Richt had a testy exchange with a media member who asked about Richt and quarterback Aaron Murrayís ability to win big games. "I donít know what youíre saying," Richt said. "Why donít you just say it straight up what youíre straight to say." People will say, the reporter asked, that Richt and Murray come up short on the biggest stage against the biggest opponents. "Is that what youíre saying or everybody else? Richt replied. The reporter, a radio talk show host, replied that he was hearing that "every day." "Well thatís for you to worry about then," Richt said. "If thatís what you say, then Iíll answer the question. If you think other people are saying that, Iím not worried about that." Richt wasnít done. "I want to say something else. If anybody thinks our guys didnít play their tail off, and Aaron Murray didnít play his tail off, they are crazy," he said. "Thatís unbelievable somebody would even bring that up." Then Richt was done, leaving the stage and ending the postgame news conference.
Alabama has 17 seniors, 12 of whom are listed on the two-deep depth chart, compared to 29 sophomores, redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. Saban said it was gratifying to see the team come together this season and try to earn its own accomplishments, instead of living off the legacy of last yearís national championship team. "Itís a challenge that the coaches accepted and the players accepted and I just canít be prouder of a group of guys," Saban said. "We kind of had that I-would-not-be-denied attitude out there today."
For the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1), the victory means a third trip to the BCS championship game in the past four years. They won the previous two. Alabama will face undefeated and No. 1-ranked Notre Dame (12-0) on Jan. 7. But Alabama coach Nick Saban indicated he and his players will enjoy the schoolís 23rd SEC title for a while before worrying about that one. "My focus right now is to give the players the positive gratification they deserve," Alabama coach Nick Saban. "I donít even know what the date of the (BCS) game is. We probably wonít practice for a couple of weeks."
"I watch these teams that are 7-5 that are talking about they might go to a BCS game because they won their championship?," Saban asked incredulously. "Somethingís not right here. I donít know what people think of the SECÖ . I just donít think itís fair to the Georgia players, coaches and their institution if they donít go to a BCS game." Georgia coach Mark Richt was interviewed before Saban made his remarks in the main interview area at the Georgia Dome. He agreed, but was less emphatic in his stance. "Well, itís up to whoever is deciding and Iím not in charge of that," he said. "But do I think we are worthy of a BCS Bowl? Yes I do. I do."
Has a losing team ever had more championship-caliber men and moments? From Sanders Commings intercepting an AJ McCarron pass in the end zone to the same Commings catching a pass from tight end Arthur Lynch to convert a galvanizing fake punt; from Cornelius Washington blocking a field goal and Alec Ogletree taking the carom the distance; from the freshman back Todd Gurley pounding the midsection of the nationís best defense to Murray taking his team downfield in the final minute Ö has there ever, in the long and distinguished history of Georgia football, been a prouder loss? Alas, the Bulldogs needed 85 yards, and they could manage only 80. Are five yards sufficient reason to characterize them as losers, to suggest that this four-point loss is living proof that Richt and/or Murray canít win the Big One? No and no, and if youíre of such a mind didnít you hear me when I said, "Go away"? Contrary to popular belief, not every winning effort translates to winning. Alabama was just a bit better (and much stronger up front), but...
Alabama was the superior team physically. The Tide rushed for 350 yards, led by Eddie Lacy (187) and T.J. Yeldon (154). The physical domination started with the Tideís offensive line taking over the game in the second half, blowing open holes in Georgiaís defensive front. It continued with the Dogs, clearly worn down and drained, began to miss tackles. "[The defense] got tired of being run against ó I could figure that one out," Richt said. "We just got knocked off the ball." At some point, it figured Alabama would try to get Georgia to bite on play-action, and thatís exactly what happened. With the Dogs leading 28-25, Alabama had a first down at the Georgia 45 when quarterback A.J. McCarron faked a handoff, stepped back and hit wide receiver Amari Cooper streaking down the left sideline, behind cornerback Damian Swann. The touchdown put Alabama, which once trailed 21-10, up 32-28 with just over three minutes left. The Dogs had two more chances. They went three-and-out on one possession and quickly had to punt. They used their last two time outs during Alabamaís possession but forced the Tide to give up the ball one more time. They got the ball back with 1:08 remaining. "Weíve had plenty of one-minute drives during the season so itís not like guys were freaking out or anything," Murray said later. "We were just like, ĎLetís play ball."
