A Tale of Two Halves: the Georgia Bulldogs’ Defense in the SEC Title Game

 

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight year, the Georgia Bulldogs seemed to have some control of the SEC championship game after the first half thanks to a tremendous defensive effort. And for the second straight year, that defensive effort wasn’t duplicated in the second half. And for the second straight year, the Bulldogs ended up on the losing end when all was said and done.

I will go on record right now in expressing my belief that this year’s first half performance from the Bulldogs, against the Alabama Crimson Tide, was better than their performance in the first half of last year’s conference title game against the LSU Tigers. My main reasoning for this is that the Crimson Tide’s offense is almost like an assembly line with all of the parts coming together to create a working machine, just what this offense has run like for almost the entire season. They have possibly the best offensive line in all of college football, two tough running backs who are not afraid of contact, and a quarterback who only made costly mistakes in one game out of twelve this season.

Needless to say, the task was great for the Bulldogs heading into this past Saturday’s game, but they rose up and answered the call for the first thirty minutes.

It wasn’t that the Crimson Tide couldn’t make the big plays in the first half of Saturday’s game, but that they could barely make any plays in the first half of Saturday’s game. The usually productive Crimson Tide running game was kept in check by a Bulldogs defense that was not only playing above how they’d played in the regular season, but also visibly playing with passion. You could see it in their hits and tackles. It was also visible in how they were able to outplay the Crimson Tide’s offensive line for the majority of the first half and put more pressure on Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron than he’s generally used to.

And speaking of McCarron: he took the brunt of the punishment that the Bulldogs’ defense dished out in this first half. The pressure was one thing, but John Jenkins of the Bulldogs helped that pressure produce a turnover with an early sack of McCarron that ended with McCarron fumbling the ball away to the Bulldogs. In the second quarter, McCarron and the Crimson Tide got a drive into Bulldogs territory for the first time in the game only to have it end inside the Bulldogs’ five yard-line. On the play, McCarron threw an interception in a fashion very similar to his interception late in the Crimson Tide’s loss to the Texas A&M Aggies in November, only on the other side of the end-zone.

It was really looking as though the Crimson Tide were going to go scoreless in the first half of this game. And though the Bulldogs’ defense finally slipped up in allowing Eddie Lacy‘s big touchdown run late in the first half, it was still a powerfully good performance. Up until Lacy’s touchdown, the Crimson Tide offense was in the middle of arguably its worst half of football in the past two seasons. So much was this so that Lacy’s touchdown wasn’t just a game-tying touchdown for the Crimson Tide, it was a rejuvenating score that was necessary for the psyche of the Crimson Tide offense.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their defense once again only had thirty minutes of quality play in them in the Georgia Dome, or was it more that McCarron and the Crimson Tide running game finally got going? Whichever reason was the reason for why this past Saturday’s game turned into an offensive powerhouse and a classic in the second half is irrelevant. What is relevant is what actually happened: both offenses never stopped gaining large amounts of yards & scoring plenty of points, and neither defense was able to do anything to stop it. This is how classic football games are generally created, though there’s usually some key defensive plays in there that help it all come together. Saturday in the Georgia Dome, most of the key plays on defense came in the opening half. Then it was the offenses that got to close the show. And they did.

For the Bulldogs, this meant even more frustration than last year’s SEC title game loss because this loss cost them a shot at the national championship. That is something that will definitely still be on the minds of all the Bulldogs’ players & coaches when they go to Orlando and play in the Capital One Bowl January 1. For their sake, this had better be a motivating loss instead of something that kills them from the inside before they even step on the field again.

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