy play calling, resulting in a 4-play, 75-yard TD drive that put Georgia ahead for good. Kirby Smart had his team in the right frame of mind, and it showed.
It doesn’t get any better than how Georgia football won on Monday night, persevering through adversity, clearly believing and playing for one another even after Alabama controlled most of the first three quarters of play. The Bulldogs’ magical season will long be remembered, and these players have set themselves apart from other former UGA stars by being a part of the greatest Georgia season in 41 years.