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ATLANTA — A rare version of Nick Saban made an appearance Saturday.
The Saban who was told he can’t.
The Saban who, when he was pumping gas for his dad’s full-service gas station in West Virginia, was told that he would never graduate from college. The Saban who was told he would end up back home, working in the coal mines.
“We all can probably think of some occasion in our life where somebody told us there was something we couldn’t do,” Saban said Thursday.
There aren’t many of those occasions for Saban recently, though. Not when Alabama is favored heading into just about every game. And Saban especially doesn’t have many of those moments anymore after he won his seventh national championship in 2020.
And yet, the message to Saban and Alabama football leading to the SEC Championship Game, as a 6.5-point underdog to No. 1 Georgia, was they can’t win.
Well, Alabama showed it can. And it did.
No. 2 Alabama won 41-24 over the Bulldogs on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With the win, Alabama (12-1) all but locks up a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Here are observations and takeaways from Alabama’s win over Georgia (12-1).
QB Bryce Young dazzles
Young left little doubt that he deserves to be the favorite for the Heisman Trophy.
He was already a favorite, but then he went out and made plays against the Georgia defense in a way no others have all season.
Georgia hadn't given up more than 17 points in a game all season, with 6.92 allowed per game. No problem, Young showed.
By the end of the first half, he set the record for most passing yards in an SEC Championship Game half with 286. And that wasn’t against any defense. That effort came against a group that was supposed to be historically good.
He finished the first half with three touchdowns, two through the air and one on the ground.
Young finished the game having completed 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Alabama counters Georgia’s vaunted defensive front
The Crimson Tide had plenty of question marks on the offensive line after giving up seven sacks to Auburn last week. Alabama answered.
The Crimson Tide utilized a quick tempo to get the ball out of Young’s hands and get playmakers in space. It seldom gave Georgia time to get home.
But there were times that a play required more time, and Alabama’s pass protection held up. On the first 67-yard touchdown to Jameson Williams over the middle, running back Brian Robinson Jr. stepped up in protection as the offensive line held its ground and Young had time to find Williams.
Against Auburn, Alabama gave up five sacks in the first half alone. Against Georgia? None.
The Crimson Tide stuck with the same offensive line with which it ended the Auburn game, and it proved to be a wise decision.
Jet-speed Jameson returns
Alabama sure missed Williams.
He had to sit out most of the Auburn game, and the Crimson Tide’s offense sputtered until the very end of the game because he was called for targeting in punt coverage.
He came back for the SEC Championship Game and proved lethal against Georgia’s tough secondary.
Just when Georgia looked like it might pummel Alabama after jumping out to a 10-0 lead and moving the ball with a fair amount of ease on the defense, Williams struck.
He took that 67-yard pass from Young, and even though defenders stood between him and the end zone, he ran right by them. That touchdown sparked Alabama’s offense and team overall.
Quick passes to Williams often proved effective as well. Of course, Williams struck on another deep ball, too. In the first drive of the second half, Young hit Williams on a 55-yard pass in the end zone to give Alabama a two-touchdown lead early in the third.
Williams caught seven total passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
DeMarcco Hellams, Jordan Battle step up against Georgia offense
At first, it looked like the Crimson Tide defense could be in for a long day.
On the second and third drive of the game, Georgia turned in two productive possessions. One went 11 plays for 52 yards and a field goal. The other went eight plays for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Alabama was starting to play on its heels, and Georgia showed no signs of slowing up.
Not so fast.
Alabama's defense forced two three-and-outs right after, and got stops down the stretch when it needed.
Georgia had other prime chances, no doubt. In the second half, it had an 11-play drive and a 12-play drive both result in turnover on downs.
Hellams first had an interception that ended one drive. Then he broke up a third-down pass in the end zone on the next.
The next drive? Battle turned in a pick-six.
It was the first pick-six in the SEC Championship Game since former Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick had one in 2016.
Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Alabama football bullies Georgia to win SEC Championship Game