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HomeFootball2023 FootballSECCG wrap-up: Bama caps improbable SEC run with its 30th championship

SECCG wrap-up: Bama caps improbable SEC run with its 30th championship

Since the media has been having its fun with Isaiah Bond’s last name, recalling the iconic spy of novels and movies, James Bond, here are a few Bond references to describe what Alabama did to Georgia, and what Alabama’s season has been like:

You Only Live Twice.

The Man (Milroe) With the Golden Gun.

Die Another Day.

License to Kill.

And as far as Kirby Smart is concerned, chasing an unprecedented third straight national championship, Nick Saban might as well be playing the role of Dr. No.

But the most descriptive title for this game doesn’t come from a James Bond movie, but rather something from the Star Wars franchise …

Today, the Empire struck back.

It’s possible, as of this writing, that the College Football Playoff committee decides to still include Georgia in its final four, exclude Alabama, include both, or send both home. The smart money is that Georgia was eliminated by the result of this game, whether Alabama goes forward or not. And if that’s the case, Alabama can at least know that it thwarted Georgia’s quest for three straight titles, and probably put the brakes on all the needle-moving that some observers kept using to push the narrative that Georgia, and not Alabama, was and is the SEC’s alpha program.

That narrative will have to wait for another day and another year. The narrative that Alabama is concerned with now is the creeping narrative from some members of the conference committee that the SEC champion might not get placed into the College Football Playoff, which should be virtually automatic.

As for this game, with Georgia’s youth in the defensive front seven and Alabama’s still-erratic offensive production at times, it was never going to be more than a score in either direction. One of Gene Stallings’ best quotes ever was that teams play 60 minutes for the opportunity to make four or five plays that decide the game. Alabama simply made more of those plays when it counted.

It also didn’t hurt that Kirby Smart got to see how the other half lived – meaning, the loss, or near-loss of his top two receivers. When Georgia defeated Alabama for the national championship two years ago, it was Alabama missing John Metchie III and Jameson Williams. Tonight, Georgia basically had to do without Ladd McConkey for two-thirds of the game, and TE Brock Bowers was clearly not his usual self. But Smart, who has stuck religiously to the “next man up” theory of roster management, didn’t have an answer for replacing a pair of key playmakers. He can at least take solace in the fact that few coaches can, not even Nick Saban at times.

To understand just how special this win was for Alabama, and just how crazy it was to have happened, no one needs to do anything but look back to the Texas loss and the South Florida win that followed, and evaluate what was going on at the quarterback position in those games and how Alabama managed to bounce back, starting with a win in Week 4 over Ole Miss that in retrospect looks huge from multiple angles.

Alabama at the time was a team under fire from all sides. The media sensed that Nick Saban might be losing his touch. Fans were upset about not having another Mac Jones or Bryce Young ready at the quarterback position. New offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was derided as “Fourth-choice OC Tommy Rees” in some circles. The defense, especially the defensive line, was still a work in progress.

For this team to put together 10 straight wins after the Texas loss, fix the quarterback position, develop a competent defensive line in-season, and win a conference championship, if sportswriters elect anyone other than Nick Saban as SEC coach of the year, it would be evidence of malpractice. It’s probably not a surprise, then, that Saban sounded as emotional as he ever has on the podium when asked to describe his feelings for the team and its accomplishments.

The next phase for Alabama depends on a series of votes. But nothing will change what was accomplished in Atlanta on Dec. 1, 2023, and in the three months before. Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Georgia:

1. Alabama won by reversing Georgia’s OL-DL advantages and winning both line battles. Games like this are usually decided in the trenches, which was the primary reason we cited in picking Georgia in our game preview. Alabama reversed both of those advantages Saturday afternoon. While Alabama’s rushing stats were not dominant, Roydell Williams was the only player on either team to average 4 or more yards per carry. The OL kept Jalen Milroe’s jersey clean for most of the game, and even though Georgia did manage to apply some pressure in the second half, Alabama adjusted its playcalling to take advantage of it (see point No. 5 later in this article). On the flip side, Georgia never could get anything going after its initial drive. Daijun Edwards had virtually no impact, running 10 times for 38 yards. Kendall Milton scored twice, but averaged just 3.2 yards per carry overall. Georgia’s inability to convert a late touchdown from inside Bama’s 1-yard line on the first attempt, which ran off a bunch of extra clock and forced Georgia to take a timeout, was a microcosm of the frustrations Georgia had running the ball. Neither unit played a perfect game for Alabama but it was good enough to get the result the Crimson Tide was looking for.

