Man, how about that game? The first half was a bit shaky, but Alabama turned on the jets in all phases of the game in the second half for an absolutely dominant showing against the #3 team in the nation.
The opening snap was an utter disaster, as pressure around the end saw Mac Jones’s playaction pass being a wobbly floater as he was hit from behind, and the Georgia safety made a diving catch. Replay showed the ball bouncing off of something beneath him before his hands closed, and another replay angle showed the ball pressed up against the grass. But apparently that wasn’t quite enough to be “definitive,” so the interception stood.
But, as they say, the Ball Don’t Lie. Two plays later, Stetson Bennett’s pass was tipped by a giant bear paw at the line of scrimmage, and Justin Eboigbe turned around only to find a ball doing it’s best to fall into his pockets.
Alabama’s offense wasted no time uncorking a dime a deep bomb to John Metchie for the first touchdown of the game, and the immediate despair from the first play evaporated into hope.
To everyone’s relief, the Alabama defense held tight with backup safety DeMarcco Hellams chasing down back-to-back sweep plays to the sidelines, which might have been the first time that’s been done effectively since Pete Golding became the DC in 2018.
Unfortunately, the next drive from Alabama got cut short with a pass tipped at the LOS on the first play, a draw play on 2nd and 10 going nowhere, and then Metchie getting stopped 1 yard from a first down on a crossing route.
To quote myself:
A 2nd and 10 run play and then not going for it on 4th and 1 near midfield?— Brent Taylor (@btbama22) October 18, 2020
Somewhere, an analytics guy just died.
Alabama’s defense stood strong again and forced another punt, and, in a bit of a groundhog day moment, Alabama ran the ball for nothing on a 2nd and 10 again, and, again, had to punt afterwards. It was shanked for 30 yards.
#NeverPunt, am I right?
Anyway, this time, Georgia didn’t goof around and ran the ball right up the center of an Alabama defense that leaked 300 yards a week ago. One rush in particular was absolutely awful for the Tide defense. Dylan Moses stepped into the hole, and as the running back accelerated into that hole, Moses turned his back and engaged the blocker in the opposite direction, giving him a free running lane. To compound things, Daniel Wright made a flying whiff while coming down to make the tackle, and it went for 24 yards.
Zamir White finished off the drive running right through about 8 tackles up the middle in a flexing display of old-school power.
After a couple of nice first downs we jumped right back into groundhog day.
Incomplete pass, run for no gain on 2nd and long, incomplete pass on 3rd. Punt. 33 yards instead of 30 this time, so, that was an improvement, I guess?
That was when Georgia went for the dagger. Running back James Cook lined up on the far side as a wide receiver, and linebacker Christian Harris followed him. Bennett lobbed a pass to Cook sprinting down the sideline, and it was a bit underthrown. Now, Harris was a defensive back in high school before becoming a linebacker, so him being out on the sidelines with a running back shouldn’t be a mismatch. Somehow, though, he misjudged the height of the ball or something, and missed what could have been an interception by about 8 feet, and it turned into an 82 yard walk-in touchdown.
Finally, the offense changed things up a bit and drove down the field. It was a scratching and clawing effort, going only 60 yards on 13 plays. Mac Jones got called for an intentional grounding penalty when the officiating crew thought that TE Cam Latu was an offensive lineman, but got bailed out a play later when a Georgia defensive back held Devonta Smith for an automatic first down. The drive ended on a sack when Mac Jones took off running instead of checking down to a wide open Najee Harris, and Alabama settled for a chip shot field goal.
The Tide defense gave up a couple of third down conversions, but eventually held with a nice pass breakup down the sideline from Josh Jobe and another tip at the line of scrimmage from Christian Barmore, and Georgia nailed a 50-yard field goal.
This time around, Alabama wasted no time with paltry incomplete passes and the sort, as Jones launched a 40 yard bomb to Jaylen Waddle, who, using all 5’10” of his child-sized frame, leapt up and over the Bulldog defender to come down with the catch (I’ve said all week I expected this game to remind us of the 2012 game.... and this one felt like Amari Cooper going over Rambo on the underthrown ball). A few plays later and Devonta Smith walked in for a 17 yard TD on a nifty little wheel route to tie the game up with 3:00 left.
Unfortunately, the Tide defense couldn’t do their part to get to halftime and gave up an excruciating 12-play drive of runs and passes. They managed to get the Bulldogs into a 4th and 1 down near the goal line, and Kirby Smart went to the old “try to get the defense to jump offsides before calling a timeout and kicking the field goal” schtick that NEVER works. Except on the first fake snap, Will Anderson jumped. He held himself enough that he didn’t cross the line of scrimmage though, so no harm no foul. Except then Barmore jumped offsides on the next hard count a few seconds later, giving them the first down.
