ATHENS — This wasn’t a Blackout. Call it a damp squib. For the first time since 2008, Georgia got Alabama where you’d think Georgia would want Alabama – between the hallowed hedges with the home side favored.
The score after 30 minutes then: Alabama 31, Georgia 0.
The score after 31 minutes and 53 seconds Saturday: Alabama 31, Georgia 3.
At this rate, the Bulldogs will have a realistic chance to beat the Crimson Tide at Sanford Stadium when Nick Saban’s great-great-great grandchildren start kindergarten.
Georgia arrived at its massively anticipated showdown having beaten nobody of consequence. (South Carolina used to matter but doesn’t anymore.) In In Georgia’s biggest victory, the Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert completed all but one of his 25 passes. But that was against those aforementioned Gamecocks, who stink.
Against the men of Saban, Mark Richt and Brian Schottenheimer had seen enough of Lambert to pull him on the first half’s final series. By then, Alabama led 24-3. Brice Ramsey, the backup, was again deployed on Georgia’s first series of the second half. One snap and one interception later, the Tide’s lead was 31-3, soon to become 38-3. In 15 seasons under Richt, Georgia had never trailed by 35 at home – not even on Blackout Night.
And we say again: Richt’s team was favored.
Georgia retired that Blackout tack after the 2008 debacle, but the home side pulled out every other stop for this one. Herschel Walker, the greatest collegiate player ever, led pregame cheers. Mark Fox, the best men’s basketball coach on this campus, painted his body and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with similarly decorated students in the daylong rain. All of this mattered not one whit.
Julio Jones, the proud Bama alum and one of the driving forces of the Blackout Blowout, said this week: “With coach Saban’s mindset, it doesn’t matter where you are. Our mindset was that we were going to make all those people sit on their hands.”
Lo and behold, the man and his minions did it again. By halftime, the Sanford crowd was booing. Five minutes into the third quarter, many of the so-called faithful were headed for shelter or home, whichever came first. This wasn’t what they’d come to see. But it was, once again, what they’d been handed.
It’s entirely possible Georgia will go on to win the SEC East, which would mean the Bulldogs would play for the SEC championship. A once-beaten SEC champ would figure to be a lock for the College Football Playoff – unless that champ hails from the puny East and shows a home thrashing like this on its ledger. (Yes, Georgia nearly made the BCS title game in 2012 after losing to South Carolina 35-7. But that was in Columbia when Carolina was good.)
Much of what the masses had been led to believe about these Bulldogs was called into question Saturday. If Lambert couldn’t show any better – 14 incompletions in 24 attempts, 86 yards passing – in this showcase game at home, will he be the man to lead Georgia to victory in, say, Neyland Stadium? Is Ramsey, the reliever who was himself benched, any answer? If Jeremy Pruitt’s defense couldn’t handle a Bama offense that entered with uncertainty about its quarterback, when will this coordinator’s performance approximate his salary? And if not now for Georgia, when?
Had this been another program that entered a ballyhooed game and exited clocked and chastened, it might be shrugged off as a lousy day at a lousy time. But the Bulldogs, as we know too well, do this often. They were the best team in the SEC East the past two seasons and didn’t win it. They were almost as good as Alabama in 2012 – and Bama was great that year – but fell five yards short in the Dome. Just when you think, “This year might be different,” you’re reminded that this is … well, Georgia.
Credit Saban for preparing his team to give a mighty effort if not an overly precise one. Bama had six penalties, five on offense, in the first half. It also lost a fumble. It also led 24-3 at the break. It made all those Georgia fans sit on their hands. It made Georgia a big-game loser yet again.