Written By Edward Sutelan
The first time Georgia and Alabama met in the 2021 college football season, the Bulldogs' defense could not get to Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young. The Heisman Trophy winner was well-protected against an aggressive pass rush.
That wasn't the case Monday night in the rematch.
With the national championship at stake, Georgia gave Alabama a brand-new look. It amped up the pressure on Young and managed to sack the sophomore four times, including on the final play of the game, to help push Georgia to a 33-18 victory and the program's first title since 1980.
A month earlier in the SEC championship game, Young torched Georgia's defense, which ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring and total yardage for most of the season. The Bulldogs failed to sack him and were picked apart to the tune of 421 passing yards and three touchdowns as Alabama rolled to a 41-24 victory.
According to Pro Football Focus, Georgia tallied just six QB hits and only 16 hurries in that game. Young did struggle when he was pressured, completing just 31.3 percent of his passes for 95 yards on those plays, but he was also only pressured on 37.5 percent of his dropbacks.
The performance by Georgia was an anomaly. The Bulldogs were No. 1 in the rankings for most of the season on the strength of their defense. The unit received the highest grade by Pro Football Focus heading into the national championship game, and the pass rush was ranked No. 5. The defense ranked in the top five in sacks on the strength of a line that was one of the most feared in the nation. But in the SEC title game, it couldn't generate the pressure to slow down Young.
Georgia turned it up this time. Even when Young wasn't being sacked, he was being flushed out of the pocket and forced to make throws in tight coverage, which was made all the more difficult by the absence of his top wide receivers, John Metchie and Jameson Williams, who were out injured.
Pro Football Focus said Georgia hit Young 10 times and hurried him 26 times Monday. Young was pressured on 44.3 percent of his dropbacks and completed just 50 percent of his passes for 136 yards.
"They switched some things up" from the first meeting to the second, Young said after the game. "We knew that we might get some different looks. Some looks, it took me a little bit just to get down. The O-line battled and fought all day, all season, and some of that stuff may look like, may look interior, may look like scheme, but that's a lot I have to do with that.
"They switched up some stuff, had different tendencies, 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."
Even though Bednarik Award winner Jordan Davis was being slowed at the line of scrimmage, other linemen, such as Jalen Carter, Robert Beal and Devonte Wyatt, stepped up. The trio racked up the best pass-rushing grade among Bulldogs players, per PFF.
The Georgia offense did what it needed to do, putting up 26 points and controlling the clock for 28:29 to help keep the defense rested. But in the end, the defense that got the Bulldogs to the national championship game got it done against the Crimson Tide to claim that elusive title.