My friend Seth Emerson recently published a book about Georgia football and the Bulldogs’ rise to becoming a consistent national championship contender under Kirby Smart. The title of the book is “Attack the Day: Kirby Smart and Georgia’s Return to Glory.”
An alternate title could be “Kirby Smart’s Attempt to Turn Georgia into the New Alabama of College Football.”
The book describes in great detail not only Smart’s attempt to make his alma mater a consistent winner, but how he has convinced everyone in Athens the way to win is to adopt all the principles he learned as a successful defensive coordinator under Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa.
In other words, Georgia’s return to glory won’t be complete until the Bulldogs are the new Alabama of college football, championships and all.
The transformation began when former Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt went to Georgia and not-so-subtly informed everyone from his players to his bosses they were never going to be as successful as Alabama unless they decided to embrace a change of attitude and commitment. It continued when Georgia turned to Smart, who brought the blueprint for success with him. He also brought some Alabama assistant coaches, staff members, strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran and (many claim) a photo of the Alabama recruiting board that helped him convince some of the best high school players they were more wanted in Athens than Tuscaloosa.
Here’s the truth Alabama fans won’t want to hear on the eve of the prime-time matchup between the two powers Saturday night: Georgia is already the new Alabama.
Georgia will arrive with the reputation as the team that is always more physical, that opposing teams hate to see lined up across the ball, that imposes its will every Saturday.
Those are the foundational elements Saban has used to build the greatest dynasty in college football history. Now those characteristics describe Georgia more than they do Alabama or any other college football program.
But there’s a catch. Georgia has never beaten Saban’s Crimson Tide. Smart, like every other former Saban assistant, is winless against the master.
And if the Bulldogs want to watch a replay of their most recent national championship from 1980, they’re going to have to break out the ole VCR.
All of those elements serve as a spectacular backdrop for the most anticipated matchup of this college football season. Alabama is No. 2 in the country; Georgia is No. 3.
They are the last two undefeated teams remaining in the SEC, and two of just six Power Five teams still perfect.
The Bulldogs have the most impressive resume in the country so far, having beaten Auburn and Tennessee in the last two weeks.
But there’s a reason why Alabama opened the week as a five-point favorite and will undoubtedly be the betting favorite at kickoff. Because, while Smart and Georgia were doing everything in their power to become Alabama, the Tide was becoming something different, more exciting and perhaps better.
As much as Saban would hate to admit, Alabama no longer wins by imposing its will on opponents. The Tide has become so explosive on offense that wins continue to pile up even as blown defensive assignments and missed tackles have made Saban crazy.
Never was that more clear than last week’s incredible win at Ole Miss. On 11 offensive possessions, the Tide scored nine touchdowns, punted once and lost a fumble one yard from another touchdown.
Of Alabama’s 43 first-down plays, 22 produced either a touchdown or another first down. The Tide gained 723 yards on those 11 possessions.
Statistically, Mac Jones has been the best quarterback in Alabama history, and it’s not close. He’s completing four out of every five passes in an offense that is as eager to throw the ball 40 yards down field as it is to rely on higher-percentage throws.
But while Alabama has been busy setting a new standard for offense in the SEC, Georgia has assumed the role formerly held by Alabama. In wins over Auburn and Tennessee in consecutive weeks, the Bulldogs held their ranked opponents to a combined 38 yards rushing on 49 attempts. That’s a rate of .77 yards per rush, which means it would take 13 carries to gain enough for a first down.
Georgia fans love to hear that. They love being a consistent national championship contender. They love being the best team in the SEC East.
But they know they haven’t reached the level of Alabama. They won’t reach that level by watching someone else dethrone the king.
Georgia’s chance to go head-to-head and prove they’re the new Alabama comes Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. It won’t be easy.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m. and on the iHeart app.
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