5 takeaways from Georgia football's loss against Alabama in the SEC Championship game

Marc Weiszer
Athens Banner-Herald
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Dec 4, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) drops back to pass against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first quarter of the SEC championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Georgia’s season was chugging along heading into Saturday’s SEC championship game before the No. 1 Bulldogs ran up against the team that seems to have some kind of voodoo spell on them.

Alabama made play after play in Mercedes-Benz Stadiun on a Georgia defense that had looked generationally good and Stetson Bennett threw two second-half interceptions as the Crimson Tide dumped the Bulldogs 41-24 to deny the Bulldogs their first SEC title since 2017.

The Crimson Tide — No. 3 in the CFP standings — nailed down a spot in the College Football Playoff and sent the Bulldogs into the postseason looking less like a frontrunner for the national title.

Twitter reacts to Georgia football coach Kirby Smart's performance against Alabama

The biggest prize that Georgia wants—its first national title since 1980—is still out there and the Bulldogs are expected to still make the four-team playoff field.

Alabama rolled up 365 passing yards in the first half—more than 11 of 12 opponents had managed all season in entire games against the Bulldogs—and scored more than any team had in any game against them by then.

"We can't turn the ball over and give up 60 and 70-yard passes and expect to be successful," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "For the most part this year, we've executed well. We didn't execute well tonight, and that had a lot to do with them."

Georgia (12-1) lost its seventh straight game against Alabama (12-1), college football’s marquee program under Nick Saban but one that had pulled out several close wins in SEC play this year and lost to Texas A&M.

More:With top prize still in play, how will Georgia football respond to another Alabama loss?

Here are five takeaways from a game that snapped a 16-game winning streak for Georgia:

Georgia’s defense gets gashed

For all the accolades that came Georgia’s way this season, the secondary was viewed as still an area that may not have been all it seemed by the numbers.

The Bulldogs led the nation entering in pass efficiency defense and were No. 2 in passing yards allowed at 152 per game.

Bryce Young and an Alabama offense that ranked seventh in the nation in passing offense picked it apart, especially in the first half.

Young completed 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards and 3 touchdowns, raising his profile as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Young averaged 16.2 yards per completion and 9.6 yards per attempt.

He set an SEC championship record for most passing yards in a half with 286 in the first.

The sophomore connected with Jameson Williams on a 67-yard touchdown pass over the middle.

"We changed the coverage up," Smart said. "We had a couple busts. We had a bust on that play specifically where we left a guy wide open. It wasn't anything they did different, same route they ran on Auburn, but we played it a different way and didn't play it correctly. Gave a play up there. It was more than that play obviously. They hit us several times man to man. They hit us several times zone."

Smart indicated on a halftime radio interview that nickel back William Poole had a bust on the play.

“We can’t let guys run free,” Smart said.

Alabama went up 14-10 when Young hit John Metchie in the right corner of the end zone, beating safety Christopher Smith and Poole.

After punting on the first two possessions, Alabama scored on its next five, including getting an 11-yard touchdown run from Young with 26 seconds left in the half.

Even after Metchie was lost in the second quarter with a leg injury, the Crimson Tide kept shredding Georgia.

Young threw a deep ball for Williams for a 55-yard touchdown, beating safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Kelee Ringo.

Smart said Georgia worked mostly on pass defense this week and little on stopping the run because it knew what was coming.

"I really feel good about the things we worked on, but our ability to execute them -- we had two or three third downs where we have a bust and cut a guy loose, and we haven't done that all year," he said. "When you're in man coverage and you cut a guy loose, that's not typical of us."

Georgia’s vaunted pass rush didn’t have a single sack of Young.

"He did a good job keeping his eyes downfield and avoiding our pass rush," Dean said. "I feel like the pass rush and the recovery's got to work hand in hand." 

Young rushed for 40 yards on 3 carries. Georgia defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt was gasping for air trying to chase him down in the first half.

"You've got to get to him and finish, and he's so good at avoiding rush that he buys time with his mobility to make plays downfield," Smart said. "Give him a lot of credit. He did a tremendous job." 

Saban still unbeaten vs. Smart

The pupil still hasn’t been able to bring down the mentor.

Nick Saban improved to 4-0 against Kirby Smart.

The storyline of not beating Saban, who Smart worked under at three stops including including from 2007-15 at Alabama, will continue perhaps in a playoff matchup.

Smart was asked what adjustments he would make if there was a rematch this season.

"I don't know that I could answer that right now. I'd like to review the tape and see it," he said. "The first answer would be don't leave people uncovered, you know what I mean? Like that's the first objective. Let's cover them, and then try to win some one-on-ones and get balls down. Because look now, they're going to throw and complete balls. They're really good at doing that. At the end of the day, you have to put a body on a body and cover them. Some of the plays we gave were gifts."

