Bulldogs seek that one more play capable of overcoming Alabama

Over the last decade, Alabama head coach Nick Saban hasn't lost to a former assistant coach.

It can happen, you know. It is physically possible for the Georgia Bulldogs to make one more play than Alabama and pull one of these games out of the kiln without incinerating themselves.

It has happened. Although that was long ago. Nick Saban was in his first year at Bama then, and would go on eight weeks later to lose to a hyphen, Louisiana-Monroe. Kirby Smart was on Saban’s staff preparing to be one of a legion of former assistants Saban would own. And, as famed voice of the Bulldogs Larry Munson was pulling away from the mike, Scott Howard was getting his first football play-by-play start in Tuscaloosa.

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The details of Georgia’s 26-23 overtime victory in 2007 distill to a single play, the Bulldogs first in OT after Alabama had settled for a field goal with its possession.

“The one thing I remember most is the (Matthew) Stafford to (Mikey) Henderson touchdown to win the game. First-and-10 from the 25. Stafford went back cocked and fired and hit Henderson. That’s really the one thing that stands out the most,” Howard, still Georgia’s radio voice now, recollects.

One play. And for the wont of a single play here or there, we arrive at Saturday night’s Georgia-Alabama game with the Crimson Tide standing as this monolithic barrier between the Bulldogs and glory. Kind of like the MCAT stood between me and a career in neurosurgery.

In five meetings since 2007, Alabama has explored just about every cruel and excruciating way to beat the Bulldogs.

It has deflected a pass that startled poor Chris Conley, who stumbled and fell five yards shy of a winning touchdown (2012 SEC Championship game). On second-and-26 in overtime, it hit on a 41-yard touchdown pass (2017 season College Fooball Playoff Championship game). It rallied again 11 months later, running in for the winning score with just 64 seconds left (2018 SEC Championship game). Sundry sordid details accompany those losses, but why rip off those Band-Aids now?

Suffice to say, these Bama games have left a permanent mark.

“I thought for sure Georgia had it in the national championship game, I thought that was it,” Howard said. “The way that was coming down after they get the sack, and it’s second-and-26. We were pretty elated in the booth after that sack. I thought there’s no way Alabama’s going to be able to win this game now, and I was already thinking about Georgia’s first national championship since 1980. Then (Tua) Tagovailoa throws a pass, and it all goes in the other direction.”

“Yeah, we feel the pain a little bit when the game goes the other way, especially when the game is so big and so much is on the line. Then you really feel it,” Howard said.

Saturday is another big one, between the Nos. 2 and 3-ranked teams in the land. Although this one doesn’t quite have the finality of the past two, given that the chance of an SEC Championship game rematch looms.

What Saturday represents is a very good opportunity for the Bulldogs to show themselves finally capable of making that one more play, of finishing with an exclamation point rather than a question mark and throwing off the tyranny of Saban and Alabama.

There is good reason to believe this Georgia defense capable of bottling up an Alabama offense that has this season scored at a frightening pace – at least enough to leave a result awaiting that one more play.

There is no reason to think Bulldogs of this pedigree should be intimidated by a trip to Tuscaloosa. All those painful past losses don’t necessarily foreshadow another. They shouldn’t feel beaten before they even play.

“I don’t think the psyche or the disposition of most of these kids is that way,” Smart said earlier this week. "Our kids all got recruited by Alabama, they know about Alabama’s players, they’ve played in all-star games with Alabama’s players. All these kids know each other. They don’t necessarily see it by wins and losses and championships.

“Our guys have played LSU two years in a row. They played Alabama two years before that in a row. There are enough of our players who have played Alabama that know it’s a physical brand of football. We’ve played them twice (during Smart’s reign) and it wasn’t like they didn’t think they could beat them.”

Just make a play that matters when it matters most. And maybe if the coaching staff doesn’t dream up some cockeyed fake punt play at the end – sorry, flashback from the previous Alabama meeting – that would be helpful as well.

Finishing, said Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis “definitely takes a lot of heart.”

Finishing, said Smart, “is a confidence level, it’s an execution level.”

“At the end of the day,” he said, “most games come down to the fourth quarter when you have two talented football teams. In both (his previous games against the Tide) we have to finish better. A lot of that comes through maturity, execution, the little things you have to do right at the end of the game to give yourself a chance to win.”

It can happen, you know.

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