Alabama Shuts Out Georgia in Second Half of Statement Win
As Malachi Moore jumped up and down behind Alabama’s sideline — his teammates patting him on the back, his fists pumping, and his hair flopping around on his helmetless head — defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis stood nearby and celebrated by waving a white towel.
Georgia didn’t know it yet, but that was their white-flag moment, too.
There were still 18 minutes left in Saturday night’s No. 2-vs.-No. 3 matchup in Tuscaloosa, but Moore’s interception of Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV was the kill shot in the second-ranked Crimson Tide’s 41-24 win over the third-ranked Bulldogs.
“It was definitely a big momentum switch, and I feel like that gave a lot of energy to both the offense and the defense,” linebacker Dylan Moses said. “Throughout the game we just wanted to continue pressing on the pedal.”
The Crimson Tide only led by 3 points at that moment, but when Georgia’s promising drive into Alabama territory ended with the ball caroming off a receiver’s fingertips, landing in the arms of Moore, a freshman defensive back, and being returned nearly to midfield, it sucked the life out of the visitors’ sideline.
Alabama went up 34-24 five plays later on a 2-yard run by senior Najee Harris, the first rushing touchdown allowed all season by Georgia’s top-ranked defense.
He finished with 152 yards, the second-highest total of his career, against a unit that had allowed below 60 rushing yards (excluding sacks) per game so far this season.
“We kind of knew it was going to be a 15-round fight, and we probably wouldn’t be winning the fight until the later rounds,” coach Nick Saban said. “We got behind early in the game, but the players just kept playing the next play and kept fighting.”
Georgia took the lead with an 82-yard touchdown pass from Bennett to running back James Cook on the first play of the second quarter, and it didn’t trail again until 4 minutes remained in the third.
An eerily calm Bryant-Denny Stadium — due to both the Crimson Tide’s deficit and the 20% capacity — was rejuvenated when sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Waddle simply sprinted past a Bulldogs cornerback and made a flawless adjustment to haul in the ball en route to a 90-yard go-ahead touchdown.
Moore’s interception a few plays later ensured that Alabama would not relinquish its lead.
Alabama’s prospects looked grim after Georgia scored on its final four possessions of the second half.
In addition to the 82-yarder to Cook, which was the second-longest completion Alabama has ever allowed under Saban, the Bulldogs made a 50-yard field goal and capitalized on what could have been a damning error by the Crimson Tide’s defense.
With the game tied at 17-17 in the final minute of the first half, Georgia appeared to be going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 11-yard line. Freshman linebacker Will Anderson Jr. jumped offsides, causing several expectant Georgia players to point at him, but he quickly got back across the line.
But then defensive lineman Christian Barmore jumped, giving the Bulldogs first-and-goal at the 5. They scored to regain the lead three plays later on a pass Bennett rifled through a tight window into the end zone.
Alabama recovered with a 52-yard field goal — its longest since 2015 — to end the half, but it was an inopportune time for the defense’s chronic struggles to resurface.
“We’ve got to get all 11 players executing and doing what they’re supposed to do so that we don’t have these mental errors that just keep sort of haunting us,” Saban said. “But we did a better job in the second half of not making as many mental errors.”
Georgia converted 5 of 9 third downs in the first half but only managed to convert 2 of 7 after the break. After the Bulldogs scored on their final four drives entering halftime, they had two punts, two interceptions and a missed field goal in the second half.
“We got turnovers, we got a couple stops on third down which were critical,” Saban said. “We have to be able to adapt to different things we see in the game.”
Those were the stops the offense needed.
If Waddle’s deep touchdown gave the Crimson Tide the lead, Harris’ 2-yard score gave it a cushion. After Bennett’s second interception, the second of the season for safety Daniel Wright, Alabama needed only to churn out the clock.
It held the ball for 11:21 of the fourth quarter, stomping on any embers of hope from the visitors, by running for positive yardage on seven straight plays. The drive culminated with a toe-tap touchdown by senior receiver DeVonta Smith in the back of the end zone.
Then, after a missed field goal by the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide ran eight more times, with the ninth being out of the victory formation.
“We was always talking about going in there, just keep pounding, keep punching,” Smith “That was the whole plan: Just go out there and finish the game the right way.”