With a 45-21 wrecking of Georgia Tech last Saturday at Sanford Stadium—which could have been much worse had Kirby Smart not called off the dogs in the second half—Georgia has wrapped up its 2018 regular season. The Dawgs finish the regular season slate with an 11-1 record, the only blemish coming against LSU in Baton Rouge back in October. Aside from that one disappointing performance, this season has been everything a Georgia fan could ask for.
But now comes the tough part. All season, we’ve been staring down the barrel of a showdown with Alabama. As any Georgia fan—or any fan whose team has been unlucky enough to cross paths with Nick Saban’s Tide over the last decade—will know, a game against Bama is the toughest test in college football. This season, somehow, it’s gotten even tougher.
Alabama has annually sported one of, if not the, best defenses in college football. But with future Heisman-winner Tua Tagovailoa under center, the Tide now also claims the best offense. If Georgia wants to earn a return trip to the College Football Playoff, it will have to topple the Tide in the SEC Championship Game this Saturday in Atlanta.
We’ve known that this rematch of last season’s national title game was coming for close to a month now, ever since both Georgia and Alabama clinched their divisions with games to spare. And we’ve suspected it would come long before that, ever since DeVonte Smith caught the game-winning touchdown that crushed Georgia’s title aspirations last January in Atlanta. After that crushing defeat, every Georgia fan I know was champing at the bit for another shot at Saban, and, for good or ill, we got our wish. We wanted Bama, and now we’ve got ’em.
There’s a fine line Georgia fans will need to walk in the buildup to this game. We shouldn’t be delusional about what’s going to go down in Atlanta. Alabama is head-and-shoulders better than any team we’ve faced since, well, Alabama last January. Early projected point spreads have Alabama as a 13.5-point favorite. Every bit of conventional and unconventional wisdom says the Tide will win this game. But at the same time, we shouldn’t be fatalistic. It may have been 11 months ago, but Georgia was the last team to test Alabama. We’ll have to play our best game of the year, maybe our best game in many years, but we can beat Alabama.
The good news is, we seem to be hitting our stride at just the right time. The loss to LSU was simultaneously the worst and best thing to happen this season. (OK, it was really just the worst, but you’ll see my point in a moment.) Before the trip to Baton Rouge, we were sleepwalking through the season, scraping by against the likes of Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee on talent alone. Yes, we beat all those teams by double-digits, but there were so many mistakes made that would come back to haunt us as soon as we faced a good team. And when LSU came along, that’s exactly what happened.
The loss to LSU was a wakeup call. Our margin for error was gone, and that forced us to step up our game. Against Florida, we put on our best performance of the season to that point. And each following week—against Kentucky, Auburn and eventually Georgia Tech—we got a little better and a little more confident. We’re still not playing as well as we’re capable of, but we’ve gotten better every week, and that provides some hope that we can put it all together just in time to upset the Tide.
Alabama is the toughest team we’ll face this year and will be hard as hell to beat, but you can’t lose before the game is played. A loss may feel like a foregone conclusion, but it isn’t. If the stars align and we play as well as we’re capable of playing—which is to say, better than we’ve played all year—we can win this game. We haven’t played a team as good as Alabama this year, but they haven’t played a team as good as Georgia either, and they can overlook us at their own peril.
The SEC championship game kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1 and will air on CBS and 95.5 FM/750 AM.
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