TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Since Alabama and Nick Saban ascended into college football’s powerhouse program, Georgia had come oh-so close to slaying the beast but couldn’t finish the deal.
This time the No. 2 Crimson Tide made sure it wasn’t close with a second-half runawayat Bryant-Denny Stadium behind its high powered offense en route to a 41-24 victory Saturday night, the sixth straight over the No. 3 Bulldogs
The good news for Georgia (3-1) is that its stands a good chance to get another shot at Alabama (4-0) in the SEC championship game on Dec. 19.
“Are there things we’ve got to work on? Absolutely,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Are there things we got better at in this game? Absolutely. We just played a really good football team, alright, and we didn’t play our best game and we turned it over three times. …We’ve got to get better. I realize that and that’s on me and that’s my responsibility and that’s what we’re going to do going forward.”
Here are five takeaways:
Alabama shreds Georgia defense in air
Quarterback Mac Jones led a Crimson Tide attack that became the first team to throw for more than 400 yards against the Bulldogs since Arkansas had 408 in 2009.
Jones finished 24 of 32 for 417 yards with four touchdown passes and one interception.
Georgia entered with just two pass plays surrendered this year of 30 or more yards, tied for fourth best in the nation.
The Crimson Tide had four in the first three quarters Saturday, two which went for long touchdown pass plays.
“They made a couple of really good throws,” Smart said.
It started with a 40-yard scoring strike to John Metchie. Georgia blitzed and safety Lewis Cine was left in man coverage against Metchie.
Jones connected with Jaylen Waddle for a 90-yard touchdown to put Alabama ahead for good 27-24 in the third quarter. Tyson Campbell lost his footing on the Bama 45 and Waddle was gone.
Jones also threw a pair of 13-yard touchdown passes to DeVonta Smith, the second beating Eric Stokes on the play with 9:32 to go in the game for a 41-24 lead. Smart said Stokes had good coverage on the play.
“I thought it was a great throw and a great catch,”Smart said. ” I thought DeVonta played well. He caught a lot of 50-50 balls as well as Waddle.”
Smith had 11 catches for 167 yards and two touchdown catches. Waddle had six for 161 and a touchdown.
“They made more plays than us,” safety Richard LeCounte said. “We played a great wide receiver corps, a great team. We’ve got to play better as secondary. They were able to capitalize on perfect throws and perfect catches.”
Interceptions hurt Bennett
Stetson Bennett was interception free in the first three games of the season
This time he had three.
His third came when he scrambled to the right on a third-and-6 and safety Daniel Moore picked it off. There was no receiver near where Bennett threw the ball.
“I was frustrated, I was frustrated with myself,” Bennett said. “At that point, it was stupid. The mentality didn’t change. We can’t have those. Can’t have interceptions like that.”
Defensive end Justin Eboigbe picked off a first half pass off a tip, one of several times a Bennett pass was deflected.
Bennett had a pass tipped and off the hands off Jermaine Burton and intercepted by Malachi Moore returned 42 yards in the third quarter.
“I don’t know for sure but I thought Jermaine could have caught it,” Smart said. “It went through Jermaine’s hands a little high and then they picked.
Bennet’s scramble out of the pocket and throwing it across the field was a “bonehead” play, Smart said.
“He’s growing up,” Smart said. “He made some checks to put us in good situations.”
The offensive highlight for Bennett and Georgia was an 82-yard pass play to running back James Cook. The brother of NFL star Dalvin Cook lined up wide and an Alabama defender jumped to try and catch it at the 50 and Cook raced for the score.
“I told Cook if they run a linebacker out there I’m going to throw you the ball,” Bennett said. “I knew Cook would beat him and he did.”
Bennett was nearly 5 years old when he came to Tuscaloosa with his father and saw Georgia beat the Crimson Tide 27-25 in 2002.
Bennett completed 18 of 40 passes for 269 yards with two touchdown and the three picks.
“I just did not play well enough,” he said. “Got to figure out not to have batted balls, got to figure out how not to have interceptions. Got to figure out how to score points in the second half.”
Second half woes against Alabama
Georgia lost a halftime lead for the third straight game to Alabama.
This one was 24-20 after the Crimson Tide booted a 52-yard field goal to end the first half.
“We went into halftime with the same mindset if he didn’t make the field goal,” LeCounte said. “We came out with the intent to close the game out.”
Alabama outgained Georgia 223-106 at the start of the second half as it scored 21 straight points to open the half. All but 20 of the Crimson Tide yards coming through the air.
“The way our guys fought to end the game we kind of knew it was going to be a 15-round fight,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We probably wouldn’t be winning the fight until the later rounds. We got behind early in the game and the players kept playing the next play and kept fighting and I think it was a great win against a very good team.”
Georgia led 13-0 at the half before losing 26-23 in overtime in the 2017 national championship game.
The Bulldogs led 21-14 in the 2018 SEC championship game at the half and lost 35-28.
“I think it has a lot to do with players, calls, execution,” Smart said. “I do know if you turn it over three times in the second half and they don’t turn it over you’re probably not going to win.”
Georgia had comeback from two halftime deficits to beat Arkansas and Tennessee.
“In the second half, we couldn’t stop them,” Smart said. “Give their coaches credit. We have to do a better job of helping our guys. Frustrated that we couldn’t get anything going in the second half.”
Saban continues run against former assistants
Saban came out of isolation he was in since Wednesday after a positive COVID-19 test but was cleared to play Saturday after three negative PCR tests since then.
Back on the sideline, Saban ran his record against former assistants to 22-0.
“He was very gracious of our team and the way we’re playing,” Smart said. “I returned the favor…They’re everything you want to be of a football team because of their physicality and the way they play.”
Smart, the former Alabama defensive coordinator, is now 0-3 against Saban, losing twice in 2018 in the national championship game at the end of the 2017 season and in the SEC championship game.
Smart said he’s glad that the 68-year old Saban, his mentor and now his nemesis, is healthy.
“Any time someone thinks they may have COVID, it’s a concern especially someone his age,” Smart said.
Alabama has won 34 of its last 35 games at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The other setback in that stretch was to LSU 46-41 on Nov. 9, 2019.
Still in good position
Georgia’s loss probably won’t by itself keep the Bulldogs out of the College Football Playoff.
Losing on the road to the No. 2 Crimson Tide is hardly a bad loss even though the Bulldogs faded in the second half.
The Bulldogs’ top 15 wins over Auburn and Tennessee lost some luster on Saturday.
The Tigers lost at South Carolina 30-22 and the Volunteers were waxed at home 34-7 to Kentucky.
Georgia is off next week before playing at Kentucky on Oct. 31.
“Just things didn’t go our way tonight,” LeCounte said. “We’re not hanging our heads. We’re able to rebuild and keep things going in a forward direction.”