Even a positive COVID-19 test in the middle of a game week could not stop Nick Saban from continuing his streak of perfection against his former assistants as No. 2 Alabama outlasted No. 3 Georgia 41-24 on Saturday night in a game with SEC championship and College Football Playoff implications. Alabama announced several hours before kickoff that Saban had been cleared to coach from the sideline following a series of negative tests, and he oversaw another offensive masterpiece from the Crimson Tide as he improved to 22-0 all-time against his former assistants.
Georgia led 24-17 in the second quarter after scoring on four consecutive first-half possessions. But Alabama stole some momentum by driving into scoring range with 23 seconds left until halftime before Will Reichard hit a 52-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. The Crimson Tide never looked back. After punting on its first series of the third quarter, Alabama launched an aerial assault that even the vaunted Georgia defense could not slow. The Tide closed the game on a 24-0 run, shutting out the Bulldogs in the second half.
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones distributed four touchdown passes with two going to DeVonta Smith and one to Jaylen Waddle. Those two wide receivers combined for 17 catches and 328 yards receiving against a Georgia defense that had allowed just 12.3 points per game in its first three victories. Jones completed 24 of 32 passes for 417 yards with his lone interception coming on his first throw of the game, while star running back Najee Harris grinded out 152 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries.
The win was Alabama's sixth straight against Georgia. The Bulldogs' last victory in the series came in 2007 during Saban's first season with the Crimson Tide. Back then, Kirby Smart was in his first season as an assistant at Alabama under Saban. He's in his fifth season as Georgia's coach now, but if he's going to beat Saban, it will have to wait until a potential rematch in the SEC Championship Game -- if the Dawgs can rebound from this loss.
Alabama's playmakers are unmatched
Smith and Waddle were already having great seasons, but the Crimson Tide's dynamic receiving duo took it to new heights on Saturday. Waddle's 161 yards were a career-high, but only second-best on his team against Georgia as Smith bested him by 6 yards. It was the first time in school history that Alabama had two players surpass 150 yards receiving in a game. Smith's 11 catches bring his season total to a team-high 38 through just four games. His leaping, contested touchdown grab with 9:32 remaining sealed the victory for Alabama. It also moved him into second place on the school's all-time receiving touchdowns list behind Amari Cooper.
Even as Jones had some questionable moments on Saturday night, he somehow always found Smith or Waddle, who were either open or figured out how to get to Jones' pass and make a big play. The Tide have a great ground game and look to be improving on defense, but their wideouts will set them apart all season.
Georgia isn't going anywhere
With No. 4 Notre Dame looking less than stellar in a 12-7 win over Louisville and No. 5 North Carolina losing to Florida State, it's possible Georgia won't slip in the new college football rankings. If the Bulldogs do fall from No. 3, they likely won't go far after looking more than capable of competing with Alabama. Georgia is off next week before playing at Kentucky on Oct. 31 and against Florida on Nov. 7. If the Bulldogs can win those two games, they'll have a clear path to the SEC Championship Game and a potential rematch with Alabama.
Alabama exposed some holes in Georgia's secondary, and two of quarterback Stetson Bennett IV's three interceptions led to Alabama scores. But if the Bulldogs can cut back on their miscues, they have the physicality and talent to reach the College Football Playoff.
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Georgia struggles after halftime vs. Alabama
Alabama has outscored Georgia 71-17 in the second halves (plus one overtime) of their last three meetings, all Crimson Tide come-from-behind wins. The Dawgs led the Tide 13-0 at half in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship and 21-14 in the 2018 SEC Championship Game but lost both. On Saturday, Georgia led 24-20 at halftime and did not score another point as Alabama actually ended the game on a 24-0 run including a late field goal to end the first half.
The Bulldogs got the football to start the third quarter but never regained the offensive rhythm they had in the first half. Much of that is a credit to the Alabama defense, which struggled last week against Ole Miss and looked susceptible in the early stages against Georgia. The Bulldogs converted 5-of-9 third-down conversions in the first half but just 2-of-7 in the second half.