ATHENS, Ga. — Apparently there’s nothing like a trip to Sanford Stadium to fix whatever ails the University of Alabama football team.
Similar to the "blackout game" of 2008, when it first served noticed what college football could expect with Nick Saban heading the Crimson Tide, Alabama again dominated the 2015 preseason favorite in the SEC East on its home field, this time with a 38-10 result.
Like that previous meeting, which ended up with a 41-30 final after Alabama led 31-0 at halftime, the score and statistics weren’t indicative of how lopsided the game truly was. Alabama simply manhandled No. 8 Georgia in the rain, which bodes well for the Crimson Tide's immediate future.
No. 13 Alabama (4-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) shook off the growing pains of the season’s first month and played with poise, dominated both lines of scrimmage and again played relentless defense. With some of its younger players beginning to come into their own, Alabama again looks like a strong contender for both the SEC championship and playoff.
“I was really proud of our players today, our team today,” Saban said. “I thought this was a difficult challenge for them. I told them before the game that the plan that we had for them, ordinary men couldn’t go out there and get it done. We needed them to be extraordinary, and that they were, and they were special.”
Although the hyped Derrick Henry vs. Nick Chubb showdown essentially ended up being a statistical draw, 148 yards to 146, respectively, Chubb turned out to be the only bright spot for the Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 SEC). After being shut down until there were 19 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Chubb took advantage of a botched formation that left a key open gap for his 83-yard touchdown run.
With it, Chubb notched his 13th straight 100-yard rushing game to tie Herschel Walker’s team record. Of course, Alabama was up by five touchdowns beforehand, but it still bothered Saban afterward.
“I thought we played great defensively minus the one play,” Saban said.
“We can’t let anybody get anything,” senior defensive lineman Jarran Reed said.
Seven of Georgia’s nine possessions during the first half were three-and-out, and it couldn’t even take advantage of a Henry fumble in Alabama territory. With Chubb having 10 carries for 39 yards and quarterback Greyson Lambert on the bench after completing just 7 of 17 passes for 70 yards, the average gain per snap was 9.1 for the Crimson Tide and 3.64 for the Bulldogs during the first half.
Meanwhile, Alabama had already found the end zone three times in three very different ways.
The first was Henry’s 30-yard touchdown run that was reminiscent of the season opener against Wisconsin when he turned a hole on the left side into six points.
The second was a blocked punt on which freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick completely smothered the ball coming off Collin Barber’s foot and made it look easy.
Finally, senior quarterback Jacob Coker got into the mix by connecting on a deep ball, with a 45-yard strike to Calvin Ridley that had offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin doing a celebratory arm-pump on the sideline. The two also had a 50-yard pass play as the freshman wide receiver finished with five catches for 120 yards.
“We had a lot of fun out there,” said Coker, who completed 11 of 16 passes for 190 yards and wasn’t sacked.
Any lingering hope that Georgia still had at halftime quickly vanished on the Bulldogs’ first subsequent play when safety Eddie Jackson picked off replacement Brice Ramsey at midfield and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
“We did a pretty good of disguising in the secondary,” the converted cornerback said, as Alabama had three interceptions and broke up seven more attempts. “We put good pressure on them and tried to make them make mistakes.”
Not only did the return touchdown make the score 31-3, but combined with the downpour from Hurricane Joaquin, it sparked a fan exodus. Unlike the 2008 game, when Georgia tried to fight back in the second half, this time the Bulldogs just had the one play.
The loss also came after the Georgia players got in the faces of their Alabama counterparts when they were jumping around after coming out of their tunnel and later taunted the Crimson Tide from midfield. Saban later said he was “really pissed” about his team’s initial focus, but it then simply went about its business and saved everything else for the game.
“Everyone calmed down, and we played really good ball,” senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “You don’t want to get too hyped up in warm-ups; you want to be able to play hard to the end. You have to stay calm and be cool.”
Alabama also didn’t like being called an underdog for the first time since the 2009 SEC Championship Game against Florida (it won), or critics claiming the Crimson Tide wouldn’t be a factor after the loss two weeks ago to Ole Miss.
“We didn’t really like it,” Coker said. “It’s not something we’re comfortable with.”
This was the Crimson Tide's answer, and coupled with Ole Miss losing at Florida convincingly, Alabama may not be back in the driver's seat in the SEC West, but it's close. Alabama still has games remaining with two teams ahead of it in the standings, including the trip to Texas A&M in two weeks that now looks like a huge game (and the Aggies have a bye next week), and appears to be getting better with each week.
Overlook Alabama? Forget it. Georgia didn't, and look what happened to the Bulldogs.
“I know they’ve been criticized a lot, but I thought we played an outstanding game today,” Saban said about his players.
“They believe in this team, and I believe in this team.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.