Alabama had several pressing issues when it traveled to Athens this weekend. The passing game was inconsistent. The secondary was full of holes. Special teams could not be counted on to make plays.
But all of those problems were seemingly corrected in 30 minutes on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide played a complete game in its dismantling of No. 8 Georgia. Viewers across the country caught a glimpse of the “usual” Alabama, and not a fading dynasty.
We’re here to break down how that happened with a Week 5 report card for Nick Saban’s squad.
The Crimson Tide started slow on “O,” fumbling the ball away on each of its first two possessions, and was frustratingly sloppy after freshman Calvin Ridley had a 50-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter. Dumb penalties held Alabama to a short field goal on that drive, and it appeared as if offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was in for another long Saturday.
But the light bulb flickered on in the second quarter, when Alabama’s ground game began wearing down the Georgia defense. Derrick Henry basically jogged in untouched for a 30-yard touchdown that made it 10-3, and then Jake Coker found Ridley for a 45-yard touchdown the next time the offense got the ball.
The turnaround was swift and took the air out of Sanford Stadium before halftime. Coker was not the best player on the field, but his performance was huge for Alabama moving forward: 11-of-16 for 190 yards, two total touchdowns and a career-high 189.13 passer rating (excluding games with less than three attempts).
Despite Coker’s big day, Alabama’s offensive approach finally had that “smash mouth” feel to it. The Tide had 47 rushes for 189 yards in the mud.
Aside from an 83-yard touchdown run from Nick Chubb that had little effect on the flow of the game, Alabama suffocated the Georgia offense in highly impressive fashion.
Chubb wound up with a nice line (20 carries for 146 yards), but the rest of UGA’s offense was beaten down. Coach Mark Richt switched between starting quarterback Greyson Lambert and backup Brice Ramsey twice.
Their combined statistics: 11-of-31 for 106 yards and three interceptions.
In short, Alabama walked into the home of the No. 8 team in the country and made UGA’s passing offense look like it belonged in Division III. When the defensive line could not get to the quarterback, it swatted down passes. It was a miserable day for the home team.
Alabama’s linebackers and secondary dished out several big hits while playing with enough finesse to both corral UGA’s speed game and make plays on the ball downfield.
Sure, the Crimson Tide offense produced most of the highlights, but it was the defense that picked up the slack early and kept Alabama’s momentum rolling throughout Saturday afternoon.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Special teams units usually don’t want to decide games, because that typically comes with a negative connotation. Before Saturday, Alabama’s unit had a brief moment of onside kick glory against Ole Miss, but had dealt with more criticism than praise.
That changed in the second quarter against Georgia, when freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick made the play of the day.
The defensive back blocked Collin Barber’s punt, then chased after the ball and trotted into the end zone for a 17-3 lead. That’s the moment that swung momentum in Alabama’s direction for good.
Punter JK Scott was spotty, but did not make any glaring errors. Kicker Adam Griffith snuck a 29-yard field goal inside the left upright. Those two still have work to do.
But the coverage units bottled up Georgia’s dangerous returners, and that plus-6 from Fitzpatrick was the game’s defining moment.
While the offense got off to a slow start, there can be no overlooking the job Saban and his coordinators did. The players had to make several big interceptions, sacks and tackles on their own, but the coaches put them in position to do so more often than not.
You can point to most of the game’s key moments — blocked punt, 45-yard touchdown pass, naked bootleg touchdown — and see that they were direct results of good strategy and play calling.
The intangibles were strong, too. Saban and co. clearly got their boys ready to play on Saturday. Both Alabama and Georgia players were hyped up during the pregame, but only one team actually followed through. You can attribute much of that to the men on the sideline.
Fans could not have asked for a better performance from Alabama. The country had no idea what to expect from ‘Bama-UGA, and Saban’s team quickly let it know: Same old, same old.