ATHENS, Ga. — Reggie Ragland lumbered into the postgame media room in the bowels of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, smiling from ear to ear. “Miss Terry!” Ragland exclaimed, pointing through a crowd. Terry Saban, the regal wife of Alabama coach Nick Saban, turned and laughed at Ragland. She opened her arms and embraced the Crimson Tide linebacker. “That was so pretty!” Saban said.
Miss Terry was referring to No. 13 Alabama’s 38–10 bludgeoning of No. 8 Georgia on Saturday, and even the most talented wordsmith would be hard-pressed to describe it better than the First Lady of Alabama Football did. For fans of the Crimson Tide, their performance was a work of art. For rival SEC teams, it was downright terrifying. Alabama imposed its will on the Bulldogs in a game it absolutely had to win, and for at least one night, the Tide resembled the imperial SEC power that’s long defined the Saban era in Tuscaloosa.
The timing of Alabama’s win was important, as well. On Sept. 20 the Tide dropped a 43–37 decision to Ole Miss at home. The loss sparked an overflow of eulogies in sports pages everywhere, columns memorializing the end of Saban’s SEC dynasty at Alabama. But in disposing of Georgia, Alabama not only proved those predictions premature, but also showed just how dangerous it can be when all of its pieces come together.
The loss to Rebels hung over the Tide as they prepared to face Georgia this week. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly passed for 341 yards and three touchdowns as his team hung 43 points on the Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The defeat looked to be the most recent example of a hurry-up offense taking advantage of Alabama’s defense and dimmed the Tide’s playoff hopes
But against Georgia on Saturday, Alabama looked the part of a national title contender. A rain-soaked first quarter ended in a 3–3 tie before Tide running back Derrick Henry scampered 30 yards for a touchdown with 8:26 left in the half. Two series later defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked Georgia punter Collin Barber’s boot, snatched up the ball and carried it into the end zone. The Bulldogs went three and out on their next possession before Alabama quarterback Jake Coker found receiver Calvin Ridley for a 45-yard score on the Tide’s next play from scrimmage. Just like that, Alabama headed into halftime up 24–3.
Things didn’t get easier for the Dawgs in the second half. Safety Eddie Jackson picked off Georgia backup quarterback Brice Ramsey—in for the struggling Greyson Lambert—and took the interception 50 yards to the house, silencing any true hope of a comeback.
Saban later admitted he worried about his team’s body language during pregame warmups. The coach compared his players’ lethargic attitude to the vibe he got before they played Ole Miss. So Saban lit into his team in the locker room before kickoff Saturday. “I said, ‘Alright, we’re going to do this again?’” he recalled. But the coach said the Crimson Tide responded, channeling their energy in historic fashion: The 28-point wining margin marked the largest ever by an Alabama team against a top-10 opponent on the road. “I thought they played their best game of the year today, obviously against a really good team,” Saban said.
The pieces to Alabama’s puzzle seemed to fall into place against Georgia. It scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams and showed consistent poise on defense. The Tide kept Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb and his backfield teammates in check: Excluding Chubb’s 83-yard touchdown in the third quarter, by which time Alabama had already built a 28-point lead, Georgia rushed for just 110 yards as a team. Moreover, Lambert and Ramsey combined to complete just 11 of 31 passes and threw three picks.
At long last Alabama showed off a potentially dangerous passing game. Coker completed 11 of 16 throws for 190 yards and converted a number of big plays, like Ridley’s long touchdown. Last year the Florida State transfer failed to win the Tide’s starting job and instead watched Blake Sims lead the roster to the playoff. Coker didn’t start against Ole Miss and looked shaky last week against Louisiana-Monroe. But Saturday’s performance added a jolt to his confidence as the presumed starter for Alabama’s turnaround. “We had a lot of fun out there,” Coker said.
Fun seemed far from Alabama’s mind after the loss to the Rebels two weeks ago. After all, this is the same roster that returned just two starters on offense this season in linemen Ryan Kelly and Cam Robinson. A once-proud Tide defense looked vulnerable against Ole Miss. Suddenly the program faced questions on both sides of the ball as other SEC West schools nipped at its heels.
But by slamming Georgia, Alabama issued a blunt reminder to the rest of the SEC: When we’re good, we’re very good. The question is whether this team can do this every week from here on out. Through five weeks we’ve seen the highs and lows of the Crimson Tide’s potential. It’s too early to know the exact quality of a win over Georgia; prior to facing Alabama, the Bulldogs’ toughest games came against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, which have a combined 3–6 record in 2015. Perhaps Georgia won’t prove to be as strong of a barometer as its No. 8 ranking entering Saturday indicated.
Yet the victory still meant plenty to Saban. Coker said the coach “almost got a little emotional” when he addressed his team after the rout. During the last two weeks Saban faced questions about the future of his program. But as is the case in college football, a single game can drastically alter perception. “I believe in this team,” Saban said.
Saban’s players seem to believe in themselves, too. That’s why members of the Crimson Tide saw their win over Georgia at a statement. And they know the rest of the SEC is watching.
“If we come out and execute the way we’re supposed to execute,” offensive tackle Cam Robinson said, “we can play like we did tonight.”