The drive of his dreams turned into a nightmare.
Aaron Murray, Georgia’s quarterback, got the ball back one last time with 1:08 to play in the SEC Championship game, 85 yards to go for a game-winning, stuff-of-legend touchdown. Improbably, he got the Bulldogs 80 yards of the way. But there it ended, Georgia 5 yards short of a berth in the national championship game when the clock turned to all zeroes and Alabama began celebrating a 32-28 victory.
“To be (so close) to making probably one of the greatest comebacks in Georgia history, it stinks (to fall short),” Murray said.
“That’s something you dream of as a little kid, to win the game like that. And it’s just (awful) the way it ended, that’s for sure,” he added.
On the game’s last play, according to Murray and Georgia coach Mark Richt, Murray was attempting to throw to wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell in the back of the right end zone. The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and landed in the hands of receiver Chris Conley, who was stopped short of the end zone — a worse scenario for Georgia than an incomplete pass, which would have permitted time for another play.
Georgia had no timeouts remaining, and the final few seconds ticked off the clock after Conley’s catch.
Georgia’s final drive started at its own 15-yard line after an Alabama punt, the Crimson Tide leading by four points. The drive seemed to end on the fourth play, when officials on the field ruled a Murray pass intercepted. But after a review overturned the call, changing it to an incomplete pass because the ball had hit the ground, Murray completed passes on the next three plays — 15 yards to Arthur Lynch, 23 yards to Tavarres King, 26 yards over the middle to Lynch.
“Arte did a good job of hitting his landmark,” Richt said of the 26-yarder to Lynch, “and Murray did a good job of stepping up and putting it on him.”
That put the ball at the Alabama 8-yard line with nine seconds left on the clock. Richt vehemently defended his decision to run a hurry-up play at that point, rather than to spike the ball.
“You don’t spike the ball there,” he said. “We had the play we wanted. It takes time to spike the ball, and we’re thinking about maybe (getting) three plays there.
“The clock stopped for the first down (on Lynch’s catch) while we were getting to the line of scrimmage,” Richt said. “We called a play. We called a play we call ‘stout.’ It’s a fade by the outside receiver and a four-step speed-out by the inside receiver. We were attempting to throw the ball to the outside receiver. The ball got batted and just landed, unfortunately, right in the arms of our … inside receiver. Not a good thing, with no timeouts.
“We run that (inside) route because a lot of times … it grabs the attention of the cornerback … and hopefully gets the corner to think the ball might be going to the inside receiver. And then you throw it over the top. We were taking a shot. Again, the ball got batted. So what can you do?”
The play wound up as a 3-yard completion to Conley — surely the most disappointing pass completion of Murray’s quarterbacking career or Richt’s coaching career.
“Someone asked me just a second ago what I thought the difference was (in the game),” Richt said. “All I could think of was, we just ran out of time.”
“They could have won just as soon as us,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It came right down to the last play.”
COMPLETE COVERAGE OF SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: