The football never should have landed in the hands of this Georgia receiver. Yet that’s where the otherwise ideal drive went wrong and how the Bulldogs’ national title dreams faded to a painful end nearly a decade ago.
Quarterback Aaron Murray watched his pass die in the air, all because of an Alabama defender’s fingertip. The ball veered off course, heading to a receiver a few yards short of the goal line, rather than to Malcolm Mitchell in the corner of the end zone, where a touchdown pass would have instantly turned them both into Georgia heroes.
Instead, the ball drifted toward Chris Conley’s chest, and he did what receivers are taught to do. In the waning moments of the 2012 SEC championship, Conley caught the pass. He slipped to the turf in bounds. The seconds on the clock melted away. Players watched helplessly, even though they understood the rules and that Georgia had no timeouts remaining. Murray knew immediately. The game was over. Three seconds turned to two, then one and zero. The winner was bound to face Notre Dame in the national championship. Georgia fell short — five yards short in a 32-28 defeat — and Murray quickly jogged into the tunnel.
“I was trying to get in the locker room before the confetti hit the ground,” said Murray, who still, nine years later, gets asked about this game, the critical drive and that ill-fated pass.
That’s what these players remember — those bits of paper streaming from the ceiling. And it wasn’t there to celebrate them. As a freshman, John Theus said perhaps he didn’t realize the weight of this game, but then he saw fellow offensive lineman Kenarious Gates, a junior, kneeling to the ground in disappointment with confetti falling around him.
The Bulldogs’ last national title came 41 years ago. Generations of fans haven’t watched Georgia win it all during their lifetimes. Through the last decade, Nick Saban’s powerhouse program has been the immovable force standing in the way. And here they go again: The No. 3 Bulldogs face the top-seeded Tide in the national championship Monday, a rematch of the SEC title game in December that became Georgia’s seventh straight loss against Alabama.