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Georgia 33, Alabama 18: A Euphoric Lightness Of Being, At Last

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As the clock ran down In Indianapolis Monday night my mind raced from one thought to another.

I remembered friends and family I’ve lost who would have loved to see this. I thought of my grandmother, who sat in her recliner listening to the Bulldog Radio Network every Saturday. My good friend Carol, known on this site as PodunkDawg, whose last text to me from the hospital was that she was going to get better because she had football to watch. I thought of tailgate buddies who’ve left us too soon. Of my uncle who may or may not have been buried with his favorite Bulldogs hat.

I thought of the folks who’ve written for and commented on this site over its 15 years of existence. Of my good friend T. Kyle King who first invited me to write here then entrusted me to run the thing. I thought about the old fellas who’ve been sitting in the same seats in Sanford Stadium since the Dooley days and the folks who traveled to South Bend and Pasadena and Charlotte because Kirby asked them to.

I thought about lying crumbled on the floor in 2012. Sloshing back to the car cold and defeated in 2015. Of picking myself up to put as happy a face as possible on the 2017 title game loss. I thought of a dozen or more close calls, near misses, and abject failures.

And then I smiled. Then I laughed. Then I cried.

And finally I let it all go. I felt a strange sense of release, a euphoric lightness that I can’t really describe but that I expect you felt, too. The pressure to win a national title has been like a weight on the shoulders of Bulldog fans for years. Decades even, in a way that that weight doesn’t lie on Arizona or Purdue or Slippery Rock fans. We give the people and things we deeply care about the opportunity to hurt us. And often they do.

Georgia football has wounded you and me many times over the years because we dared to believe that our team could and should win it all. Because we cared and we hoped and we believed, we also suffered.

And sometimes that seemed foolish. As recently as the 11:00 mark of the fourth quarter of Monday night’s game it seemed like the Universe was dead set against it.

It was never going to be easy to unseat Alabama and Nick Saban atop the college football firmament. The Tide picked up early where they left off in Atlanta by working the quick passing game to near perfection.

The difference from 37 days ago however was that they didn’t convert Bryce Young’s effortless passes into effortless points.

That was due in no small part to a UGA defense that felt challenged following its loss to the Tide. The Georgia defense allowed Alabama to run 20 plays in Bulldog territory on this night. They amounted to all of 37 yards. That’s a remarkable amount of back-straightening from a unit that was called out after the SEC title game. The Tide outgained the Dawgs 399 yards to 364 and held a 22-20 edge in first downs. But they turned six trips into the Red and Black red zone into one touchdown. That allowed the Dawgs’ faltering offense to stay in the game in a way that they had not been able to back in December.

It needs to be said that Young is indeed the best quarterback in college football. He finished the night 35 of 57 passing for 369 yards. The Tide were never going to be able to run the ball consistently on the Red and Black and they had no intention of wasting their snaps trying. But the Classic City Canines got to Young in a way they hadn’t in Atlanta. I said before the game that if Young was sacked four times I really liked Georgia’s chances. He was sacked four times and the rest is history.

Stetson Bennett for his part looked poised to make all the criticisms of him this season appear accurate. But after his ill-times fourth quarter fumble the Prince of Pierce finished the game 4 of 4 passing for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was an unbelievable turnaround. Bennett describes it best after the game, saying “How we executed those last two drives on offense, that was beautiful because, we’d sucked the whole game.”

He wasn’t wrong. Georgia’s penchant for penalties and lack of execution in the first half made it appear for a time as if the moment was once again too big for the Bulldogs.

But it wasn’t. Not for the team or their quarterback. Bennett finished the night 17 of 26 passing for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. Unlike Young (who had two), he had no interceptions, only the flukiest fumble in college football history. To review, Stetson Bennett went from a lightly recruited walk-on to the leader of a national championship team, with stops at a junior college and fifth string on the depth chart along the way. If somebody at Disney hasn’t called the Mailman about the movie rights they’re already behind.

And while Bennett deserves credit for his perseverance and pluckiness, the Bulldog rushing attack may very well have saved this game. The Dawgs churned our 140 yards on the ground versus a tepid 30 for the Tide. While Alabama back Brian Robinson had his moments, going for 68 yards on 22 carries, the Bulldog tailbacks truly kept hope alive by fighting for tough yards when it was clear that the UGA offensive line was going to struggle mightily with the Crimson Tide’s crashing elephantine pass rush.

James Cook’s 67 yard scamper was the longest in CFP title game history. But it was Zamir White’s tough 84 yards on 13 carries, many of those yards after contact, that really stood out. Georgia loses a lot from this title team. But replacing Cook’s versatility and White’s gritty running is going to be one of the tallest orders Kirby Smart faces.

But these are problems for another day. For now, your Georgia Bulldogs are the champions of all of college football. I hope you savor that as much as I will.

And I hope you’ll accept my personal thanks and the thanks of everyone who writes here for coming back again and again, to celebrate and commiserate and hope. You’re the reason this site exists and persists, and we couldn’t do it without you. Once more, ever and always....

Go ‘Dawgs!!!