ATLANTA – After a month of uninspiring play that seriously cast doubt on his national championship aspirations, the No.3 Alabama came to life with his season on the line on Saturday as the Crimson Tide defeated the No.1 in Georgia 41-24 in the 2021 SEC Championship game. The victory gives Alabama their seventh SEC title in the past 10 years and gives Georgia their first loss of the season. It also elevates both teams in the college football playoffs, according to CBS Sports bowls expert Jerry Palm.
Alabama may have been right to be included in the playoffs even with a loss, but the Crimson Tide (12-1) wiped out any doubts about their merit by managing a Bulldogs (12-1) team that dominated all season. The CFP selection committee will announce the four-team peloton on Sunday afternoon.
If Alabama and Georgia do eventually catch up in the playoffs, the Dawgs will need to have an answer for Tide’s passing game. No Georgian opponent had scored more than 17 points against him on Saturday, but Bama added only 24 points in the second quarter and 41 overall against the much-vaunted Georgian defense.
Redshirt’s first-year quarterback Bryce Young led the offense for the Tide, and Jameson Williams was his favorite target. The Ohio State transfer showcased his elite speed with a 67-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, and Alabama went for runs from there. Williams finished with 10 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow star John Metchie III caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with an injury late in the first half.
Young finished by completing 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions while winning the MVP of the game title. He broke the SEC Championship game record for passing yards in a game former teammate Mac Jones set last season.
Alabama’s offense flourished, but it was Tide’s defense that helped him put the game on the sidelines. Georgia failed to score on consecutive trips to the red zone in the third quarter. On Georgia’s next possession, defenseman Jordan Battle intercepted a pass from Stetson Bennett IV and pushed it back 40 yards for a touchdown to make it 38-17 in favor of Alabama.
If both teams are included in the CFP, as planned, it would be the second time in five seasons that two SEC teams have advanced to the playoffs. Alabama and Georgia both did in the 2017 season, and Tide beat the Bulldogs at the CFP National Championship.
No other conference has ever put multiple teams into the four-team field in the CFP’s eight-year history, and Saturday showed that the SEC has not one but two contenders to win it all this season.
Bryce Young had his Heisman moment
No clear favorites had emerged in the Heisman Trophy race this season, at least not until Saturday. Young’s record breaking performance at a pivotal moment for his team should catapult him to the top of the field. If you want to hit him for having a lower quarterback rating than Jones, who was third in last season’s vote, consider a few things first.
Young does not have wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who won the Heisman last year. He has some great prime targets at Williams and Metchie, but neither have Smith’s full skill set. He also didn’t have running back Najee Harris, who was fifth in votes last season. Brian Robinson Jr. was a quality primary fullback, but he’s not Harris, and he was assaulted on Saturday, putting even more pressure on Young.
Alabama’s offensive line has arguably taken a step back this season as well. But only in his second year on the program, Young has consistently answered the call in moments of clutch. His play in decisive wins over Auburn and Georgia showed he deserved the prize. Without another clearly defined competitor, the conversation should be over. Young is expected to be the Heisman winner.
Georgia’s defense has been exposed
The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 nationally in defensive scoring, allowing an average of just 6.9 points per game. In comparison, the closest team in this category was Clemson, who allow 15 points per game this season.
Georgia also ranked No.1 nationally in yards allowed per game at 230.9. The Bulldogs weren’t just the best defensive team in the country, they were the best by far. But reality collapsed on the Dawgs when the tide swept them away on Saturday.
Alabama racked up 319 yards in the second quarter alone and exposed every facet of the Georgian defense. The inability of a fierce defensive front to pressure Young has allowed him to exploit some previously undetected weaknesses in UGA high school. The Dawgs haven’t finished with a single sack, despite coming in with 41 this season. Just look at how much time Young had to spend in that second quarter touchdown game.
Kirby’s spell continues
In a year that Alabama coach Nick Saban finally lost to one of his former assistants for the first time falling to Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher, it looked like maybe it was. be the moment of Kirby Smart’s breakthrough. The sixth-year Georgian coach went 0-3 against Saban, who was the former boss of Smart in Alabama. But Saban’s hex will continue for Smart, at least for a few weeks.
While the two could face a rematch in the college football qualifiers, Saturday recalled that Smart’s schedule has not overtaken Saban’s side at Bama. One obvious difference between the two teams on Saturday was the quarterback. If Smart had beaten Alabama with Bennett as quarterback, that would have been the ultimate sign of Georgia’s arrival.
Bennett is a slightly more mobile version of the local quarterbacks that Tide used at the start of Saban’s tenure before Saban modernized the program’s offense and started attracting elite flaggers. Beating Alabama with Bennett would have shown that the Bulldogs simply recruited and developed their way of mastering Saban’s original championship formula.
Instead, there will be endless discussions in the coming weeks over whether or not Georgia should replace JT Daniels for a spark as CFP approaches – and a potential rematch with the ‘Alabama -.