A pair of Alabama players said Georgia was the toughest team they played last season, even though the record books reflect Clemson was the College Football Playoff champions.
“I sure as hell don’t want to play them again,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban famously said of the Bulldogs after rallying from a two-touchdown deficit to win 35-28 in the SEC Championship game in December.
It was clear at SEC Media Days on Wednesday at the Wynfrey Hotel that Saban’s respect for Georgia filters down to the Alabama players.
“I tell everyone Georgia is definitely the hardest team I’ve played since I’ve been in college,” Crimson Tide linebacker Dylan Moses said. “It’s really because they are very aggressive, just like us. So when we play against them we have to bring our ‘A’ game.
“You have to be consistent and always finish strong. That’s why we’ve always been able to come out on top in the game, because we’ve been able to finish.”
Alabama finished the season losing to Clemson 44-16, the Tigers finishing 15-0 and four-time defending ACC champions.
Tide All-American receiver Jerry Jeudy indicated that while the scoreboard may not lie, it didn’t tell the whole story, either.
“I’d say Georgia is the toughest team, too,” Jeudy said. “I don’t really think the scoreboard defines the best of the teams because some days the team could be at its best and win the games, and some days the team could be at its worst.
“For example, my freshman year we beat Clemson bad (24-6). Last year, they beat us bad, so it depends on that moment who’s the best team,” he said. “Every time we play Georgia, it has always been a great game, so that’s how I define who’s the best team.”
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said he couldn’t get a good enough read on the Bulldogs to make an assessment when asked to compare Clemson and Georgia.
“They are all tough teams, but I couldn’t really get a good grasp on Georgia because I wasn’t really as healthy as I wanted to be,” Tagovailoa said. “The amount of talent they have is absurd. They have great, great talent out there.”
Coach Dabo Swinney’s Tigers obviously do, too.
Clemson outgained Alabama 482 yards to 443 yards, taking advantage of two Tide turnovers while not committing any.
Georgia also outgained Alabama last season, 454 yards to 403 yards.
But unlike Clemson, the Bulldogs didn’t capitalize on their plus-2 turnover margin advantage over Alabama in the SEC title game.
UGA also missed a costly 30-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter that would have extended the Bulldogs’ lead to 31-14 at that time.
The Tigers made their only field-goal attempt, a 36-yarder shortly before halftime, that gave Clemson a 31-16 lead at that time.
South Carolina and Georgia Tech were two other common opponents for Georgia and Clemson in 2018.
The Bulldogs beat the Gamecocks 41-17, outgaining South Carolina in Columbia 473-336. The Tigers beat the Gamecocks 56-35 in Clemson, totaling 744 yards to Carolina’s 600.
Georgia beat Georgia Tech 45-21 in Athens, with 447 yards to the Yellow Jackets’ 219. The Tigers beat Tech 49-21 in Atlanta, winning the total yardage battle 480-203.
On Tuesday, Georgia senior safety J.R. Reed didn’t stray too far from the rehearsed one-game-at-a-time script the Bulldogs players brought to media days.
But Reed dropped an unsolicited reference to Clemson, making it clear Georgia hopes to measure itself against Alabama or the ACC powerhouse in the 2019 postseason.
“Alabama is always going to be Alabama, Clemson will be Clemson,” Reed said. “Hopefully we will see those guys soon, or see them in the championship.”
The Bulldogs and Tigers aren’t scheduled to meet again until 2024 in Atlanta. Georgia won the most recent meeting, 45-21 in 2014 in Athens.
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