It’s been said Alabama can’t be beaten this year in a shootout, and that proved true Saturday night.

The No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs found themselves in such a game with the No. 2 Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa and was unable to keep the pace once again, losing 41-24. Georgia was outscored 21-0 in the second half.

“I was really pleased with the way our guys competed,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I’m frustrated that we couldn’t get anything going in the second half."

It was Georgia’s sixth consecutive loss to the Tide and the third in a row for Smart. That makes Saban – who was cleared to coach the game at 11 a.m. Saturday after a third negative COVID-19 test – 22-0 against his former assistant coaches. Saban had been quarantined since Wednesday when receiving a positive test from Alabama’s daily testing protocols. Ultimately that was deemed a “false positive.”

“First off, I was glad he was healthy,” Smart said of Saban being able to coach the game. “Anytime somebody thinks they have COVID that’s a concern, especially somebody his age (68). You don’t wish that on anybody. But I expected the whole time he’d coach because I knew he had a negative test. ... But he was very gracious of our team and the way we’re playing, and I returned the favor.”

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia coach Kirby Smart addresses Stetson Bennet's play against Alabama, and Nick Saban's COVID tests and his health.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

The Bulldogs matched their best half of the season with 24 points in the first two quarters. But they allowed Alabama to go the length of the field for a field goal in the final 23 seconds to trail 24-20 halftime, and that set the tone for the rest of the game.

Alabama outscored them 21-0 over the first 20 minutes of the second half and slowly turned an exciting, well-played game into a one-sided affair. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett expedited the process by throwing his first three interceptions of the season. The Tide turned all three of them into scores.

It was a return to Earth for Georgia’s diminutive, former walk-on quarterback. Bennett passed for two touchdowns and staked his team to a first-half lead. But he completed only 18 of 40 throws for the game and had five pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. Alabama totaled 10 pass break-ups in all.

“I just didn’t play well enough," Bennett said afterward. "I have to figure out how to not (throw bad balls), have to figure out how to not throw interceptions and how to score points in the second half.”

From there, the Tide grinded out the the game old-school style. Najee Harris carried the ball 31 times for 152 yards, most of them coming once Alabama had the lead.

ExploreCunningham: Bulldogs show program still is not equal to Alabama

Meanwhile, Georgia’s vaunted defense had no answers for Bama’s two star receivers. DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle combined for 328 yards and three touchdowns on 17 receptions from quarterback Mac Jones. Alabama gashed the Bulldogs' defenders for 564 yards, more than twice Georgia’s season average.

The back-breaker came on Waddell’s 90-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter. Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell fell down in man coverage on the play, which gave the Tide a 27-24 lead with 4:00 left in the third quarter. They would score twice more in the next five minutes.

“We knew this game was going to be like a 15-round fight and if we were going to win it’d probably be in the later rounds,” Saban said. “I’m really proud of the way we played in the second half tonight.”

Penalties were costly for Georgia, too. Though it had the same number as Alabama (6), the when and where were particularly damaging. Cornerback Eric Stokes was twice flagged for holding or interference that turned third downs into firsts, including a controversial call in the end zone that resulted in first-and-goal instead of fourth-and-field-goal.

“Penalties, man, they get you beat,” said senior safety Richard LeCounte, who intercepted Alabama’s first pass of the game. “We’ve got to do better in the secondary. They made more plays than us. But they have a great wide receiver crew, great quarterback, great team.”

Georgia managed 414 yards itself. James Cook’s 82-yard touchdown catch was the highlight for the offense, which also got touchdowns from freshman Jermaine Burton and Zamir White.

The Bulldogs tried to mount a comeback and appeared poised to do just that when they reached the Alabama 18 midway through the second quarter. Facing fourth-and-10 there, Smart elected to settle for a 35-yard field goal since Georgia was down three scores anyway. But Jack Podlesny, who made a 50-yard field goal earlier in the game, hooked this attempt left, just outside the upright, and the comeback door was slammed shut.

Georgia came into the week expecting to have to face a stout Kentucky team on the road next Saturday. But because of two SEC games getting COVID-19 cancellations, the domino effect has Bulldogs instead losing their off week before facing Florida and get a week off instead play before playing the Wildcats on Oct. 31. Kentucky shocked Tennessee 34-7 on Saturday in Knoxville to improve to 2-2.

In Other News