That One Little Point Was Pivotal
Alabama would go on to a 32-28 victory over Georgia for the 2012 SEC title and the opportunity to play Notre Dame on January 7 in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami in no small part because of a two-point conversion by the Crimson Tide in the third quarter.
There is no fan of college football and no journalist who covers the sport who knows more about the subject than Nick Saban. There may be no living person, including coaches and players and former players, who can come close to Saban's understanding of every nuance of the game.
That is one reason Saban's decision to go for two points with 4:19 to play in the third quarter drew only a shrug of indifference from most.
Another reason is because it worked, and it rectified the score. That is to say, it pulled Bama to wihin a field goal of the Bulldogs.
The situation was that it looked as though Georgia had taken over the game in the third quarter. After Alabama had made a surprising offensive spurt to pull ahead 10-7 at halftime, the Bulldogs had come out and driving for a quick go-ahead touchdown, and then blocked a Tide field goal attempt that resulted in another touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
Alabama's response was impressive, a four-play, 77-yard drive to a 10-yard T.J. Yeldon touchdown run that pulled the Tide to within five points.
The Tide didn't delay. It went immediately to its regular offense for a two-point conversion try.
Raise your hand if you were surprised at the call?
From the three-yard line, conventional wisdom is to give yourself a bit of an option, usually a quarterback sprint out for a pass or – if necessary – the quarterback run to the end zone. That is not what Alabama did. The Tide gave the ball to Yeldon right up the middle, and he went in almost untouched to make the score Georgia 21, Alabama 18.
But what it really did was give Alabama a four-point lead on subsequent touchdowns. Twice.
Bama came from behind three times in the game. The second time was when Eddie Lacy finished a seven-play, 74-yard drive on the first play of the fourth quarter. That made it 25-21.
Georgia answered with a Todd Gurley touchdown and 28-25 lead, but the Tide went back up by four when A.J. McCarron connected with Amari Cooper on a 45-yard pass, restoring the four-point lead at the eventual final score of 32-28.
There is a big difference in four points and three points. (Not to mention that Alabama may not have been successful on its two-point try, which might really have skewed the outcome.)
But Alabama had made that two-point conversion and did have that four-point lead, which meant the Bulldogs had to score a touchdown to win. When Georgia got to the Alabama eight-yard line on the next-to-last play of the game, the strategy of Bulldogs Coach Mark Richt almost certainly would have changed.
Georgia was out of timeouts, but the clock could have been stopped with a spike and the field goal team run onto the field. Alabama up by three, probably overtime. Alabama up by two, Georgia probably making plans to go to South Florida to play Notre Dame at the end of the month.
But because Alabama had made a two-point conversion 20 minutes earlier, field goal was not an option. The Bulldogs did all they could do, which was try a pass, and Bama linebacker C.J. Mosley tipped it. The ball was caught by a Georgia receiver, but it mattered not since he was five yards short of the end zone and the clock was ticking the final seconds to 00:00.
There is a reason a two-point conversion try is worth twice as much as a kick. It's at least twice as difficult. Bama's Jeremy Shelley hasn't missed an extra point kick all year (although Alabama has a team miss because of a bad snap/hold).
Quite often the two-point try fails and the team failing on it ends up chasing that point the rest of the game, frequently falling even further behind in the count.
Was it the right thing to do?
Saban said, "I always say ‘Go for it' late in the third quarter or the fourth quarter. It was late in the third quarter. So we got the numbers in our favor."
At the end of Saturday night's game, it had proved to be the right thing to do.