ATLANTA – Tyler Simmons inched towards the line, ready to run towards the punter. The ball was snapped, just as Simmons was darting towards the punt. He blocked it. Simmons and Georgia celebrated, ready to take a commanding lead over Alabama in the national championship.
But there was a problem. A yellow flag was on the field. Simmons was ruled offsides.
“I feel like it was real close,” Simmons said later. “Even from hearing the cadence I thought it was real close. But the refs, they got the last call.”
As Simmons said this, in the locker room after Georgia’s devastating overtime loss, he had not actually seen the replay. By this time it was all over social media, but Simmons hadn’t had a chance to check his phone.
So this reporter pulled the play up on his phone and showed it to Simmons. He watched the 10-second clip. Then he watched it again. He was careful not to say anything. But the look on his face was clear. That was close. Perhaps more than close.
The play happened on Alabama’s first drive of the second half. Georgia had a 13-0 lead. When Simmons blocked the punt, the Bulldogs recovered just inside the 30-yard line. They would have had a chance to go up 20-0 or 16-0.
It looks like Tyler Simmons was onside on this blocked punt…. pic.twitter.com/7EkFmnnXOS
— DawgNation (@DawgNation) January 9, 2018
Instead, Alabama was able to punt again, and Georgia took over at its 36. It went three-and-out, punted back to Alabama, which scored on the ensuing possession to make it 13-7.
What happens if Simmons’ punt block stands?
“I felt like it could have been a big momentum changer,” Simmons said. “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.”
Of course, there were plenty of other game-changing plays, even before the final, heartbreaking one for Georgia in overtime. The Bulldogs did take a 20-7 lead later in the third quarter, only to not be able to hold on.
Simmons, for his part, initially said he “mistimed” his run at the punt. He blamed himself prior to seeing the replay. He was clearly frustrated. A sophomore receiver, Simmons had just three catches this season, and sought to make an impact on special teams.
For a few moments, he did.
“I knew it was close coming off the ball,” he said. “I’ve just got to take advantage and stuff like that. I get very few opportunities and I’ve got to take advantage.”