The heavyweight fight label has been applied to so many games during Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama, and Saturday’s showdown with Georgia received the same treatment.
We almost believed No. 2 Alabama would be vulnerable against No. 3 Georgia. Maybe the defense would be exposed. Maybe Nick Saban’s mid-week positive COVID-19 test would be a distraction. Maybe the SEC’s prizefighter would show its age.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. The Crimson Tide routed the Bulldogs 41-24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones finished 24 of 32 passing for 417 yards and four touchdowns, which keeps him in the Heisman Trophy conversation with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Alabama (4-0) took control of the SEC West race and has a case to be ranked No. 1 in the next college football polls — another conversation that involves Clemson.
MORE: Tide rebound for massive second-half win over Bulldogs
In other words, the program hasn’t lost a step with Saban in 2020. Alabama (4-0, 4-0 SEC) is now 16-7 in top-five matchups under his leadership, and the Crimson Tide reestablished their big-game mojo by knocking off Georgia (3-1, 3-1 SEC).
Despite the same-old questions about whether Georgia can take the national championship step with Kirby Smart, you can make a strong argument the Crimson Tide needed this victory more. After all, the last two top-five showdowns didn’t go Alabama’s way.
No. 1 LSU beat No. 2 Alabama 45-41 on Nov. 9, 2019; prior to that, No. 2 Clemson beat No. 1 Alabama 44-16 in the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 7, 2019. Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence took turns shredding the Crimson Tide defense, and some of those questions bubbled up at halftime against Georgia.
The Bulldogs led 24-20 at that point, and Alabama was making mistakes at the worst time. Jones threw an interception on the game’s first play from scrimmage. An offsides call on fourth-and-1 set up a Georgia touchdown right before halftime. Saban had a handful of sideline eruptions.
Then Alabama threw an uppercut in the form of a 90-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Jaylen Waddle, the go-to weapon in the Crimson Tide’s deep-threat passing attack. Malachi Moore and Daniel Wright intercepted Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett on the next two possessions, and that led to touchdowns from Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith, respectively. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called a beautiful game.
Alabama now has won top-five showdowns against Georgia in the regular season, SEC championship game and Playoff championship game in the last four seasons. Saban is 3-0 against former assistant Kirby Smart, and the Bulldogs face the psychological toll of finishing the remainder of the season unbeaten for a potential rematch in the SEC championship game.
The Crimson Tide still have questions, but they aren’t about the big-game credentials. How do you stop this offense? Harris had 31 carries for 152 yards and a score against the top-ranked rush defense in the FBS (38.3 yards allowed per game prior to Saturday). Smith (11 catches, 167 yards, two touchdowns), Waddle (six catches, 161 yards, touchdown) and John Metchie III (three catches, 50 yards, touchdown) all got in the end zone.
MORE: Clemson’s domination of ACC is everyone else’s problem
Alabama’s defense allowed 146 yards and no points in the second half. The big-game Crimson Tide were back on the attack. Saban used all the boxing analogies in the post-game interview with CBS.
Street fight. Fifteen rounds. Lopez-Lomachenko was the undercard Saturday night. Saban has gone through 23 of those kinds of top-five matchups since 2007, and it’s easy to minimize their impact when you’re 16-7.
That said, Alabama doesn’t have one left on the regular-season schedule. The Crimson Tide’s last six opponents are .500 or worse through four weeks of SEC play. Alabama is in complete control of the SEC West and could still wiggle into the Playoff with a loss in the SEC championship game down the line.
That is what was at stake Saturday, and Alabama answered the bell as usual. There’s still more than enough fight for another national championship run.
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