Alabama, Georgia stand alone atop SEC ahead of massive matchup

And then there were two.

Alabama and Georgia stand alone atop the SEC as the conference’s only two undefeated teams after Saturday. And guess what? They meet each other in a week.

The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs took care of business on Saturday as Florida lost at Texas A&M. And boy, did Alabama and Georgia win in different ways. 

Let’s start with the Tide. Alabama gave up a staggering 646 yards of offense to Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss Rebels in a 63-48 win. Kiffin, whose team has scored at least 35 points in each of its first three games this season, gave Alabama’s defense everything it could handle and then some. But the Crimson Tide were able to turn two fourth-quarter Ole Miss drives into field goals and Ole Miss’ defense couldn’t do anything to slow down Alabama’s powerful offense.

How powerful was Alabama’s offense? The Crimson Tide had 723 total yards as Mac Jones threw for 417 yards and Najee Harris rushed for five touchdowns and 206 yards on just 23 carries. Oh, and both DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle had 100 yards receiving. The battle of former USC offensive coordinators and head coaches in Kiffin and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian resulted in the most total yards of any SEC game in conference history (1,367).

Georgia, meanwhile, used a stifling defense to throttle Tennessee in the second half. The Vols got the benefit of a few breaks in the first half and carried a 21-17 lead into halftime. But Georgia scored 27 points in the second half as its defense acted like a vise grip on the Vols’ offense. 

Saturday night’s game between Miami and Clemson was our first matchup of top-10 teams in this wacky college football season. But the Hurricanes were 14-point underdogs entering the game and were only able to hang around against Clemson because they blocked three field goal attempts. 

We’ve got a feeling that next week will be a far better marquee college football game.

Alabama and Georgia are two of the three best teams currently playing in college football. And, at this point, they’re the clear two best teams in the SEC. We thought Florida was up there with them, but the Gators lost by three on Saturday to a Texas A&M team that was blown out in Tuscaloosa a week ago.

The Crimson Tide will enter this game as a favorite. And probably rightfully so. Alabama will have home-field advantage and Saturday night’s win over Kiffin was Nick Saban’s 21st win over a former assistant. He’s never lost to a coach who worked for him. And as you know, Georgia coach Kirby Smart is a former defensive coordinator at Alabama.

But Georgia looks more than equipped to hang with Alabama. The Bulldogs have held opposing quarterbacks to just 6.5 yards per pass while allowing just 322 rushing yards through three games. Yeah, that rushing stat is inflated by Tennessee’s -1 rushing yard on Saturday, but it’s hard to quibble with a defense that’s allowed just 30 points through three games. 

“Well obviously we’re going to have to play defense a lot better because they have a really good defensive team,” Saban told ESPN Saturday night.

The Bulldogs aren’t struggling on offense either. And Saban realizes that. Georgia has been very efficient ever since Stetson Bennett IV became the team’s quarterback midway through that opener against Arkansas. Bennett is averaging over eight yards a pass attempt and has five touchdown passes to no interceptions. 

Even though the Big Ten and the Pac-12 still haven’t started their seasons yet, it’s not hyperbolic to say that next week’s game between Alabama and Georgia is the regular season’s game of the year. And if both teams keep winning after next week, we’re likely to see it happen again in December in Atlanta in the SEC title game. 

— Nick Bromberg

Here are the rest of this week’s winners and losers.


North Carolina: North Carolina’s passing attack gets a lot of attention for good reason. But the No. 8 Tar Heels’ ground game was incredible in a 56-45 win over No. 19 Virginia Tech. UNC rushed for 399 yards on just 43 carries as Michael Carter had 17 carries for 214 yards and two scores and Javonte Williams had 20 carries for 169 yards and two TDs. Virginia Tech was able to close within a possession at two different points after UNC got a 21-0 lead, but the Tar Heels brushed aside the Hokies each time. 

Missouri QB Connor Bazelak: Bazelak got his first career start on Saturday against LSU in less than ideal circumstances as Missouri was missing three of its top five wide receivers because of positive coronavirus tests and contact tracing. Imagine if Bazelak had a full array of offensive options. 

The redshirt freshman was 29-of-34 passing for 406 yards in Mizzou’s 45-41 upset win over No. 17 LSU. Bazelak was unflappable in the pocket and did a great job finding open receivers in LSU’s haphazard defense. After seeing part-time playing time the first two weeks as Shawn Robinson’s backup, it’s hard to see how Bazelak isn’t the starter for Mizzou the rest of the season. 

Kansas State and Iowa State: On a day where Texas and Oklahoma played a four-overtime classic and No. 10 Oklahoma State had a bye, Kansas State and Iowa State quietly delivered wins that put them atop the Big 12 standings with perfect 3-0 conference records. 

Despite missing starting quarterback Skylar Thompson, Kansas State went into Fort Worth and upset TCU 21-14. K-State opened the season by losing to Arkansas State but has reeled off three straight Big 12 wins since then over Oklahoma, Texas Tech and the Horned Frogs. No. 24 Iowa State, meanwhile, easily handled Texas Tech, 31-15. Brock Purdy threw for 302 yards and two TDs while Breece Hall rushed for 135 yards and two scores of his own. Both teams have a bye next week.  

Arkansas: Arkansas may have lost to Auburn (in controversial fashion) on Saturday, but it still deserves some love for how much better it looks so far in 2020. The Razorbacks entered 2020 with a 19-game SEC losing streak, a streak that was extended to 20 in a Week 1 loss to Georgia. But Arkansas has shown so far that its competitiveness in that loss to UGA was not a fluke. The Razorbacks followed that up with a 21-14 upset win over No. 16 Mississippi State before Saturday’s near-upset over No. 13 Auburn — a team that has ex-Arkansas head coach Chad Morris as offensive coordinator. It has been just three games, but it’s safe to say that Sam Pittman is an upgrade over Morris. A big one. 

NC State: On the heels of a 4-8 season in 2019, NC State is off to a surprisingly strong start in 2020. The Wolfpack improved to 3-1 with a 38-21 road upset over Virginia on Saturday. While quarterback Devin Leary was the story in last weekend’s upset win over Pitt, this time it was the running game and defense. While the offense went for 179 rushing yards, the defense forced four Virginia turnovers. This pick-six by defensive lineman Alim McNeill gave the Wolfpack a 31-14 fourth-quarter lead and was one of the highlights of the weekend. 

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