By now, you’ve heard the unexpurgated version of Smart’s halftime talk against Florida. Amid evocative adjectives and nouns, his theme was: “We’re disciplined!” He told no lies. Georgia was penalized 56 times over 12 games, the 16th-lowest among 130 FBS teams. Alabama was penalized 87 times, tying it for 106th.
For more than a decade, we’ve asked if Georgia can beat Alabama. The answer has been no; the Bulldogs are 0-6 against the Tide since the 2008 Sanford Stadium blackout. The three games in Atlanta – all for championships – could take the gold, silver and bronze as the most wrenching losses in UGA annals. Georgia is favored this time by a touchdown.
That doesn’t mean Alabama can’t win. It’s still Alabama, and he’s still Nick Saban. But Georgia under Smart has done everything except beat Bama. Smart’s Bulldogs have led at the half three times against the Tide. This is his best team. This might be Saban’s 10th-best Alabama team. It can throw and catch. It averages 42.3 points. That said, last year’s Tide averaged 48.5. Even Saban can’t lose six Round 1 draftees – five on offense – and not feel it.
Part of Saban will love being an underdog, which happened only once over the past 12 years. That was on Oct. 3, 2015, when Bama came to Athens two weeks after a home loss to Mississippi. The Bulldogs were favored by a point. They lost 38-10 in the rain. Two months later, Smart was introduced as Mark Richt’s successor.
Georgia is 56-9 over the past five seasons. One-third of those losses were to Alabama. We can forget the part about a former assistant never beating the great Saban. Jimbo Fisher took care of that on Oct. 9. His A&M Aggies wound up losing four games.
This wasn’t an especially vintage year in the SEC. Florida fired Dan Mullen. LSU fired Ed Orgeron. Only two teams that aren’t playing for the conference title – Mississippi and Kentucky – finished above .500 in league play. Alabama won the Iron Bowl and dropped in the Associated Press poll. The one constant in both conference and country has been Georgia.
No team but the Bulldogs has received a first-place vote in the writers’ or coaches’ poll in seven weeks. They’ve yielded 83 points – nine touchdowns, seven field goals – over 12 games. Clemson has the nation’s second-best defense; it has allowed 180 points. Georgia has broken 30 against every opponent except the Tigers. It averages 40.7 points, not quite two per game off Alabama’s output.
Bama needs to win Saturday to make the College Football Playoff. Georgia can lose and still be invited. It won’t lose. The Bulldogs can slow any offense. Alabama won’t slow Georgia’s. Six Tide opponents have scored 20-plus points; no Georgia opponent has topped 17. Your score: Georgia 30, Alabama 17.