So much for that halftime deficit. So much for Georgia finally solving the Alabama puzzle.
Alabama's receivers, quarterback Mac Jones and, yes, even its defense, owned the second half as the No. 2 Crimson Tide pulled away from No. 3 Georgia 41-24 on Saturday night. It's Alabama's six consecutive win against Georgia.
As expected Jones had a huge game, throwing for 417 yards and four touchdowns while receivers Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III each made huge plays. Both Smith and Waddle topped 160 receiving yards. And on the ground, running back Najee Harris powered his way to 150 yards and a score.
DeVonta Smith is really, really good...that's really all you can say. pic.twitter.com/rIYop9K6zMCBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 18, 2020
For a while, Georgia's defense helped Stetson Bennett and the offense take a 24-20 lead at the half. But the Bulldogs slumped in the second half by going punt-punt-interception-interception-missed field goal. Bennett closed with 269 passing yards and two touchdowns but also threw three interceptions.
It all added up to too much for Georgia to keep pace. Instead, Alabama defeated the Bulldogs again as coach Nick Saban moved to 22-0 against his former assistants.
Alabama outgained UGA 564 to 414 and forced three turnovers.
Going in, Alabama expected big numbers and points from the offense. But the defense has emerged in the crucial third quarter.
Georgia's offensive possessions have gone punt-punt-interception, a significant stretch that allowed the Tide go surge ahead by 10 points.
The Alabama receivers continue to add highlight catch after highlight catch, as Jaylen Waddle's 90-yard touchdown catch gave the Tide the lead. Waddle is up to 161 yards, with DeVonta Smith at 147 yards.
Georgia will now have to try and keep pace with Alabama.
GOODBYE JAYLEN WADDLE! 90 YARDS TO THE HOUSE! pic.twitter.com/SCaA6rYY9eCBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 18, 2020
Georgia is halfway home to ending a losing streak to Alabama at five games barely. The offense is a big reason why.
After throwing an early pick, and despite some lingering problems throwing over the Alabama front, Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett has been solid at 177 yards and two touchdowns. He's completing under 50 percent of his passes (12-for-25), but he's made big throws when needed and has gotten a boost from the ground game. Kendall Milton and Zamir White have combined for 61 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Alabama's offense has also been strong, even after an early Mac Jones interception. Jones is up to 224 yards and two touchdowns. RB Najee Harris is putting together another impressive game with 80 rushing yards. 'Bama is on pace for just under 600 offensive yards and is averaging 7.3 yards per play.
One stat that could be telling: Georgia is 5-for-9 on third-down conversions. The second half will depend on which defense steps up.
After an unexpected, turnover-heavy start, Georgia has surged ahead.
After both Alabama QB Mac Jones and Georgia QB Stetson Bennett threw interceptions, the Tide went ahead briefly. But then the Bulldogs established the run.
UGA running backs Kenny McIntosh and Zamir White found room as the Georgia offensive line pushed aside the Alabama defensive line and linebackers, especially on a 10-yard White TD run.
Georgia struggled earlier in the season on the ground, particularly in the opener at Arkansas, but the Bulldogs have room early tonight. That opened up the passing game, where Bennett found James Cook for an 82-yard touchdown connection.
THE MAILMAN COOKIN' UP TOUCHDOWNS pic.twitter.com/ClO8MmixWLCBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 18, 2020
Is tonight the moment when Georgia finally beats Alabama and emerges as the SEC favorite? Or is Alabama still Alabama?
Those are only two of the questions going into tonight's game. One thing we do know: Nick Saban has been cleared to coach tonight's game after fulfilling the SEC's COVID-19 testing requirements.
Through two games, QB Stetson Bennett has more than steadied Georgia's offense while the UGA defense overwhelmed Auburn and Tennessee in key moments. Alabama has seen a different run to 3-0, as QB Mac Jones and RB Najee Harris have scored in bunches to make up for a defense has hasn't looked consistently strong.
Also, around the country today, the big surprises have involved the SEC. South Carolina picked off Bo Nix three times in a 30-22 win against No. 15 Auburn. And Kentucky opened the scoring with two pick-sixes to rout No. 18 Tennessee, 34-7. It's only Oct. 17 and only four SEC teams have one or fewer losses: Alabama (3-0), Georgia (3-0), Florida (2-1) and Texas A&M (3-1).
But there's a long way to go, no matter who wins in Tuscaloosa tonight.
We are READY <� href="https://t.co/NTxBLtVKkC">pic.twitter.com/NTxBLtVKkCAlabama Athletics (@UA_Athletics) October 17, 2020
The SEC and Alabama's team physician Dr. Jimmy Robinson announced Saturday afternoon that Nick Saban has been cleared to coach the Georgia vs. Alabama game tonight. The SEC released a statement explaining its testing protocols and how three negative tests were reported 24 hours apart.
"Consistent with the Conference's COVID-19 management requirements, PAE, the third-party provider secured by the SEC to standardize and provide testing for the 14 member institutions, has utilized the authorized laboratory in processing and reporting the three tests 24 hours apart as necessary to satisfy the requirements of the Task Force policy regarding the handling of asymptomatic PCR positive tests."
Here's the official statement from the SEC:
Statement from the Southeastern Conference Office on Alabama head coach Nick Saban.