Alabama football: With upsets all around, the Crimson Tide avoid one as Georgia looms
While the Alabama Crimson Tide were hunkered down inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium awaiting the double-team of Tropical Storm Delta and the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday night, it appeared the rest of the college football world was imploding around them.
No. 4 Florida? Dispatched by Texas A&M — the very team the Tide swamped 52-24 — on a last-second field goal.
Defending national champion LSU? Sent back to Red Stick with a humiliating 45-41 defeat to the very Missouri squad the Tide rolled past 38-19 in the opener.
And even Arkansas flirted with an honest-to-Saban SEC winning streak before No. 13 Auburn backward-passed its way to an improbable 30-28 victory over the Hogs at the same moment that Ole Miss erupted to a quick 7-0 lead.
For much of the proceedings on a dark and stormy night in Oxford, Alabama also appeared on the verge of a similar upset. Only by the time the scoreboard reached the century mark with 3:16 remaining were the Crimson Tide even able to take the slightest breath to consider an offensive job well done.
Yes, 63-48 will lead the cable sports highlight shows and provide YouTube sizzle-reel fodder in the days to come, but the Tide’s 15-point victory was by no means reassuring based on what is still to come.
Beating Ole Miss was literally a 60-minute affair, as new Rebels coach Lane Kiffin is primed to throw absolute chaos into defensive meeting rooms across the conference for as long as he is bathed in baby blue. The Tide and Rebels racked up an astounding 1,370 yards of total offense against each other, with Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian going haymaker-for-haymaker against his predecessor. That yardage total — Alabama rolling up 723 yards and Ole Miss smacking the Tide around for 647 yards — breaks the SEC record for a single game between conference teams.
Yes, Alabama won its 93rd consecutive game against an unranked opponent, a current FBS record that seemed anything but certain in the mist and muck of Oxford. Nick Saban is also an astounding 21-0 against former assistant coaches while at Alabama.
No. 22? Right around the corner, next Saturday night.
One of the main courses of this truncated 2020 college football season, Alabama vs. Georgia in Tuscaloosa is looking more and more like a de facto College Football Playoff quarterfinal game. The 3rd-ranked Bulldogs, coached by former Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, were impressive in the 2nd half against No. 14 Tennessee — erasing a 21-17 halftime deficit with 27 unanswered points to dispatch the Vols.
Alabama’s immediate need, of course, is to figure out a way to plug the 647 needle holes Ole Miss poked in what was considered an above-average defense before Saturday night. Allowing Rebels quarterback Matt Corral to throw for 365 yards and 2 touchdowns is enough to make Tide defensive coordinator Pete Golding consider polishing up his virtual résumé — without including any game tape of the 2020 Ole Miss game. Factor in making Ole Miss running backs Snoop Conner (128 yards, 2 TDs) and Jerrion Ealy (120 yards, 2 TDs) look like Nick Chubb and Herschel Walker on the eve of Georgia rolling into town, and it could be another long week for Alabama’s defense.
Not helping matters will be the late targeting ejection of Tide defensive back Jordan Battle, who laid into Elijah Moore with the crown of his helmet during a 46-yard reception. Battle missed the relatively meaningless final moments of Saturday’s game, but will also be forced to watch the first 30 minutes against Georgia from the bench before his disqualification is lifted.
Georgia, of course, has been seemingly on a parallel track with Alabama ever since Smart jumped to coach his alma mater in 2016. The 26th coach in Georgia history, Smart made a magical run to the College Football Playoff title game in 2017 before a certain sweet Hawaiian prince came off the bench at halftime to replace an ineffective Jalen Hurts and lead Alabama to a wild 26-23 overtime victory and a 17th national championship.
The next season saw yet more pain, as Hurts relieved an injured Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback — almost a mirror image of the 2017 title game switch — in the SEC Championship and rallied the Tide past the Bulldogs 35-28 for Alabama’s 27th conference crown.
And of course there is this: Georgia hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2007. Alabama leads the series 40-25-4, and is riding a 5-game winning streak. This will be the first regular-season matchup between the Tide and Bulldogs since Oct. 3, 2015, when No 13 Alabama downed No. 8 Georgia 38-10 in Athens.
Smart was asked about Alabama after dispatching the Volunteers on Saturday afternoon, and took the opportunity to correctly point out how brutal the all-conference-game schedule SEC teams like the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide both face in 2020.
“It’s brutal to play in the SEC. It is something else, because there are so many football teams in our league,” Smart said. “It’s so physical. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I take pride in being in this conference. This league is so different.”
Physical? Yes. Brutal? Absolutely? And based on Saturday alone, high-scoring and defense-optional.
Ole Miss is in Alabama’s rear-view mirror, and Georgia looms large in the windshield. Can this be the Bulldogs’ year? Will Smart finally snap the Saban assistant winless streak at 21?