Oh, so Nick Saban absolutely still owns Kirby Smart and Alabama is still Alabama
Be honest, Alabama fans. Y’all didn’t see that coming.
I mean, maybe you talked yourself into a win. Maybe you convinced yourself that cosmic forces were going to find a way to keep Saturday’s SEC Championship close, and that your team would somehow find a way to pull out another second-half comeback against Georgia.
After all, it was still Kirby Smart vs. Nick Saban. This was the battle that saw 1 coach enter Saturday with a 31-0 advantage in the 3 4th quarters they had against one another. Maybe it wouldn’t be a self-induced debacle like a 4th and 11 fake punt or 2nd and 26. But perhaps, despite everything that 2021 told you, Alabama fans, your team would find a way against the best scoring defense since 1986.
Oh, the Tide found a way alright.
That way was pretty simple. It was Saban vs. Smart in 60 minutes of football. You’ve seen that movie before. On Saturday, you saw it again, albeit in different context.
Alabama didn’t need some Smart-induced collapse. It just needed the G.O.A.T. to do what he does better than anyone — rise to the occasion. Saban’s team didn’t care that Georgia hadn’t trailed in a game later than the 9:43 mark of the second quarter, and there was never any moment in which the Tide appeared intimidated by a defense who hadn’t allowed more than 17 points all year.
Nope. Saban owns Smart.
If there was ever an opportunity for the student to best the master, it was Saturday. Against an Alabama team that found itself in 1-score games in 6 of its 8 SEC matchups, UGA couldn’t even do that.
You’d never know that Alabama was an underdog for the first time in 6 years. If you were an alien who had never watched football, you would’ve assumed that Georgia was the plucky, overachieving program who finally got exposed and Alabama was the juggernaut who wins national titles as often as you visit the dentist.
Saturday was a painful reminder for UGA. Not even his best team — with more 5-star talent than any before it — could go 60 minutes with Alabama.
Well, Stetson Bennett IV won’t be confused for a 5-star anytime soon. But we’ll get to that in a second.
Another game against a high-powered offense, another letdown from Smart’s defense. Bill O’Brien ran circles around Smart and Dan Lanning. Jameson Williams, AKA the guy that Saban pulled out of the transfer portal in the summer when he realized his team needed an over-the-top threat, torched UGA’s unproven secondary.
We wanted to know what it would look like when that UGA front couldn’t get home. Well, it looked like Bryce Young setting the SEC Championship record with 461 total yards. And perhaps equally impressive was that Alabama’s scrutinized offensive line didn’t allow a single sack.
We wanted to know what it would look like to see Young vs. Bennett. Boy, it was night and day. And just because it was night and day didn’t mean that JT Daniels would’ve looked the part, either.
Part of this Saban dominance of Smart is that once again, the Alabama coach has the far more talented quarterback. Look at the side-by-side in their 4 matchups:
- 2017 — Jalen Hurts/Tua Tagovailoa vs. Jake Fromm
- 2018 — Tua Tagovailoa/Jalen Hurts vs. Jake Fromm
- 2020 — Mac Jones vs. Stetson Bennett IV
- 2021 — Bryce Young vs. Stetson Bennett IV
Three of those guys are starting in the NFL. They’re all on the Alabama side. Three of those guys have been Heisman Trophy finalists. They’re all on the Alabama side. Oh, and that doesn’t include Young, who is now going to become the Tide’s first quarterback to ever win the Heisman when that landslide is announced next Saturday.
How does this continue to happen?
It’s unfair to say that Bennett is the main culprit for UGA’s first loss of 2021. It’s not his fault that Georgia’s secondary couldn’t stay with Williams or tackle John Metchie, who was out for the injury second half with a leg injury (it didn’t matter).
But man, even the loudest Smart supporters had to be shaking their heads on Saturday.
Bennett didn’t play well. He wasn’t decisive with his legs, he didn’t stretch the field and he had a costly predetermined read that resulted in a back-breaking pick-6 to Josh Jobe. It was the Bennett nightmare scenario. That game was the exact script that many thought was possible because hey, that’s exactly what happened last year against the Tide.
Oh gosh. It was the same exact final score, wasn’t it? Yep. My goodness.
Another 41-24 game. This time, UGA couldn’t even get to the locker room with a lead. After that 10-0 lead, Alabama went on a 41-14 run to close the game.
Smart said afterwards that the loss “didn’t do any damage” and that it was a wakeup call to lose like that:
Georgia coach Kirby Smart on the impact of the Alabama loss: “It didn’t do any damage. What it did was reinvigorate our energy.”
Referred to it as a wake-up call.
— David Ubben (@davidubben) December 5, 2021
To be determined on that. We won’t know how true that is until we see the next time UGA takes the field in a month.
What we do know is that Georgia is now faced with a quarterback battle heading into the Playoff, which it will still be in by virtue of doing that whole “12-0” thing. You could argue the Dawgs have more questions now than they’ve had at any point all season. What adjustments can be made on the back end when we watched Williams torch Georgia’s top 2 defensive backs? What offensive player not named Brock Bowers can emerge against an elite foe? And just how much did the SEC East inflate our perception of Smart’s historically dominant team?
Speaking of the SEC East, Stephen Garcia cracked a cold one on Saturday. He’s still the last SEC East quarterback to beat Alabama. Also of note, that was over 11 years ago.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Meanwhile, Alabama is suddenly the likely 1-seed that nobody wants to play. That “maybe it isn’t Alabama’s year” narrative was built on the notion that Saban’s team played down to its competition. It was a fair point, but that’s sort of irrelevant at this point of the season because style points don’t matter. Alabama treated Saturday like a Playoff quarterfinal because, well, it was.
Maybe this Tide team isn’t destined to win a national title and we’ll look back on the Georgia game as the day when it all came together. It’s possible, I suppose. And Saban did say afterwards that Metchie was likely going to be out for the season. Perhaps Georgia simply ignited something that the Tide didn’t have all year (with the exception of the time Lane Kiffin spilled the popcorn in Tuscaloosa).
Will Anderson, who was actually “limited” to 1 sack, admitted afterwards that the noise certainly helped Alabama to flip the switch that it didn’t have against LSU, Florida, Arkansas and Auburn. (The last part of that was my words, not his.)
Will Anderson Jr. on the chip on Alabama’s shoulders this week: “People were saying we were gonna get whooped. … We’re Alabama, man. We ain’t no D3 team.”
— Bennett Durando (@BennettDurando) December 5, 2021
Oh, wait. Even Saban acknowledged that he heard the noise … and loved it.
“The rat poison you put out there this week was yummy.”
Nick Saban loves being an underdog 😂 pic.twitter.com/uK2iVkEmHg
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 5, 2021
Maybe it’ll always be this way. Charlie Brown gave us all the reason in the world to believe that he was finally gonna kick that football, center cut. Instead, Lucy pulled that sucker once again.
If the college football gods believed in irony, they’d present us with Alabama-Georgia, Part V to decide a national title. Did I say irony? I meant that’s what they’d do if they had a sick sense of humor. Saturday was a laugher. Stop and listen, and I bet you can hear the cackle of Alabama fans after another public undressing of Georgia.
Smart said Saturday was a wakeup call. He’s right.
We should all be well aware of what’s now more apparent than ever — everything still runs through Saban.