Up until the final minute, last night’s college football national championship saw Alabama and Georgia within one score of one another for the entirety of the game. Even when Brock Bowers waltzed into the endzone with 3:33 left on the clock, the extra point only made it an eight-point game.
As long as Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young could march Alabama down the field with all three of its timeouts, Alabama had a chance to push the game to overtime and win its second consecutive title and fourth in seven years.
After leading the Crimson Tide into Georgia territory with still more than a minute to play and all their timeouts still intact, Young had an opportunity to cap off an incredible comeback drive and drastically boost his NFL draft stock.
On first down, Young tossed a deep ball to Ja’Corey Brooks. It was broken up by Georgia DB Christopher Smith.
On second down, Young opted to look deep for Brooks once again. This time the ball merely fell incomplete. That’s two plays, with low-success rates, high potential throws from Young.
Surely, with his team in a 3rd-and-long situation, Young would take a step back and just look to get a first down over the course of the next two plays. It’s not like there was no time left. Bama still had three timeouts (have I mentioned that yet). As long as they could get first down yardage, Bama’s championship hopes would still be alive and well.
Did Young opt for a shorter, more restrained look to get a first down?
Once again, Young looked for the big play. The pass, intended to be a back shoulder fade for Traeshon Holden, was way short and intercepted by Kelee Ringo. Never mind that the interception got taken back to the house. The game was over at that point. Georgia would’ve only needed a first down and even if it couldn’t manage those 10 yards, it would’ve left Alabama pinned deep with under a minute to go and no timeouts. Young’s desire to play hero ball cost Alabama the national championship.
Seriously. There was so much time left and not a ton of field to go. Why was Young looking for a home-run ball when Georgia had been giving him underneath throws all game?
Looking for lapses in coverage from the Georgia secondary may have worked in their first meeting in the SEC Championship Game, but with John Metchie sitting on the sidelines this time and Jameson Williams gone for most of the game, Young didn’t have the same talent surrounding him this time capable of getting open downfield. The only big play for Alabama that came off a pass 20-plus yards from the line of scrimmage was the play that Williams was injured on. After that, it was short-to-intermediate crossers that led to sustained drives for the Tide.
The rest of the game Young had just one completion on a pass that traveled more than 20 yards downfield. It was a good one, if not a little short — a deep corner route to Agiye Hall that set Alabama up with first-and-goal from the Georgia 5-yard line. However, the only other “big” plays Alabama was able to put together — the 61-yard catch by Cameron Latu and the 24-yard gain by Hall — combined for only 20 intended air yards.
Georgia was giving Young underneath throws all night, and for most of the night, Young was taking them. He was sustaining drives and putting his team into scoring positions. While it proved difficult for the Crimson Tide to get into the endzone, Young was still using short dump-offs to march his team down the field and put points on the board. That all got thrown out the window on their second-to-last drive though.
It just doesn’t make sense. The knock on Young all year has been his inconsistency on deep passes. Despite the numerous passing records he broke at Alabama this year, Young was often criticized by fans and the media for his inaccuracy on balls more than 20 yards downfield. Although Saban had said earlier this year he’d seen improvement from his quarterback on deep passes, he also stated that it was something Young needed to continue to work on and it was very clearly one of his QB’s biggest drawbacks.
This was a poor showing by Young. Not because he didn’t have the big, explosive plays we’ve come to expect from this Alabama offense, but because when push came to shove and his team needed him to make smart decisions with the game on the line, he refused to take what the defense was giving him. I admire Young’s trust in his receivers. That’s something every quarterback needs, but with his top two options out of the game, it was time to look for small, incremental gains rather than huge chunk plays. That should’ve been obvious, and by not doing so it cost his team the game.