Alabama rolled into beautiful Sanford Stadium on Saturday as the underdog for the first time in six years to play a game in terrible weather conditions. The home crowd was as electric as you'll ever see as the favored Georgia Bulldogs were riding high having not been tested all season.
The Tide didn't waste much time fixing that.
Sometimes you watch a game that ends in a lopsided score and come away with the impression that the game was closer than the scoreboard would suggest. This wasn't the case on Saturday as Alabama thoroughly dominated Georgia in every phase of the game to win 38-10. It was a beautiful sight for Alabama fans who had some questions about the team based on recent performances. For at least one game, almost all of those questions were answered.
Defensively, this was as complete a performance against a quality opponent as we've seen since 2011. The Alabama defense allowed only 297 total yards to the powerful Dawgs, with 83 of those coming on a single TD run by Heisman contender Nick Chubb in garbage time. That run gave Chubb a strong-looking line on the day with 20 carries for 146 yards, but he was held to only 2.2 yards in the first half, which for all intents and purposes decided the outcome.
Even more encouraging for Tide fans, the pass defense was unbelievable. Cyrus Jones blanketed star receiver Malcolm Mitchell for most of the day and held him to a mere three catches for 65 yards. Marlon Humphrey showed off some impressive ball skills with a gorgeous interception in man coverage, Eddie Jackson took one to the house, and Ronnie Harrison closed things out with his second interception in two weeks. If there is a nit to pick in the secondary, it was that the starting safeties still appear to be late at times. Harrison looks to be the most instinctive player back there. Minkah Fitzpatrick had a breakout performance, playing the pass effectively plus tallying a sack and a blocked punt for a touchdown. In general, this was the aggressive, fast, attacking secondary that we were promised with the hire of Mel Tucker. Hopefully this will become the new norm for this unit.
On the other side of the ball, Lane Kiffin called a masterful game for the most part, playing to his players' strengths. Derrick Henry was allowed to be the straight-ahead battering ram he was born to be, and rewarded the Tide with 148 yards on 26 carries. In similar fashion to the Wisconsin game, Henry provided the ice-breaker in the second quarter by busting loose on a cut-back run through the middle of the defense for the go-ahead touchdown. Calvin Ridley had a breakout performance that was reminiscent of Amari Cooper's game against Ole Miss in 2012, hauling in five catches for 120 yards and a TD while appearing to be ready to take the WR1 role. Jake Coker looked excellent in this one, with the majority of his throws coming off of play-action on standard downs. This is the type of play that suits Jake best, allowing time for him to survey the field and use that big arm to hit the intermediate passes he throws so well. He also threw an almost perfect deep ball to Ridley for a touchdown, causing Tide fans to rejoice everywhere. There will always be ups-and-downs, but this is the type of offense the talent on the field begs for. It wasn't perfect, mind you, particularly on third down where the team converted only 1-for-12. This area will need to be better if the Tide is to contend.
Special teams were a delight in this one as Adam Griffith made all of his kicks, Cyrus Jones had a couple of nice punt returns, and Fitzpatrick had the aforementioned blocked punt. JK Scott finished with solid stats, but there is clearly something off from last year as he continues to have issues with shanks. Whatever it is that ails him, it would be great to have that weapon back.
In general, it's hard to be critical of a blowout performance, on the road, against the favorite to win the SEC East. Thanks to Florida doing what Alabama should have done to Ole Miss, the Tide now sits in great position to make a run in the West and secure a spot in Atlanta. Nobody in the country wants to play the team we saw yesterday. Here's hoping that team shows up for the rest of the season.