Alabama’s offense makes Crimson Tide the team to beat in the SEC again

In beating Georgia 41-24, Alabama proved that not even the nation’s best defense can slow down the most potent example of the SEC’s offensive revolution.

While Georgia continued to reveal flaws in Alabama’s defense, the Crimson Tide gained 564 yards, had nine plays of 15 or more yards and had two scoring plays of 40 or more yards against a defense that entered the weekend leading the Bowl Subdivision in yards allowed per carry, per play and per game.

After initially pushing back against these offensive concepts, Nick Saban’s full-on embrace of an up-tempo and fast-paced style, combined with an unstoppable collection of talent at the skill positions, has allowed Alabama to paper over any defensive deficiencies and remain the team to beat in the SEC.

Saban’s first championship team, which went unbeaten in 2009, ran the ball 63% of the time. The 2011 and 2012 teams ran 59% and 63%, respectively. The totals have dropped across the past three years: to 56% in 2018, 52% in 2019 and 53% through the first three games of this season.

Against Georgia, Alabama threw the ball 33 times for 417 yards and had 147 rushing yards on 43 carries, with 18 carries and just two pass attempts in the fourth quarter. The game’s biggest plays came via the passing game, including the 90-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter from Mac Jones to receiver Jaylen Waddle, which allowed Alabama to reclaim a 27-24 lead.

Once the other quarterback in Alabama’s 2017 recruiting class behind former starter Tua Tagovailoa, Jones has developed into the nation’s most efficient passer and one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy.

His counterpart, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, struggled after a hot start. Bennett led the Bulldogs on four consecutive scoring drives in the first and second quarter, one featuring an 82-yard touchdown pass, to put Georgia ahead 24-20 at halftime. But he threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the third quarter, and Alabama capitalized.

Alabama wide receivers John Metchie III and DeVonta Smith celebrate Metchie's touchdown during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

If not close to the traditional standard of defensive excellence set by the early teams of this dynasty, Alabama’s defense is opportunistic. And in a setting where the opposing offense has to become one-dimensional to keep pace, this defense has the athletes on the edge and in the secondary to quickly turn field position and the complexion of a close game. 

Saturday night showed two national powers in contrast: Alabama with the unstoppable offense and the good-enough defense, and Georgia with the defense that set the tone for the offense.

The win showed that Alabama’s offense is simply better than Georgia’s defense — and likely too good for any team in the SEC to handle. 

Georgia will very likely get another shot. Given how other preseason contenders in the SEC have either flopped (LSU), shown a potentially fatal flaw (Florida) or already been eliminated from the College Football Playoff picture (Auburn and Tennessee), the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are the heavy favorites to meet again in December in the SEC championship game.

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And given the implosion in the Big 12, where Oklahoma already has two losses, and with the Big Ten and Pac-12 playing even more abbreviated schedules with no added weeks as buffers against cancellations, the SEC can again imagine a scenario where two teams — the champion and the runner-up — reach the national semifinals.

If so, Saturday might only be the first of multiple matchups this season. Saturday might also tell us what’s coming: Unless Georgia can find an answer for the Alabama offense, the next meeting should resemble the first.

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