ATLANTA - The top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs entered Saturday's anticipated Southeastern Conference football championship game with a historically stout defense, having allowed just 6.9 points per contest this season.
They hadn't faced Alabama.
Behind the dual-threat talents of sophomore quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 3 Crimson Tide racked up 319 yards and 24 points in the second quarter alone in stunning undefeated Georgia 41-24 before 78,030 fans in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Young cemented his candidacy for the Heisman Trophy by completing 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing three times for 40 yards and a score.
Alabama entered Saturday's showdown as a 6.5-point underdog, the largest underdog role for the Tide in 13 seasons, but the outcome yielded an eighth league championship for Nick Saban's program in the last 13 years.
"I think what these guys really wanted to gain was more respect," Saban said. "It wasn't just the fact that they were underdogs, because I think we had a tremendous amount of respect for Georgia, their team and what they accomplished, but you guys gave us a lot of really positive rat poison. The rat poison that you usually give us is usually fatal, but the rat poison that you put out there this week was yummy."
The Tide had three close calls recently against LSU, Arkansas and Auburn, with last weekend's 24-22 topping of their state rivals in Auburn lasting four overtimes. Georgia, meanwhile, was able to cruise into this matchup with routs of Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech by a combined score of 101-7.
Both the Tide and Bulldogs are 12-1 and headed to the four-team College Football Playoff, but one team sure does have a lot more newfound momentum than the other.
"For the most part this year, we've executed well," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "We didn't execute well tonight, and that had a lot to do with them. So give Alabama credit, and we've got a lot to work on."
Young's 421 passing yards and 461 total yards set SEC championship game records on an offense that compiled 536 yards. Jameson Williams amassed seven receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns, while John Metchie collected six first-half catches for 97 yards and a score.
Metchie suffered a leg injury late in the half and is likely out for the Tide's playoff run, Saban said.
Georgia dominated the first quarter with 11 minutes and 28 seconds of possession time while averaging 7.6 yards per play and holding Alabama to 3.8. The Bulldogs had only a 3-0 lead to show for it, but that changed when Stetson Bennett opened the second quarter with a 5-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-7 tight end Darnell Washington.
That 10-0 advantage for the Bulldogs would quickly disappear, as Alabama flipped the switch with a three-play, 75-yard drive and a six-play, 80-yard possession that culminated with Young finding Williams for a 67-yard touchdown and Young connecting with Metchie on a 13-yard score.
"We all stepped up, and we all answered the bell," Young said of the second quarter onslaught. "We all understood what was at stake. We all understood that we needed to step up. I'm blessed to have the teammates I do, because when our backs are kind of against the wall, we understand what we need, and we kind of got our spark and started moving.
"I'm happy we started getting going when we did."
Young had 326 first-half yards, 286 in the air and 40 rushing, and his 55-yard strike to Williams at the 13:10 mark of the third quarter put Alabama up 31-17. A 42-yard interception return for a score by safety Jordan Battle at the expense of Bennett with 11:59 remaining in the game gave the Tide their largest lead at 38-17.
Alabama has now defeated Georgia seven consecutive times, with Saturday's result matching last year's score in Tuscaloosa. Saban may have lost to a former assistant earlier this season when Alabama fell to Jimbo Fisher's Texas A&M Aggies in College Station, but he's yet to lose to a former Tide assistant.
"I'm extremely proud of our coaching staff, our players and the entire organization," Saban said. "We've probably had to overcome more adversity and have more resiliency from a competitive standpoint than probably most of the teams we've ever had, and I'm really proud of them for that."
Said Young: "We know there's still a long road ahead. We've got that two-game season to prepare for. We've got the 24-hour rule, and we get back at it."