Playoff bound: Alabama rolls No. 1 Georgia 41-24 for SEC title

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ATLANTA — Bryce Young stunningly carved up the nation’s top-rated defense, giving Nick Saban and Alabama a shot at another national championship.

Young threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide rolled over No. 1 Georgia 41-24 in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday, a result that likely sends both powerhouse programs to the four-team College Football Playoff.

Young set SEC championship records with 421 yards passing and 461 yards total offense.

“He played great tonight. He’s played great for us all year long,” Saban said. “It’s great to have him leading us.”

Georgia (12-1, No. 1 CFP) cruised through the regular season, barely challenged and a unanimous choice as the nation’s No. 1 team for the past two months. The Bulldogs boasted a fearsome defensive unit that had allowed only 6.9 points a game.

Young made Georgia’s vaunted defense look like a scout team, earning game MVP honors, bolstering his Heisman Trophy chances and moving on to an even bigger game on the final day of 2021.

“He’s soooo good at avoiding the rush,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He buys time with his mobility and makes plays downfield. Give him credit. He did a tremendous job.”

The playoff field will be announced Sunday, with the semifinals set for the Orange and Cotton bowls on Dec. 31.

Alabama (12-1, No. 3 CFP) had six offensive scoring drives – five covering at least 75 yards, the other 62 – and finished with a staggering 536 yards against a team that was giving up just under 231 per game.

The Tide’s defense wasn’t too shabby, either, essentially sealing the victory with Jordan Battle‘s 42-yard interception return to the end zone with about 12 minutes remaining.

Georgia’s Stetson Bennett threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns, but he also had two crucial picks. Freshman Brock Bowers made 10 catches for 139 yards.

This one will be remembered for Alabama’s dismantling of the Georgia defense, which had not allowed more than 17 points in a game during the perfect regular season.

“We didn’t play our best game,” linebacker Nakobe Dean said. “We’ve got a lot to work on.”

After falling into a 10-0 hole on the first play of the second quarter, Alabama outscored the Bulldogs 41-14 the rest of the way. Not even an apparent knee injury that knocked top receiver John Metchie out of the game just before halftime could sidetrack the Tide.

Jameson Williams more than picked up the slack for his injured teammate, finishing with 184 yards on seven receptions and two touchdowns. Metchie had six catches for 97 yards and a TD before his injury.

Coming off a surprisingly difficult win over Auburn and already saddled with a loss, the Tide knew they needed a victory to ensure a trip to the playoff for the seventh time in its eight-year history.

No problem.

The reigning national champions gave Saban a chance to add to his record seven coaching titles – six of them coming since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007 to lead a storied program that has become perhaps the greatest dynasty in college football history.

“The resiliency they’ve shown all year makes this so special,” Saban said. “Winning the game as we did last week, playing a game today to a level that most people probably didn’t expect, I’m really proud of this bunch. They’ve shown tremendous ability to overcome adversity all year long.”

Smart, a former defensive coordinator at Alabama, continues to be stymied by his former boss.

Smart dropped to 0-4 against Saban, with three of those losses coming in huge games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

During the 2017 season, Alabama beat the Bulldogs in overtime in the national championship game. The next year, the Tide prevailed in another thriller to capture the SEC championship.

And now, yet another setback for Smart with the conference title on the line.

Young set the tone during a dominant second quarter, guiding four straight scoring drives – three of them for touchdowns – to give the Tide a 24-17 lead at the break.

The quarterback set an SEC championship game record for first-half passing yards with 286, sparked by a 67-yard touchdown pass to Williams – the longest play the Bulldogs have given up this season.

Young was just getting warmed up.

He zipped one to Metchie for a 13-yard score, drove the Tide into position for Will Reichard’s 33-yard field goal, and capped off his brilliant quarter by running 13 yards for a TD with just 26 seconds left in the half.

In a single quarter of football, Alabama put up more points on Georgia than any team had all year, also becoming the first to score more than two TDs in a game against the Bulldogs.

During the regular season, Georgia allowed only 29 points – in all 12 games combined – in the first half.

Alabama took the second half kickoff and quickly added to its lead. Williams hauled in another long scoring pass from Young, this one covering 55 yards.

“He’s elite at the getting the ball to his playmakers,” Smart said.

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia: This could be a devastating blow to the psyche of a team that had looked unbeatable most the season. Smart will need to do the best coaching job of his career over the new few weeks to restore the Bulldogs’ confidence.

Alabama: Few gave the Tide much of a chance after their lackluster showing in the Iron Bowl, but the offensive line looked like an entirely different unit against Georgia’s massive front. Young had plenty of time to throw, and he took advantage of it.

UP NEXT

Depending on the playoff seedings, the SEC behemoths could be headed for a rematch in the semifinals. It would be the second time the league has placed two teams in the playoff, the other coming in 2017.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.