While nobody is going to compare Alabama's Nick Saban and Georgia's Kirby Smart in terms of the national championship and Southeastern Conference championship hardware they've collected as head coaches, there is one notable area in which Smart has experienced more success.
While Saban owns a 10-8 career mark against the Tigers, which spans his years at LSU and Alabama, Smart is a far more dominant 5-1 after Saturday night's 27-6 trampling inside Sanford Stadium. While Saban's Crimson Tide have lost two of the past three Iron Bowls, Smart's Bulldogs have now won four straight in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry by the suffocating average score of 26-9.
Georgia has managed to defeat Auburn under Smart with two true freshman quarterbacks — Jacob Eason in 2016 and Jake Fromm in the 2017 Southeastern Conference championship game — and with Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on who wasn't forced to run for his life Saturday night like Tigers counterpart Bo Nix.
"I just think we all realize how big of a game that it is and how much Auburn wants to beat us," Bennett said Saturday night on a Zoom call. "We're just not going to let that happen. It's the way we approach the week, because we respect the heck out of Auburn. They're a great football team, but we just know that if we don't practice well they will beat us, and we just don't let that happen."
Auburn had winning series records against four consecutive Bulldogs coaches — Johnny Griffith (2-1), Vince Dooley (13-11-1), Ray Goff (4-2-1) and Jim Donnan (3-2) — and it looked like more of the same when the Tigers won three of the first five meetings at Mark Richt's expense. It's been all Georgia ever since, however, as the Bulldogs have claimed 13 of the past 16 encounters.
Nobody in the SEC has been more competitive against Saban than Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who is 3-4 in head-to-head meetings, but Malzahn is 2-7 against the Bulldogs.
"I got comfortable playing against Auburn with Gus at the helm," Smart said Saturday night, "and by comfortable I mean that I felt like I knew what they were going to do, because I have a strong, long history, just like he knows what we're going to do. You can try to outexecute him, or maybe you see things coming before they come, but it was different tonight. That was not the old Auburn.
"You may say the result was the same, but (offensive coordinator) Chad (Morris) is running that offense, and they're doing different things. They've got receivers lining up all over the place. They're in empty (backfield formations) more. If anything, they're probably struggling to run the ball as well as they have in the past, but that was not a traditional Auburn offense to me."
Smart will get a third crack at Saban inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Oct. 17, when Saban likely will be aiming for a 22-0 mark against his former assistants.
Saban improved to 20-0 in such games Saturday with the Tide's resounding 52-24 punishing of Jimbo Fisher's Texas A&M Aggies, and Alabama is scheduled to face Ole Miss and first-year Rebels coach Lane Kiffin in Oxford this week. Against the Aggies, the Tide had the ball for just 22 minutes and 18 seconds but made the most of that reduced time by averaging an eye-popping 9.9 yards per play.
"We made a lot of big plays on offense, so we didn't have the ball very long," Saban said. "The way they played us, we had to utilize the skill guys that we have and take shots. They were up there stopping the run, and their safeties were very aggressive, so I thought we did a good job adjusting to that and making some big plays."
Alabama's receiver duo of DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle may be moving forward as a trio of Smith, Waddle and John Metchie, a sophomore who shredded Texas A&M for 181 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. Redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones continues to legitimatize his candidacy for a Heisman Trophy ceremony invite — that thing has to be virtual this year, doesn't it? — and an opponent finally missed a field goal.
When Seth Small misfired from 37 yards in the first quarter, it marked the first failed attempt against Alabama since Georgia's Rodrigo Blankenship missed in the third quarter of the 2018 SEC title game. Small ended a stretch of 25 straight successful attempts.
Florida won its 31st consecutive home opener — the longest such streak in the nation — with Saturday's 38-24 topping of South Carolina in the Will Muschamp Bowl.
Muschamp, incidentally, is 2-7 in the Muschamp Bowl.
Quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts continue to shine quite brightly for the Gators, and the crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was listed at 15,120, or 17,504 with cutouts included.
Arkansas downing Mississippi State 21-14 in Starkville gave the SEC its second staggering upset in as many weeks — should we be surprised that both involve MSU first-year coach Mike Leach? — but the wildest game Saturday was Kentucky's 42-41 loss to visiting Ole Miss in overtime. The Wildcats blew a 28-14 lead in the third quarter and missed an extra point in overtime.
"We've got to send a Christmas present to their kicker," Kiffin said afterward.
The Wildcats are 0-2 with games the next three weeks against Mississippi State, Tennessee and Georgia. That could translate into a 1-4 or 0-5 record at the halfway mark given Kentucky's historical woes against the Volunteers and Bulldogs.
Ole Miss ended a six-game losing streak in overtime games dating to 2004 and won its first road overtime game since the emotional 24-17 triumph at Auburn in 1999, which transpired several months after Tommy Tuberville left Oxford but remained in the SEC West.