2. Milroe put just enough flash in the pan to go with a measured approach, and limited mistakes. Milroe’s stat line for the game isn’t going to draw a lot of late Heisman Trophy attention (13-for-23, 56.6%, 192 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT; 14 carries for 29 yards, 2.1 avg., 0 TD), but the touchdown pass to Jermaine Burton was perfect and the fourth-quarter hookups with Isaiah Bond sealed the game. CBS focused on a fourth-down pass to Bond at the end of the half as its play of the game, but the real play of the game might have been a third-down shot-put pass to Bond that netted the Tide a first down and eventually ended with a short Roydell Williams touchdown run. At least two of the sacks Milroe suffered were on him for holding the ball too long, but the zero interceptions was something Alabama had to have from him and he delivered. Milroe’s story has been a bit lost in the larger story of Alabama climbing back into playoff contention, so here’s hoping someone does it justice in the end with a larger expose. A season worth of hard work and developing confidence in himself came to a zenith against Georgia on Saturday.

3. CB Trey Amos saved the day after McKinstry’s concussion, and Terrion Arnold went on lockdown. This may be the best three-cornerback committee Alabama’s ever had, and that is really saying something given how Saban has developed corners over his career here. Ga’Quincy McKinstry, who had played a solid first half – especially against the run, which is not his forte – was lost with a likely concussion around the game’s midpoint. Enter Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Trey Amos, who has quietly been just as effective as McKinstry and Terrion Arnold throughout the course of the season. Georgia immediately picked on him and wished it hadn’t. Amos nearly came up with a key interception, he broke up a pair of passes and basically forced Georgia to look elsewhere. Arnold, meanwhile, just kept on making the kind of plays he’s become known for in the second half of the 2023 season. Of Georgia’s 243 yards of passing production, its one big play, a 51-yard pass to Arian Smith, came when Georgia isolated Smith against safety Jaylen Key. Take out Bowers’ 53 yards, which mostly came against Bama’s safety group as well, and the production of Georgia’s outside receivers was incredibly bland. It should be noted that Amos chose not to go through Senior Day two weeks ago, pointing possibly to him coming back as an almost certain starter for 2023 with McKinstry and maybe Arnold as well moving on to the NFL. Also, a shout-out needs to be given to ILB Deontae Lawson, who showed no sign of the ankle injury that has slowed him recently.

4. Bama (mostly) won the special teams battle, and a missed FG proved to be the scoring difference. In our preview, we went back and forth on which team we felt deserved the nod in the Special Teams category, noting that Georgia had the edge in the return games but Alabama had the better field goal kicker. It’s always a struggle in that category picking between kickers and non-kickers, because kickers have a direct effect on the scoreboard. We should have listened to ourselves there. Georgia’s Peyton Woodring doinked a 50-yard field goal attempt, which would have been the longest of his young career, and those three points were the eventual margin of Alabama victory. Alabama also held serve in the return game as well until a late punt, where Georgia was able to aggressively field the ball on the run and bring it back into Bama territory. Also, Will Reichard now holds the NCAA career scoring title, and while records are made to be broken, modern clock rules make it less likely going forward.

5. OC Tommy Rees absolutely defined the concept of taking what the defense gave. There was no way Alabama was going to run up a big number on Georgia, so anyone looking at Bama’s offensive output from a numerical standpoint is off-base. Alabama needed to pick and choose its spots, and put Georgia’s defense in uncomfortable situations, and that’s just what Alabama did. Bama used more pre-snap motion than usual, flipped the formation on several calls, and used three tight ends to create bunch formations that confounded Georgia’s run defense at times. The fourth quarter drive to go up 27-17 was a case of saving the best for last. Alabama just barely got over the 300-yard mark in total offense, but it was incredibly efficient given the amount of production. Only 3 points came from a Georgia turnover, meaning Alabama was able to put up 24 other points on drives of its own making, with total production limited by a strong Bulldog defense. A fantastic job all around.

Follow Jess Nicholas on X at @TideFansJessN

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