CECIL HURT: Alabama football leaves Georgia holding all the negatives

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Things came in threes, all day and all night, including Nick Saban’s third straight positive test against his former assistant Kirby Smart. 

It ended with a 41-24 Alabama win, with the Crimson Tide closing the game with 24 unanswered points.

First came the third of Saban’s negative COVID-19 tests on Saturday morning, putting him on the Alabama sideline. 

Then came the three dramatic Alabama touchdowns that turned the game in the second half, leaving Georgia, which entered the game as No. 3 in America, cursing the number although hopeful of another try in Atlanta in December. 

Oct 17, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws against Georgia during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones was the hero, even moreso than the SEC testing lab, throwing for 417 yards in a third consecutive 400-yard passing game.  

The morning drama was the Saga of the Saban Swabs as Alabama waited to find out if Saban’s third coronavirus test would be negative, liberating him from quarantine under the new SEC protocol.

There was still plenty of speculation after Saban appeared on ESPN "College GameDay" in the morning but he clearly had the momentum with the previous two negative tests. Word came quickly (nothing makes life easier than a private jet) and Saban was back. Instead of a circus sideshow on social media, with Saban parachuting onto the field waving a giant mask as he landed, the afternoon was calm, the focus on the two nationally-ranked teams. 

They delivered drama more suited to the Southeastern Conference than an all-day soap opera. The game wasn’t perfect, as 2020 college football rarely will be, but it wasn’t the frenetic up-and-down video game that the Ole Miss game had been the week before.

Alabama still needs work on defense, with linebackers in pass coverage occasionally looking like St. Bernard puppies chasing butterflies. There was also a four-point swing late in the first half where Christian Barmore was drawn offside not once but twice by a Stetson Bennett IV hard count. That led to a Georgia touchdown on a series where the Bulldogs would gladly have settled for a field goal and a 24-17 lead.

Oct 17, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III (8) catches a touchdown pass over Georgia defensive back Lewis Cine (16) during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

Then funny things started to happen. Despite having only 23 seconds to go in the half, Alabama didn’t resign itself to regrouping in the locker room as it usually does. Instead, it drove quickly into Georgia territory, managed the clock well and, to the wonder of this entire planet and perhaps others as well, hit a 52-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 24-20 but blunting the Georgia momentum.

Two big plays changed things in the third quarter. Jones, Alabama’s all-time leader in touchdown passes of unusual length, hit Jaylen Waddle for a 90-yard score. Then, as the Bulldogs marched to retake the lead, Bennett threw high, freshman Malachi Moore intercepted and the quick-strike offense struck again. 

Ultimately, Alabama scored 24 unanswered points, felt far better about a defense that forced turnovers and rattled Bennett in the second half. A trip to Atlanta seems almost guaranteed, so everyone in Alabama, especially Saban, feels better.  

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt