Can anyone in the SEC catch high-flying Alabama?
Former Alabama recipient Jerry Jeudy tweeted the most fitting round-up of Alabama's continued identity overhaul - "Bama WRU" on Saturday night. This notion would of course have been ridiculous 10 years ago when Saban's shattered soul resonated as the SEC's identity.
But on Saturday night when Jaylen Waddle passed the vaunted Georgia Defense, DeVonta Smith slipped through it and Mac Jones kept delivering lasers to them. Jeudy's explanation seemed prescient. Alabama again has the best broad audience in America, and the most convenient way to win games is to just run past you and toss at you.
That means that getting the SEC title is about finding a way to make sure you don't choke on the exhausts of Alabama's elite recipients. Since Alabama is in the driver's seat to win the league, it has positioned itself there thanks to ongoing advancement towards the acceptance of air dynamics.
Take a look at the frozen moment that summed up Alabama's 41:24 win over Georgia in 2nd place. The Tide finally took the lead in the third quarter when Jaylen Waddle sprinted past Georgia defender Tyson Campbell and scored a 90-yard touchdown.
No. 3 Georgia entered the matchup with No. 2 Alabama as the final elite defense tasked with slowing down the Crimson Tide fireworks. Modern football has tossed aside all these stereotypes about great defenses that are always a great insult. And this cliché should stay in the gutter.
Alabama recipient Jaylen Waddle (17) catches a pass after Georgian defender Tyson Campbell (3) fell in Alabama's 41:24 win over Georgia on Saturday. (Gary Cosby Jr. / The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports)
There was Campbell, a six-foot-two corner that fell helplessly to the ground when Waddle ran under the ball. That saved Campbell from a 50-yard sprint of shame, since there was no way he would have caught Waddle, the most electrifying player in college football who ended the night at 161 yards. Campbell is an NFL prospect and is considered a high-end SEC corner. It was too slow to even cause an over speeding for Alabama's airstrike on Saturday night.
With three back-to-back possessions in the second half, Alabama wrestled Georgia game and revealed how this edition will beat the Crimson Tide elite opponents. They scored the 21 unanswered points on waddle touchdown, a Najee Harris fall, and a 13-yard Smith noose in the back of the end zone.
Mac Jones ended up passing 417 yards, the first quarterback in school history to throw 400 yards in three consecutive games. (Tua Tagovailoa's career included only three 400-yard games.) Jones aimed at Smith 13 times and hit him 11 for 167 yards. The third receiver, John Metchie, made three catches for 50 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown.
"It's probably our team's strength," Saban said of the explosiveness of the recipients in Alabama. He added, "I think it's really difficult to cover outstanding recipients."
Alabama's misdemeanor has evolved under Saban since Lane Kiffin endured numerous verbal abuse for refusing to run the ball as far as Saban liked, starting with the season that saw Blake Sims emerge as the record-breaking quarterback in 2014.
This latest development in Alabama has gotten a little necessary. Alabama's defense is one of the least talented groups Saban has had in the past decade. Georgia's failure to take advantage of it showed why the Bulldogs will have a cap with Stetson Bennett as quarterback as he threw three interceptions and gave Georgia no chance to win after throwing a pair in the second half. Both of these resulted in touchdown drives. (Kirby Smart pushed aside the idea that Bennett would lose his starting job after the game.)
Last season, Alabama averaged 47.2 points per game, but continued to rely on a defense that ranked 3rd on the SEC and 13th nationwide at 18.6 points per game. This year, Alabama needs to keep its focus on winning shootouts as its defense is 10 points worse per game.
For Saban, a discerning defensive coach, becoming an offensive program was a reluctant development. But the pairing of Waddle and Smith - the dynamic duo of college football - has to make this a little easier. Alabama also has an elite offensive line that Smart raved about after the game, and Harris is one of the top three traffic jams in the sport. The amazing thing, of course, is that last year Alabama lost two first-round picks at the recipient - Jeudy and Henry Ruggs.
Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith receives a touchdown pass in the first half against the Georgia Bulldogs on October 17th. (UA Athletics / Collegiate Images / Getty Images)
This year's Georgia team felt like one last stand-in for the S-E-C's old identity as those letters brought with them suspicions of slugfest, duel, and established football.
But Georgia's best chance of keeping up with this edition of Alabama remained as the Bulldogs relied on a former walk-on following Jamie Newman's opt-out and Justin Fields transfer. Bennett was a lovely story and is a good player, but there's a reason former walk-ons tend not to win SEC titles and lead teams to college football playoffs. There are restrictions, and those kept popping up when balls were hit at the border and Alabama ended up with a total of 10 pass breakups. (Georgia had three.) Expect USC transfer to play JT Daniels to go deafening.
Georgia led at halftime, 24-20, and seemed comfortable exchanging blows in what Saban called a "15-round bout". But in the end, it was Saban who got emotional about his return to the sidelines after a false positive COVID-19 test knocked him out for three days.
Saban passed three consecutive tests to be able to return to the sidelines on Saturday. While rarely a source of emotion, Saban said that coming back "was very emotional for me".
He added: "I am very grateful to the way you dealt with all of the disruptions of the week."
When Saban came back, so did part of the world football order. Alabama re-established itself as a resounding SEC favorite. Saban improved against former assistants to 22-0 and against Smart to 3-0.
And Alabama continues to strive for an identity that includes a familiar one - relentless winning.
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