Georgia defense will hope to get another chance against Alabama’s Bryce Young

For the first time this season, Georgia was punched in the teeth. And it took Alabama coach Nick Saban and the probable Heisman Trophy winner to do it.

Opening the second half of the SEC Championship game Saturday, Bryce Young lobbed a long pass that landed beautifully in Jameson Williams’ hands as he strolled into the end zone for a 55-yard pass play. Alabama, already leading at intermission, opened the third quarter by delivering an emphatic blow to the best defense in the country.

The Bulldogs never recovered and lost 41-24. Young was marvelous, topping off his Heisman case by slicing through what had been called one of the great defenses of our time. After trailing 10-0, when Saban said his team was adjusting to the game’s speed, Young engineered five consecutive scoring drives, leaving Georgia to play catchup – something unrequired for the past several months.

Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean and company had no answers for Young and Alabama’s weapons. Kirby Smart again had no answers for Saban, his mentor who wins more frequently in Atlanta than the professional team that plays at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Georgia, for as brilliant as it had looked been all season, still couldn’t topple its fiercest obstacle. It was outcoached, outmuscled, and outmanned over a their loss. The Bulldogs are better than they performed Saturday. But the largest difference between the teams shined brightly.

The afternoon was tantalizing for a neutral observer. The trench play made any SEC fan salivate. The playmakers were eye-popping. The atmosphere was invigorating. The game felt like it featured more NFL talent than last week’s Texans-Jets tilt.

Yet Young stood above the rest. How could one not see some Russell Wilson (at his peak) in watching the Crimson Tide signal-caller?

Young completed 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards, the most in an SEC Championship game. His 461 total yards also set the SEC championship high mark, exceeding Jason Campbell’s 431 yards for Auburn in the 2004 game. Young was named the game’s MVP.

“He was magnificent all night,” Saban said. The coach later credited the media for its “positive rat poison” regarding the Tide’s rare underdog status.

Young followed: “You hear the rat poison, and it was kind of against us this week. We took preparation very seriously. We all understood the magnitude of the moment and stepped up.”

The quarterback was masterful in managing the offense. Young was poised beyond his sophomore classification. His improvisational skills would make Miles Davis blush. The Tide’s offensive line bullied Georgia, but Young’s elusiveness was a significant reason the Bulldogs failed to record a sack.

His arm is stronger than one would expect a first glance, another aspect that makes the Wilson comparison apt. (For the record: Young is listed at 6-foot, 194 pounds; Wilson was listed at 5-11, 204 pounds coming out of Wisconsin in 2012.)

“I think the quarterback had a lot to do with (our defensive struggles),” Smart said. “I would say the quarterback buying time. We called a lot of the same calls we called the other games. We didn’t get home or finish on the quarterback, and he was elite at getting the ball to the playmakers.

“He knew where to go with the ball. He keeps his eyes downfield with the rush where a lot of quarterbacks wouldn’t do that. They’d look at the rush and start trying to run away and we could run them down. Tonight he did a tremendous job. He was mobile and made a lot of plays.”

Young was the difference in the day. Georgia couldn’t keep pace in part because its quarterback Stetson Bennett, who did an admirable job in the regular season, simply wasn’t equipped to win a shootout. The Bulldogs, as a team, weren’t assembled for high-scoring battles.

Alabama is no stranger to elite quarterback play. Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones were exceptional, each winning championships and making the most of the firepower around them. But Young’s ceiling, what he’s becoming, could be even higher than his predecessors.

“He’s a great player,” Dean said. “He’s very elusive. He runs the offense well. He did a good job keeping his eyes down field and avoiding our pass rush.”

A dose of cold water to the faces of Bulldogs faithful: Georgia, during its best season in eons, remains the little brother. All isn’t lost, though. Georgia could get another crack at Alabama on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis, with much more at stake than Saturday. It could earn the opportunity to avenge itself.

In that scenario, Georgia will need an altered approach. Its chances would boil down to its defensive adjustments and figuring out a way to contain Young. There’s no question this group of Bulldogs defenders would relish that chance.

Of course, both teams must get to Indianapolis first. But doesn’t that feel inevitable?

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