By night’s end, we were going to have an answer to a key question.

Who’s the best — Alabama’s offense or Georgia’s defense?

It was the ultimate strength vs. strength matchup, and the winner of it figured to be the last one standing. As in, the winner would help their team become the SEC’s last unbeaten and create a clear path to Atlanta.

By night’s end, there was an obvious answer to that question. Alabama’s offense is a strength unlike anything in the SEC, and perhaps unlike anything in college football with the exception of the Clemson offense. Georgia’s defense isn’t in that group. It isn’t historically dominant. At least not yet. It’s extremely good. Alabama’s offense is better. As long as that stands in the way of a trip to the Playoff, well, that’s not ideal for Georgia.

For the first time in the Kirby Smart era, Georgia got a regular-season reminder of what the standard for excellence is. It didn’t happen in 2017 when Auburn supplied the Dawgs’ only loss, and I’d argue 2018 LSU didn’t prepare Georgia for the Alabama team that awaited in the SEC Championship.

If Saturday was a preview of the 2020 SEC Championship, Georgia finally met an offense that could punch back. Lord knows Feleipe Franks, Bo Nix or Jarrett Guarantano weren’t capable of that. Mac Jones is a different guy.

And if you don’t believe that, perhaps you missed this:

No, that wasn’t just the product of a bad pass interference call. Jones balled throughout that second half. He made the throws that Stetson Bennett IV didn’t, and against tougher competition, might I add.

Georgia did things defensively that prevented that from even being a 60-minute game. Falling down while covering Jaylen Waddle is almost always going to result in a 90-yard touchdown. By the way, sticking Monty Rice on Waddle isn’t gonna work, either. Tyrique Stevenson letting Smith slip past him to the pylon wasn’t a formula for success, either.

As for that last touchdown from Smith? I don’t know what else Eric Stokes can do. Great offense beats great defense, I suppose.

That felt like the theme of the night. A Georgia defense that’s been dominant in any situation didn’t have that switch to flip against a group like Alabama. Instead of digging in after a turnover like it did in the first 3 games — UGA had allowed 10 points off 4 turnovers — Smart’s unit was on its heels. Alabama’s 21 points off turnovers proved costly.

Yes, some of that was on Bennett. He was outplayed. Jones made adjustments and Bennett struggled down the stretch.

But Georgia’s defense needs to play better than that if it wants to beat a team like Alabama.

This wasn’t the disciplined group that didn’t allow a second-half touchdown or a rushing score all season. Take away the sack yards and Alabama had 39 carries for 167 yards. Najee Harris might not have broken loose, but he still had 152 rushing yards, which was more than UGA allowed in the first 3 games combined.

And maybe it was as simple as Georgia finally seeing an offense who could truly keep its foot on the gas. Even go back to 2019. How many elite units did the Dawgs face? LSU, obviously. Other than that, there weren’t any other top-25 offenses that the Dawgs faced in 2019. Sure, UGA had something to do with that. But twice now (including the 2019 SEC Championship) against these modern spread offenses with legit 5-star skill players, we’ve seen Georgia’s defense look mortal.

The good news for Smart is that now he has time to fix this. It’s not the SEC Championship game or even the College Football Playoff National Championship when UGA is making adjustments with its season on the line.

That loss has the potential to shape the rest of this Georgia season. Guys like Rice, Malik Herring and Richard LeCounte returned to finally get the last laugh, and if all went according to plan, they’d help end the 1980 jokes. Saturday’s performance didn’t necessarily get them any closer to that.

From the top down, Smart needs to figure out new ways to dial up pressure (Alex Leatherwood had himself a whale of a game against the blitz). UGA needs to confuse Jones. The secondary needs to be better prepared for these Alabama routes.

Easier said than done? Absolutely. Nobody has held Steve Sarkisian’s offense to under 35 points dating to the start of 2019. Go figure that Georgia actually held Alabama 10 points under its season average of 51 points. That’s irrelevant.

The most pressing issue for UGA is stopping a group that’s been completely unstoppable. There’s no blueprint yet. Georgia might be the only team capable of drawing one up and executing it. And to be clear, that’s not to say that the blueprint is holding Alabama to 7 points. This group is too explosive for that to happen.

But Saturday night was telling. We didn’t get the haymaker from the Georgia defense. Instead, we got 564 yards and 41 points of Alabama offensive brilliance. The group that started the night with Azeez Ojulari demolishing Jones and forcing a LeCounte interception couldn’t keep that same mojo going.

Georgia can earn another shot at Alabama. That won’t be easy, but in a year of total unpredictability, the Dawgs still look like one of the safest bets in college football, 3-score loss in all.

A fascinating chapter awaits Smart. He got out-coached and his team got outplayed. There’s no doubt about it.

It’s been a bit since we’ve seen some doubt about this vaunted Georgia defense. Was Saturday night in Tuscaloosa a wake-up call? Possibly. We’ll find out soon enough.

Alabama’s offense is the gold standard. Georgia has 2 months to change that.