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.
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 by then.
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.
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.
He averaged 16.8 yards per completion and 10.6 yards per attempt in the first half.
He set an SEC championship record 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 on a corner route.
Coach Kirby 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.
Georgia’s vaunted pass rush didn’t have a single sack of Young by the time he had more than 40 passes.
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.
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 Nick Saban, who he worked under at three stops including including from 2007-15 at Alabama, will continue perhaps in a playoff matchup.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Georgia still hasn’t beat Alabama since 2007.
“We feel like we have something to prove, we have a chip on our shoulder,” Smart on Georgia’s radio pregame show
Alabama has been the gold standard in college football, winning six national championships since 2009 under Nick Saban and it showed it isn’t ready to be counted out this year,
Stetson Bennett’s second half implodes
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 years with two interceptions this time.
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.
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.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Takeaways from Georgia football’s SEC Championship loss vs. Alabama