It took a couple of attempts, but Georgia scored to take the lead.
After last season’s fiasco against LSU, I though for sure Saban was going to wave the white flag and kneel the ball to go to halftime. He didn’t, though, and Mac came out guns firing with only 23 seconds to go. A 14-yard completion to Waddle moved the chains with three seconds left, and Alabama spiked the ball. The refs initially tried to say the half was over, but ultimately decided there was plenty of time left on the clock. If they had forced Alabama to halftime after giving Auburn time to take a snap with only 1 second left last season, there would have been riots.
In any case, Alabama lined up to kick a 52 yard field goal for the last play of the half. And if any one of you tell me you had any faith whatsoever that ball was going in, you’re a liar.
Will Reichard trotted out there for the first real test of his career. Sure, he had lofty recruiting rankings, but we’ve seen how that’s played out many times over in Tuscaloosa. The kick looked like a solid hit, but started drifting left. I tried to close my eyes to spare myself the pain, but I just couldn’t do it... And the ball squeaked in about an inch inside the uprights, and Alabama made it to halftime only down 4 points.
Aside from a few big plays, most of the first half felt pretty bad for Alabama fans, and the 1-score deficit felt like a bit of a farce with how well Georgia’s offense and defense were playing on a snap-by-snap basis.
Alabama’s defense had been repeatedly gashed every drive since the first one of the game, and Georgia was getting the ball to open the half. Not good.
A huge 35-yard return on the kickoff followed by back to back run plays to get a first down didn’t do anything to quell that discomfort, but then Jobe forced a 3rd down incompletion across the middle to force a punt. Defense!
Mac Jones took a weird fall on the second play of the next drive and got up limping (and every Georgia fan in the world had a heart attack as they realized they might see a backup Alabama QB in the second half). He shook it off though, and drove down the field a little ways before a 3rd down sack ended that, and Alabama kicked another 32 yard punt. At least this one was intentionally short to pin them on the 9 yard line. I still hate all these short field punts.
Then Josh Jobe made what I consider to be the unsung play of the game. Georgia ran a well-excecuted wide receiver reverse, and the ENTIRE Alabama defense bit, following the running back to the right. Except Jobe. Jobe saw it, chased the receiver down, and with about 20 yards of open space, broke down and contained the dude like he was running side-shuffling drills in practice. He turned what could have been a 30-yard gain into a 2-yard gain, and the drive stalled into another Georgia punt.
Backed up on their own goal line Mac and Sarkisian decided they’d had enough with short drives not turning into TDs. Mac dropped back, faked a swing pass to the right flats, and then threw the ball as hard as he could down the left sideline. As the camera caught up to the ball, we saw some poor sap eating the dust coming off of Waddle’s cleats as he faceplanted, and the diminutive speedster shot away for the fastest 90-yard TD you’ll ever see.
Georgia didn’t immediately fold after that dagger, though. Bennett throw a wheel route on Hellams for 36 yards after he bit on the double move. The Alabama defense wasn’t done though, as Chris Allen got pressure to force a throw away and Pat Surtain shut down a sideline fade to get to third down. Bennett dropped back and fired his favorite throw: the 15-yard square in route. This time, though none other than Josh Jobe was there to hit the receiver just as he went to catch it, and the ball careened backwards toward the endzone, where Malachi Moore deftly snagged it on the move and returned almost to midfield.
Another deep ball to Smith off of a nearly-disastrousl flea-flicker got Alabama down to the goalline, and a pass interference on Smith in the endzone set Alabama up for four tries to get two yards. Of course, who needs four tries when you have Najee Harris? 34-24 Bama.
Seriously though, check out the block from Najee Harris WHILE he was making the pitch:
Can we take a second to talk about the fact that Najee managed to make turnover-saving block AS he pitched the ball accurately to a moving target? https://t.co/M5kuEljpBo— Brent Taylor (@btbama22) October 18, 2020
With the Tide up 10 and a quarter left in the game, it was time to either end things or else make it a really long 4th quarter. Alabama’s defense had been better so far in the second half, but it had been far from perfect. Well, when it came time to put away a game, they did just that. Christian Harris and freshman Will Anderson crossed up on a stunt blitz, and Harris wound up free while Anderson took a double team. Harris flushed Bennett out to the right, and Anderson broke free of his blocks to make a diving attempt for the sack. Bennett threw the ball just as Anderson swiped at his feet, and the ball hit Daniel Wright square in the chest. For all the grief we’ve given Wright, he made absolutely certain he didn’t drop that.