Smart couldn’t join Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher in becoming the second former Saban assistant to beat him. Saban is now 25-1 against his former assistants.

Saban is now 8-1 at Alabama in SEC championship games and hasn’t lost since 31-20 to Florida in 2008.

Alabama has won 34 straight against East opponents. The last team from that division to beat the Crimson Tide was South Carolina on Oct. 9, 2010.

Alabama will make the playoff for the seventh time in its eight years.

Smart was a part of four Alabama national titles before leaving to run a program of his own at his alma mater after the 2015 season.

Georgia has edged ahead of Alabama in the recruiting rankings in recent years, but on the field it still hasn’t.

What comes next?

A 12-1 Georgia team whose only loss is to No. 3 Alabama still is expected to make the playoff.

The Bulldogs will wait now to see if it’s playing in the Cotton or Orange Bowl, the sites for the national semifinals.

"I'm sure Georgia will get in the playoffs again still, and they deserve it," Saban said. "They're a very good team."

The No. 1 seed has a say if it wants to go to Texas or Florida, but the Bulldogs almost certainly lost that perk.

It will now go to Alabama or Michigan, which was No. 2 in the CFP rankings before a Saturday night Big Ten title game against Iowa.

Those games will kick off at either 3:30 or 7 p.m. on Dec. 31.

The CFP selection committee’s playoff pairings will be announced at 12:15 p.m. Sunday on ESPN.

"That's not for us to determine that, you know what I mean?" Smart said when asked about Georgia's chances to get in. "Certainly I feel like we are, but it's not our job to determine that. It's the committee's." 

Alabama stays alive for a chance to repeat as national champion. No two-loss team has ever made the playoff and the Crimson Tide looked vulnerable to make the playoff won that looked vulnerable during an 11-1 regular season and didn’t win its conference.

"It gave us an opportunity to have a two-game season," Saban said. "We have a two-game season now, I hope. That's what we're going to work for. That's what we want to do."

More:Darnell Washington scores first career touchdown in first half of SEC Championship

Bulldogs slide to Tide grows to seven

If ever there was a year where Georgia looked ready to get over the hump against Alabama, this was it.

The Bulldogs were a 6 ½ point favorite, the first time Alabama had been an underdog since a 2015 game in Athens that also pulled the upset, 38-10.

The seven-game losing streak now for Georgia against Alabama includes the heartbreaking and lopsided.

Chris Conley caught that deflected pass in 2012 at the 5-yard line when time ran out at the Georgia Dome in the 32-28 SEC title game loss.

Tua Tagovailoa’s 41-yard touchdown on 2nd-and-26 gave Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory on this same field for the 2017 national championship.

This time the 41-24 score for Alabama's win was the same as last year's game in Tuscaloosa.

"Did I foresee this happening?," Saban said. "Sometimes you do all that, and the other team makes some plays too. But I think we had the right mindset in this game in our preparation for the game.

Georgia still hasn’t beat Alabama since 2007.

“We feel like we have something to prove, we have a chip on our shoulder,” Smart said on Georgia’s radio pregame show.

Alabama has been the gold standard in college football, winning six national championships since 2009 under Saban and it showed it isn’t ready to be counted out this year.

Stetson Bennett’s second half unravels

With his team trailing by two touchdowns, Georgia needed quarterback Stetson Bennett to make winning plays.

Instead he unraveled again in the second half for the second straight year against Alabama with two interceptions this time.

More:Stetson Bennett’s ‘mental lapses’ costly in Georgia’s SEC Championship loss to Alabama

His second was a throw into double coverage intended for Kenny McIntosh that Jordan Battle returned 41 yards for a touchdown with 11:59 to go in the game.

Bennett was 29 of 48 for 340 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

His first interception came in the third quarter on a 2nd-and-9.

Bennett was under pressure and his pass intended to Brock Bowers was off target and picked off by DeMarcco Hellams at the Alabama 9.

That was just Bennett’s second interception since he threw two against Florida on Oct. 30.

"Can't turn the ball over," Bennett said. "Just little mental lapses. That can't happen."

Bennett had scrambled for 14 yards to set up a fourth-and-inches and ran behind the left side of the offensive line to get a first down.

At the Alabama 19, Bennett threw a third down pass to usually sure-handed Brock Bowers in the end zone but he couldn’t bring down a ball that hit off his hands. He threw incomplete on fourth down to James Cook under pressure.

Bennett still threw three touchdowns, the last an 18-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Bowers. The freshman tight end bounced off one Alabama defender and then broke two tackles to tie Georgia’s single-season record for touchdowns with 11, a record held by Terrence Edwards.

Bowers set an SEC championship game record for catches and yards by a tight end with 10 for 139. He was targeted 16 times.

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