INDIANAPOLIS — The fifth time was the charm for Kirby Smart.
Before Monday, Smart had four opportunities to beat Nick Saban, his former boss, since taking over as Georgia’s football coach in 2016. All four had resulted in losses, including the SEC championship earlier this season.
Then on his fifth try, Smart and the Bulldogs found a way to win a College Football Playoff national championship.
Georgia defeated Alabama 33-18 on Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Saban has lost three national championship games in 15 years at Alabama to go with six victories.
Here are some takeaways and observations from the game.
Bennett flustered by Alabama defense, until when it mattered mostStetson Bennett frequently had to run away from relentless Alabama defenders, namely Will Anderson Jr. and Christian Harris.
It started from Georgia’s first play of the game when Bennett tried to run away from Harris, but he tripped Bennett up for the sack.
That pressure also helped Alabama force Bennett into intentional grounding on a flea-flicker attempt. That killed a promising Georgia drive at the start of the second half that started with runs of 11 and 19 yards.
Harris struck again later in the fourth quarter when he chased down Bennett. Harris forced Bennett into a fumble that resulted in Alabama’s first touchdown of the game when quarterback Bryce Young threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Latu.
But Bennett stepped up late and made crucial plays when it mattered most. He hit Adonai Mitchell on a 40-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that gave the Bulldogs the one-point lead.
He later threw a touchdown pass to Brock Bowers with 3:33 left to give Georgia an 8-point lead.
The battle of the kickersEach kicker had a chance to showcase his talents in the national championship, especially in the first half.
Georgia and Alabama found ways to create explosive plays, but neither could find a way to finish in the red zone early in the game.
The defenses stepped up early and provided prime opportunities for the kickers.
Bulldog kicker Jack Podlesny and Tide kicker Will Reichard combined for five field goals in the first half. Reichard hit three, with his longest going 45 yards. Podlesny hit the other two, knocking in one from 49 yards out.
The punters also each had plenty of work early. Both Jake Camarda and James Burnip punted three times each.
Stout defense in the red zone made each possible. Neither team could run the ball with consistency to open the game. Alabama and Georgia combined for 36 yards on the ground off 23 attempts in the opening half.
Latu almost came down with the first touchdown of the game on the team’s second to last drive of the first half. But, he couldn’t secure it and Alabama eventually had to kick a field goal.
The Tide did, however, have a field goal blocked in the second half.
Alabama’s young receivers forced into spotlightThe Crimson Tide already entered the game down one 1,000-yard receiver. Then it had to run the offense without the other.
First John Metchie III had a first-half injury against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Then Jameson Williams suffered one himself in the CFP championship, and did not return.
Alabama was already using young receivers such as Ja’Corey Brooks and Agiye Hall. Once Williams went to the locker room in the second quarter with an injury and didn’t return, the Crimson Tide had to turn to the freshmen and receivers such as Slade Bolden and Traeshon Holden even more.
It was a tall ask for the young receivers against an elite defense, but they couldn’t find a way to make plays consistently.
Hall’s first contribution came via a 24-yard catch and run on third down in the second quarter. The drive ultimately ended in a punt for Alabama.
Hall had a crucial third-down drop, however, in the third quarter. Alabama had driven from its 2-yard line that forced the Crimson Tide to kick a field goal that was blocked.
The young receivers had a few good moments, but they couldn’t make the big catches when Alabama badly needed them.
Georgia finds more success in pressuring YoungThe first time around in December, the Bulldogs struggled to get consistent pressure on Young and never sacked him.
On Monday, Georgia brought frequent heat after Young and didn’t let him get comfortable.
The number of sacks still wasn’t high for Georgia on Monday, but Young seldom had ample time to step into throws without evading pressure.
Young also threw two interceptions for the first time this season.