To the happy cries from old-school fans everywhere, Alabama gave Najee Harris 8 carries on the ensuing drive, chewing up over 5 minutes of clock before Devonta Smith grabbed a toe-tapping ballerina catch in the back of the endzone. The dude is making his case for being the first receiver drafted in the NFL draft next year.
The Alabama defense held tight again, though Jobe did give up a penalty off the ball as he manhandled the hulking George Pickens with press coverage that was more like wrestling. Had it been an important moment, I might have been mad, but with Alabama already dominating, I kind of liked the alpha attitude Jobe showed there. Anyway, the Tide defense held, Georgia missed a field goal, and 8 straight rushing plays bled out the last 6 minutes of the half as the Bulldog defense lost their will to fight.
- If you couldn’t tell, I can’t say enough about Josh Jobe today. He was absolutely amazing. He gave up a couple of short catches, but made the tackle each time. He broke up two third down balls across the middle, one of which turned into an interception. He blew up a couple of screen plays. And, of course, stuffed that wide receiver reverse.
Along with Pat Surtain being 100% perfect in coverage again (and pressing George Pickens into oblivion on a couple of attempted fades), the two outside corners have been by far and away the best players on Alabama’s defense.
- Alabama’s second half defense was an entirely different beast than the first half. Was it really just the difference of getting Jordan Battle back at safety? Or did Pete Golding inexplicably make halftime adjustments to stymie the Bulldog scheme? Or was it as simple as players just started executing everything correctly?
Personally, I think the biggest difference was that Will Anderson and Chris Allen started beating the tackles on the outside with more frequency, and just that little bit of extra pressure on the QB wrecked the Bulldog offense.
- The biggest knock on Golding, though, was that not once, but twice, we saw a linebacker trying to cover Pickens on a deep corner route. If whatever your pattern match is leaves a chance of a linebacker trying to cover a receiver deep down the field, then it doesn’t need to be in the play book.
- Dylan Moses still looks really hesitant out there. He visibly shied away from diving into the chaos of the line of scrimmage a couple of times, and it messed up his gap integrity. The mental side of recovering from such a rough injury is always tough, but it’s currently a major issue for the Alabama defense.
- How about Sarkisian today? Sure, he had the three drives in a row of running on 2nd and long and then punting, but he put up 41 points and nearly 600 yards on the best defense in college football. He had Mac Jones unleashing deep bombs, built play fakes off of early game swing passes, mixed in Najee Harris when they needed yards, and when they needed to ice the game, they sat on the ball for almost the entire 4th quarter in an old-school boa constrictor effort that took all of the will out of the opponent.
- The offensive line was phenomenal yet again. They gave up a little more pressure on Jones, but, again, this was the best front-7 in college football by pretty much every metric, and they made them look mediocre. And when it came time to run the ball, they shoved it down their throats.
I particularly enjoyed watching Alex Leatherwood sprinting to the left sideline on a 3rd down toss play. He absolutely ate a defender to give Najee room to convert.
- Can you imagine how much Georgia fans must hate Devonta Smith? He’s been terrorizing them since 2nd and 26 in 2017, and put up 167 yards on 11 catches and 2 touchdowns today. After his first TD, he turned around and trash talked the poor sap tasked with covering him. Can you imagine being a muscled up college defender and having a skinny bean pole absolutely toast you and then smack talk at you and you can’t do a thing about it?
- Similarly, Waddle had 161 yards of his own, on only 6 catches. He did have one bad drop in the first half, but he more than made up for it. Georgia was especially keyed in on not letting him get any yards on screen plays, so he made them pay over the top a couple of times.
- Mac Jones gave me a few heart palpitations tonight. He looked a bit nervous and threw some balls off his back foot or while slipping in the pocket. He also threw a couple into double coverage, including one where Smith made an amazing effort to cut off the defender on a comeback route and steal what should have been an interception into a first down catch.
He settled down after hitting Waddle on the 90 yard bomb, though, and ended up hitting 75% of his passes for 417 yards and 4 touchdowns, with only that initial interception. Again, against what was considered by far the best defense in the nation.
This offense might be even better than what we saw in 2018 and 2019. The OL is downright dominant, and the veteran wiles of all the skill players is just proving to be too much for other college football teams.
While the defense has been generally not great, they really stepped up in the second half tonight. No defense is going to be perfect in modern football, but they made enough stops and got a couple of turnovers to give the Tide offense room to race out to a lead. With two lockdown corners on the outside Alabama is built to at least keep the deep passes contained and force offenses to drive the ball the long way.
If they can keep getting pressure from Anderson, Allen, and Barmore and forcing the occasional mistake, that will put this team over the top.