ATHENS — Georgia football’s Tyler Simmons has learned to live with being robbed of his 15 minutes of fame.
That’s saying something, because Simmons’ punt block could have prevented the Bulldogs from losing to Alabama in the national championship game.
“You just have to keep going,” Simmons said Friday night, somehow smiling. “We can’t look back, really. It was a call that was made.”
Simmons’ blocked punt on the opening series of the second half was the type of play that knocks out opponents.
Especially those on the ropes, like Alabama’s offense was at that time.
If, that is, officials had not wrongly called Simmons offsides.
The national championship game has been played on television over and over this week, a primer for a regular season that’s just around the corner.
Friday was the first time Simmons had been made available to the media since the night of the title game, so it was a chance for the Georgia player to set the record straight.
Georgia was leading 13-0, having forced the Tide into the desperate move of benching former SEC Offensive Player of the Year Jalen Hurts at halftime.
Into the game to start the second half was highly touted, though still at that time largely untested, freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
The Bulldogs forced Alabama and it’s young Hawaiian QB into a three-and-out, maintaining the defensive momentum they’d built by holding the Tide to just four first downs and less than 100 yards in the first half.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart had his team primed for the kill. The Bulldogs called for a special punt block play they had practiced for two weeks.
“I knew the [snap] cadence,” Simmons said.
Simmons was so in tune he moved faster than anyone else on the field, to the extent he needed to execute a stutter-step to prevent himself from being offsides.
Had the block stood, along with Jarvis Wilson’s recovery at the Alabama 18-yard line with 13:15 let in the third quarter, the Bulldogs would have most likely cashed in with a field goal if not a touchdown.
A 16-0 or 20-0 game would have been much more intimidating to the Alabama freshman quarterback.
It also would have likely changed the play calls of then-Tide offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Football, like most every other spot, has the so-called “Butterfly Effect,” with one play affecting another.
Down-and-distance, time and score factor into every call for the offense and defense, to the extent coaches have color-coded charts designed for each situation and game.
Instead of the Bulldogs owning the momentum at the start of the second half, the Tide got a do-over on the punt.
Georgia instead took over the ball at it’s own 36 and went three-and-out, and Alabama began it’s next drive on its own 44, scoring on that series.
The dynamics of the game changed completely at 13-7.
Simmons estimates he has received 1,000 text messages, and heard “too much” about a play that could have — and probably should have — been an oil painting moment.
Still, Simmons just smiles and shakes his head when asked about what Georgia fans will always remember as nothing less than highway robbery en route to the 26-23 overtime defeat.
“I felt like it could have been a big momentum changer,” Simmons had told DawgNation after the game. “A great changer, putting us inside the 20, late in the game. That’s easy points on the board. But that’s a play left on the field.”
Simmons said he doesn’t think about the play anymore unless someone brings it up to him, or wants to show it to him on their phone, or talk about it.
The competition at receiver to make the 70-man travel squad is so intense, there’s no time for Simmons to think about what happened yesterday, much less more than seven months ago.
“We were looking at it yesterday, and we don’t know who’s going to travel because everyone is competing, everyone is doing their best on special teams, and everyone is doing their best on offense,” Simmons said. “Usually we travel seven or eight [receivers] for SEC road games …. whoever does the most special teams, and produces the most offense, will travel.”
Simmons said he still lines up on the punt block unit, along with punt return, kickoff and “just about all of them really.”
There’s a chance Simmons will be in position to make a game-changing play again soon, and this time, the officials might just get the call right.