INDIANAPOLIS — Nick Chubb didn’t even bother to look over at the person who asked the question. It came from somewhere off to the left, and he stared straight ahead as he issued a terse response.
“It’s over with,” he said, his eyes fixed on the curtain in the very back of the room.
Eight weeks had passed between the National Championship Game and the NFL scouting combine, and Chubb had zero interest in rehashing the final moments of his Georgia career.
His defensive teammates were not able to brush off the topic so easily. They were on the field, after all, when Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa unleashed one of the greatest passes in college football history; a 41-yard scoring throw to DeVonta Smith that gave Alabama its 17th national title and sent Georgia back to Athens empty-handed.
Words such as “hurt” and “heartbreak” tumbled out.
Here is a collection of responses from safety Dominick Sanders, linebacker Lorenzo Carter, linebacker Davin Bellamy and defensive lineman John Atkins as they recounted the last-second nightmare of an otherwise dream season.
‘I wish I could do it all over again’
It’s still fresh in college football fans’ minds: Alabama, trailing 13-0 at halftime, benched starting quarterback Jalen Hurts and replaced him with freshman Tua Tagovailoa. The Hawaiian southpaw gave Georgia’s defense fits. Put simply by Bellamy: “He was able to drop back and pass, and that’s something that we didn’t prepare for at all.”
SANDERS: “You’ve got to give it to the guy. He was a guy that we didn’t really rep that much because he didn’t play as much throughout the season. But when his time came up, he stepped in and he made plays.”
BELLAMY: “We were surprised how fast he was. We had prepared for Jalen Hurts. He’s a great athlete. But 13 [Tagovailoa] was just quick. I think about that third down [in the third quarter] all the time when he reversed field on us. That kinda changed the game also. But that play right there is where I realized, ‘OK, this kid is a baller.’ He just reversed field in the National Championship Game and picked up a third-and-.”
Alabama missed a potential game-winning 36-yard field goal at the gun, and the teams went to overtime. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship hit a 51-yard field goal for the lead, and then Bellamy — who had recorded crucial sacks against Notre Dame and Auburn earlier in the season — took down Tagovailoa for a 16-yard loss.
BELLAMY: “I thought I had done it again. This is crazy, right? This season couldn’t be any more scripted. It was second-and-26. Their field-goal kicker had missed a couple easy chip shots early … I’m thinking, ‘This game is over.’ “
CARTER: “We got a big play. Went out there, and we knew what we had to do. We had to get a stop.”
BELLAMY: “You go from that to the very next play that’s a deep ball. Nothing you can do about it. By far the biggest heartbreak that I’ve had.”
Georgia’s Malkom Parrish (left) could do nothing but watch as Alabama’s DeVonta Smith ran in for the game-winning score. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
Backed up into second-and-26, Alabama decided to air it out. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll dialed up a go-for-broke play that sent every receiver toward the end zone. Sitting in a cover-2 defense, Georgia was vulnerable against the deep pass, especially along the sidelines. Tagovailoa dropped back, looked to his right, snapped his head to the left and fired toward the end zone.
ATKINS: “When I saw the ball in the air, my head dropped. I was like, ‘Oh. My. God.’”
CARTER: “To turn around and see the ball in the air. … It was demoralizing.”
BELLAMY: “I knew it was over. I was like, ‘Man, I hope he drops it.’ But that’s a D-1 wide receiver over there at Alabama. I knew it was game over as soon as the ball left his hand.”
SANDERS: “He kinda looked me off. I kinda opened up toward the middle to try and honor the post that was coming backside. I also had a 9 route on my side to the same receiver. I tried to honor the post, and by the time I opened up, the guy was 5 yards ahead of me and it was pretty much over with.”
BELLAMY: “The quarterback did a great job looking him off. It was a hell of a play.”
SANDERS: “It was a good throw, though. Put it right there in the pocket for his receiver to get it. It was a mistake on my end. Everybody makes mistakes. Quarterbacks are gonna look off, especially at the next level. That’s what they’re good at, trying to look the DBs off. And he did that. It’s just something I’ve got to live with. Like I said, if I could have that play all over again, I’d do it all over.”
Confetti rained down on Mercedes-Benz Stadium as Crimson Tide players and coaches celebrated. Chubb and fellow running back Sony Michel sat in silence on the bench, and that solemnity carried over off the field.
ATKINS: “It was real quiet in the locker room.”
SANDERS: “I couldn’t get no sleep for about a week.”
This weekend, players had bittersweet reactions to an unforgettable season.
ATKINS: “We kinda knew, ‘OK, we got here. A lot of people didn’t expect Georgia to be in the National Championship Game.’ … Everybody had it marked down for next year.”
SANDERS: “When I go back and look at it, I wish I could do it all over again. I wish I could get that last play. And I know everybody that was on that defense and our team wishes we could get that last play.”
ATKINS: “I look at it like, you can’t cry over spilt milk. It happened. You can’t change it now. You can’t cry about it now. ‘Man, we should’ve did this…’. It wasn’t just that play we messed up. There were a lot more plays in that game we messed up.”
SANDERS: “I wish we could have pulled it out, man. Georgia hasn’t won a national championship in so long. Just having everybody there. The fans. The atmosphere. The fans were very supportive. Just not being able to accomplish that, it really hurt.”
CARTER: “It made us work even harder, especially the guys that are still here at Georgia. I got a chance to go back and stop by a couple days before I came up here. And seeing those guys work let me know that they’re hungry. They’re ready to get back.”