Lucas Oil Stadium—After that 41-24 loss in the SEC Championship Game, Georgia knew they had to revamped and change some things defensively.
Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs did just that.
Before an announced crowd of 68,311, the No. 3 Bulldogs’ beat No. 1 Crimson Tide 33-18 for the program’s first national championship since 1980.
Georgia (14-1) hadn’t won a national title since freshman Herschel Walker led them there in 1980 with Vince Dooley trolling the sidelines. Dooley was in attendance and shared the moment with Smart and they were both in tears.
Smart said that since the December defeat, the Bulldogs practiced a lot more man-to-man coverage and “simplified some things.” They didn’t want top Bama receiver Jameson Williams, who left the game in the first half because of a knee injury. They wanted to get more pressure on Bryce Young, which they did. They also wanted to get off the field on third down so they could stay fresh and “have a chance to rush better.”
The Bulldogs finished the 2021 season with a 14-1 record, the most wins in school history.
Stetson Bennett, the former walk-on turned starter, finished the game 17 for 26 for 224 yards and no interceptions.
The first touchdown came with 1:20 left in the third. After running back James Cook jump cutted for 67-yards to get the Bulldogs into the red zone, three more running plays — and a facemask penalty by the Tide— got them into the end zone. Zamir White went in standing up from a yard out with tractor trailer defensive tackles Jalen Carter and Davis paving the way. Georgia led for the first time, 13-9.
The Tide kicked another field goal, Bama caught a break on a Bennett’s turnover.
The quarterback was being tackled deep in Georgia territory, he tried to throw the ball away but got corralled. The ball slipped out of his hands, and bounced toward the sideline—- Bama’s Brian Branch scooped it up as he was jogging out of bounds.
The ruling on the field was a fumble, recovered by Bama and replay upheld it, giving the Tide the ball in the red zone. A few plays later, Bryce Young side stepped the pressure and found tight end Cameron Latu for a 3-yard touchdown that put Alabama up 18-13 with 10:14 left in the game.
“I told the guys in the locker room, just take a picture of this, because I think back to the ’80 championship picture and seeing all those players and the Frank Walkers and the Herschel Walkers and all these people that have reached out and said things,” Smart said. “Our guys have accomplished that, something special, and as they say, they’ve become legendary, and I want that for them.”
Bennett hit Adonai Mitchell on a 40-yard dime to give the Bulldogs a 19-18 lead with 8:09 left and then connected with Brock Bowers for a 15-yard TD on a screen to put Georgia up by eight with 3:33 left in the contest.
With 54 seconds left, Kelee Ringo intercepted an underthrown deep ball down the left sideline by Young. Ringo jetted off behind a convoy of blockers and went 79 yards for a touchdown.
“I just saw the ball in his hands and that was all she wrote,” said safety Lewis Cine, the game’s defensive MVP.
That play brought Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett to tears on the sideline, and as soon as the clock expired, Georgia’s assistant coaches and staff dashed to the elevators in the shaking press box at Lucas Oil Stadium, with one yelling, “Hell yeah!”
“I hadn’t cried in — I don’t know, years — but that just came over me,” said Bennett, who overcame a slow start to lead the Bulldogs’ fourth-quarter charge and was named the offensive player of the game. “That’s what — when you put as much time as we do into this thing, blood, sweat, tears, it means something.”
Young finished 35 for 57 for 359 yards with two interceptions, playing without his top two receivers for most of the game. All-American Jameson Williams went out early in the second quarter with a knee injury, and John Metchie III was injured in the SEC title game.
“They switched some things up,” Young said. “We knew that we might get some different looks. Some looks took me a little bit just to get down. And I have to process that faster, just make the right play for the team better than I did tonight. So they changed some things, and I wasn’t able to execute.”