Georgia Football: Fake Punt Inexplicably Costs UGA the SEC Title and a Playoff Spot

Georgia Football Kirby Smart (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Georgia Football Kirby Smart (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Georgia Football program suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the SEC Title game, surrendering a 14 point lead on the way to a 35-28 loss. Georgia’s decision to fake punt on their last drive, was one most shocking decisions in the history of college football.

Georgia Football fans thought they were watching the sports version of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day staring Bill Murray. In a similar fashion to last season’s National Championship Game, the Georgia Bulldogs were unable to hold a lead and close out the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Similar to last season, a backup quarterback saved the day for Alabama, in a come from behind victory. This time it was the reverse of last season, with former starter Jalen Hurts replacing Heisman Trophy favorite Tua Tagovailoa and helping the Tide overcome the Dawgs 14 point lead.

Georgia controlled the football game for nearly three quarters, behind a balanced attack. The Dawgs rushed for 153 yards in the contest. The backfield was led by the thunder and lightning combination of Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift once again.

Lightning D’Andre Swift led the way, with 75 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had a long run of 20 yards. Elijah Holyfield handled the work between the tackles, rushing 14 times for 60 yards. He had UGA’s longest run of 21 yards.

Jake Fromm had an excellent day, completing 25/39 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns. He spread the ball around nicely to nine different pass catchers.

Tight end Isaac Nauta led the pack, with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. D’Andre Swift caught six balls for 63 yards and a score. Receiver Riley Ridley added four catches for 48 yards.

The momentum in this game was lost for the Bulldogs offensively, when Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 30 yard field goal with 8:20 remaining in the third quarter. The kick would have given UGA a commanding 17 point lead.

Safety JR Reed kept Alabama from getting points on the ensuing drive with an interception, but the Dawgs were never able to regain momentum offensively. Prior to the missed field goal, Georgia had scored on four of their last five drives. After the missed field goal, UGA never scored again.

After Jalen Hurts tied the game with a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs were only able to muster one first down. The Dawgs were set to punt and try to pin Alabama deep in their own territory with 3:04 remaining. That’s when coach Kirk Smart did the unthinkable, he ordered a fake punt on fourth and 11.

Statistics show that fourth down and 11 yard scenarios are very difficult to convert. The success rate is only 21.3 percent. Add in the fact that Alabama, one of the best coached teams in the nation was the opponent, and those chances lower significantly.

What also must be factored in, is the fact that Alabama was in a punt safe alignment. In addition to the guys lined up over the UGA gunners, the Tide had three defenders off the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field. This puts them in perfect position to cover a fake punt pass across the middle.

Not only was Alabama in position to defend a fake punt, they recognized Georgia backup quarterback Justin Fields as the up man right away. Players on the opposing team could be seen pointing Fields out pre snap. Those factors made the decision to go ahead with the fake, one of the most baffling coaching decisions in NCAA Football history.

CBS Sports Tweeted this video of the now infamous 4th and 11 fake punt:

Why didn’t Kirby Smart stand right by an official and call timeout once the Tide was pointing out Justin Fields? Better yet why not just punt the ball and play the percentages? If the Bulldogs were to be successful pinning Alabama deep it would have been very difficult for them to win the game in regulation.

Even if the Dawgs would have punted into the end zone, Alabama would have had to drive the ball around 55 yards to get a high percentage field goal attempt. Jalen Hurts did a great job making plays, but typically isn’t a great thrower. He should have been made to drive the ball.

Certainly the UGA defense was gassed at that point, but Kirby Smart could have substituted in some fresh bodies for one last stand. If the game goes to overtime, they would only have to defend in the field 25 yard intervals. Had he changed to more zone coverage with a spy, it’s possible Hurts could have been forced into a critical turnover.

Instead Kirby Smart chose to play mostly man to man coverage with no spy, and Jalen Hurts took Bama on a touchdown drive to win the game and the SEC Championship. Who knows if he would have gotten it done if he had to drive the length of the field? Certainly Georgia should have forced him to try.

Who knows what happens if the game goes into overtime? Kirby Smart robbed the world of an even more classic ending, by making a bold, crazy gamble. It’s imperative that he learn from that moving forward, and never do something like that again.

The loss to Alabama knocked Georgia out of the college football playoff, despite many feeling as though the Dawgs are a top four team. Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN felt UGA should have moved up to number three after the close loss to the top ranked Crimson Tide. Joe Vitale of UGA Wire covered Herbstreit’s comments in this article.

The Georgia Bulldogs have instead accepted an invitation to the Sugar Bowl and will take ok the 9-4 Texas Longhorns. Texas loss to Oklahoma, who the committee selected as the fourth team in the College Football Playoff. Georgia was the last team out of the playoffs, finishing with the number five ranking.

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What is your opinion on the fake punt? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Atl All Day will have more on the Dawgs matchup against the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl, as the game approaches. We will also have the latest observations on all of your favorite Atlanta area sports teams.

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