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ATLANTA — By the time Alabama’s Jordan Battle returned a fourth-quarter interception for a score and a three-touchdown lead Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, someone needed to stop the beating.
An SEC Championship game billed as a heavyweight bout had become a whupping.
Georgia might get another shot at Alabama. If so, the Bulldogs better hope this wasn’t their best punch. Georgia landed a few blows throughout one quarter en route to a 10-point lead.
Alabama shrugged it off and rallied with such a fury that Georgia came off looking like a fraud.
The final: No. 2 Alabama 41, No. 1 Georgia 24.
Is that the best you’ve got, Bulldogs?
Bryce Young very likely won the Heisman Trophy with his performance. The Alabama quarterback scrambled, passed and pitched Georgia’s vaunted defense to pieces. It was thanks to Young that Alabama came to life in the second quarter. He completed nine straight passes and did additional damage with his legs.
ALABAMA MAKES IT CASE: 41-24 win should be enough for No. 1 seed
Alabama (12-1) scored 24 points during the quarter – seven more points than Georgia had allowed in any full game this season. The Crimson Tide also began a seizing of the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff after Georgia (12-1) had been the nation’s best collective team for three months.
The Evil Empire delivered its best showing of the year after many had begun to count it out.
This result shouldn’t knock Georgia out of the four-team playoff field, which will be announced Sunday.
These teams might meet again, but first, the Bulldogs need to lick their wounds.
The selection committee ought to bump Alabama to No. 1 and slide Georgia to No. 3 to save the potential rematch for the national championship.
Georgia entered Saturday with an average margin of victory of 33.8 points, but the question lingered whether it could vanquish its Alabama demons, secure the No. 1 seed and eliminate the Crimson Tide.
Now, questions abound for Georgia.
A sampling: Will Kirby Smart ever beat Nick Saban after falling to 0-4 all-time against his former boss, despite assembling the best team of his Georgia tenure? Can a team built with defense win a national championship in this quarterback-fueled era? Is this what Georgia’s pass coverage looks like when facing an elite quarterback? Was Georgia’s undefeated record a byproduct of not playing an opponent ranked in the top 15 of the latest CFP rankings?
Alabama once again proved toughest with its back against the wall, and Young saved his season-best performance for when the lights were the brightest, with Heisman voters and the playoff selection committee watching.
Young supplied a game’s worth of Heisman moments, including a 55-yard pass to Jameson Williams in the third quarter. The speedy wide receiver torched defensive backs Lewis Cine and Kelee Ringo and caught Young’s perfectly placed ball to give Alabama a 14-point lead.
Just like that, Georgia’s defense that had drawn comparisons to 2011 Alabama looked broken.
Big and fierce, but too slow.
Let’s not pretend we should have seen this coming, though.
Anyone who watched these teams throughout the season’s first 12 games understood why Georgia was favored. If the greatest coach in the sport’s history wasn’t on Alabama's sideline, the betting line likely would have been more lopsided than the 6.5-point spread favoring Georgia.
It’s not as if Alabama suffered one fluke loss to Texas A&M and otherwise handled its business. The Crimson Tide hadn’t delivered a complete performance against an SEC foe since October. Florida, LSU and Arkansas took Alabama to the brink – and then a mediocre Auburn team cast the biggest doubt by dominating the Crimson Tide for three quarters in the Iron Bowl before Alabama rallied to win in four overtimes.
Young led a 97-yard scoring drive to tie the Auburn game late in the fourth quarter. That served as the appetizer for his SEC Championship performance.
Elite quarterbacks beat elite defenses, as Young reminded us Saturday. It didn’t matter that no Alabama running back surpassed 55 yards.
Little need for handoffs with Young picking apart Georgia’s secondary. Credit Alabama’s offensive line, which surrendered seven sacks against Auburn, for finding fortitude.
By halftime, Young had broken the first-half record for passing yards in an SEC Championship game. By game’s end, he’d broken the passing record and secured most valuable player honors with 421 yards passing, 40 rushing and four total touchdowns.
Next up: A trip to New York, where Young likely will receive college football’s top individual honor.
Alabama will enter the playoff with its status as favorite restored. Georgia will limp in exposed, having been stripped of its invincibility.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Alabama football makes Georgia look like fraud in SEC title game