Mark Richt on spiking the ball: "Well, spiking the ball takes time. We had plenty of time to call play, so we called the play and we were taking ‑‑ the goal was to take a shot at their back right end of the end zone and the ball got batted, the ball got tipped and it landed to a receiver that was running a speed out." And more: "We had the play we wanted. We had a good play. The ball got tipped at the line of scrimmage and it fell in the arms of a guy in play. The ball was going to the back end of the end zone, either a catch or out of the end zone. Because if you have, I donít know how many seconds there were, 15 or whatever it was, if you spike the ball, you might only have two plays after that. If you throw the ball in the end zone, you probably get three plays out of it. So once you spike it, it does take a little time to spike it, and you reduce the chance of having the third play, basically. So the goal was to throw it in the end zone. Thatís whatMurraywas attempting to do. Once again, the ball got batted, and landed in the arms of our guy in play.
Itís the broken record that wonít stop playing. Quarterback Aaron Murrayís record against ranked opponents moved to 3-9 with Georgiaís 32-28 loss to No. 2 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship on Saturday. "I definitely think I had my share of mistakes and definitely missed some throws throughout the game that I wish I could go take back," he said. "Iím very hard on myself. I feel like I could take a lot of the blame, and I am." The voices of Murrayís critics likely will continue to get louder with the loss, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said thatís something that comes with the territory. "Thatís part of playing this game. Thatís part of playing that position," Bobo said. "Thereís going to be criticism, but heck, heís handled it well his whole career. He does nothing but give his all for the University of Georgia. Heís a winner and Iím really proud of how he played tonight.
As Alabama players stormed the field and confetti rained from the Georgia Dome roof, Georgia players made a painfully familiar walk to the locker room. Most made the trek stoically, some with million-mile stares and a few obviously fighting back tears. Unlike the scene a year ago when Georgia players trudged to the locker room after a 42-10 loss to LSU, the Bulldogs didnít leave the field as the SEC Eastís feel-good story after rallying from an 0-2 start to the season. This time they had plans to be here, they planned to win here, and they werenít shy about saying it. This season was less about surprise and all about expectations. It was their team, their time and there were going to be no regrets, as the teamís motto goes. "Several guys came back to be deemed SEC champions, to play for a national championship," Georgia senior receiver Tavarres King said. "Those dreams were crushed tonight. You can imagine everybody is pretty mad and sad. After all those hours you put in for 60 minutes, itís just sad it has to end like this."
Alabama was a state away from the Georgia Dome this time last year, caught up in a BCS beauty pageant with Oklahoma State while LSU was strutting around this field with the biggest prize of all. Getting a shot at LSU in the national championship game with some funky BCS math couldnít ease the stingóno matter how good it looked. "Having to watch that was one of the worst days of my football life," Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said of last yearís SEC title game. Starting to see where this is headed? So when Georgia decided against spiking the ball with 14 seconds to play and setting up for a final play or two; when the Dawgs put an entire game of strongest man wins on a hurried final pass play from the Alabama 8, two years of workólast year and this yearóhad come to this. For Alabama, it has come full-circle: A season as the controversial champion. A new season as the hunted unbeaten. A week as the upset victim of the year. And finally, a moment of good fortune in a week of crazy that allowed the Tide back into a national title chase that made this SEC game that much more important.
He had just come up with the final stop in a game that featured far fewer stops than we're used to, at least in clashes of Southeastern Conference powers. Somewhere, somehow, a slugfest had morphed into a shootout. But C.J. Mosley ended it, blitzing, leaping and tipping Aaron Murray's last pass. Intended for the end zone, the ball instead fell into the arms of Georgia receiver Chris Conley, who fell 5 yards short as time expired. And after the confetti had fallen and the wild celebration had subsided and No. 2 Alabama had been crowned champion of college football's best conference, Mosley had a confession: the linebacker liked it better this way Ė a 32-28 victory over No. 3 Georgia, two teams trading haymakers, swapping touchdowns instead of scrapping for field goals. "It was just back and forth, back and forth," Mosley said. "They made plays. We made plays. That's when your true ability comes out, when you're able to bounce back from a big play or to make a big play."
Mark Richtís wife, Katharyn, waited for him in the hallway outside the Georgia locker room. She sat on a black platform in the middle of a small, tight group. Nobody spoke much. You could smell the diesel fumes from the buses idling around the corner, and hear the blowers on the field piling up Alabamaís victory confetti, but here in the hallway it felt like a hospital waiting room, with family and friends trying to accept this little death. The players were out there in the buses. They had tried to explain what it felt like at the end, when they had the ball at the Alabama eight-yard line, with a chance to win the best SEC title game there ever was and advance to the national championshp game, and could not get all the way home. A TV guy asked Todd Gurley, the freshman running back, a convoluted question about frustration and comebacks and pride, and Gurley just looked up at the end and said, "I mean, itís life, man."