Instant Analysis: Georgia-Alabama

In a game with momentum shifts as pronounced as they were bizarre, Georgia was fortunate enough to have the last pendulum swing on a tense night in Tuscaloosa. As a result, Mark Richt's team avoided a crash-and-burn September in the SEC.

The stakes were higher than high for a Bulldog bunch that lost at home to South Carolina two weeks ago. A loss at Alabama would have buried a once-promising season before the month of October--and backyard wars against Tennessee and Florida. With past SEC glories long gone, a new identity had to be shaped by players who, for the most part, were not around when the Dawgs won their last league championship in 2005. In the cauldron of Bryant-Denny Stadium, quarterback Matthew Stafford and his teammates had to absorb the body blows and rise above the all-too-understandable fears that accompany any team that hasn't yet learned how to cross the threshold. The decisive step from the land of potential to the terrain of triumph is the wrenching journey unproven teams must make if they want to become great. Stafford and Georgia needed to travel this path against a Nick Saban-coached team that was overflowing with confidence and home-fed adrenaline.

When all was said and done, Stafford got his team to the finish line first, but there were many wobbles, twists and turns along the way. Stafford himself threw a number of soft passes into tight coverage, proof that the young man's decision making still has much room for improvement. Georgia's defense--dominating in stretches--could never seem to stand prosperity. In each half, the Dawgs built a 10-point lead. In each half, the Tide closed the gap, tying the game early in the third and again with 1:10 left in regulation on a touchdown run by a valiant John Parker Wilson, who is slowly but steadily maturing into a leader as Alabama's top signal caller. The game's ebb-and-flow came down to a simple pair of patterns: when the game was tied, Georgia surged. When Bama trailed, the Tide thrived. This held true for sixty minutes and carried into the overtime inning.

Despite a late 10-0 Bama burst that sent the game into college football's equivalent of bonus baseball, the Tide's momentum abruptly came to a halt. It defied logic, but it happened. For whatever reason, the same offense that worked very effectively when facing deficits suddenly lost its punch in the 20-20 stalemate. While Bama kicker Leigh Tiffin--happily enjoying a successful season after the nightmares that befell him in 2006--did nail a 42-yard field goal to put the Tide in front, the Dawgs had still gained the upper hand in overtime, when touchdowns usually win and three points feel like a punt.

All that was left was for Stafford to produce 25 yards and six points. It wouldn't take him long to do so.

A perfect pass to Mikey Henderson on the left sideline abruptly ended the night's rollercoaster ride. Much more importantly, it saved the Dawgs from disaster on a night when legendary Georgia radio voice Larry Munson was unable to call the action for health-related reasons. David Greene and D.J. Shockley became accustomed to working last-minute magic to win SEC donnybrooks, especially on the road. Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Matthew Stafford might have encountered the kind of man-making motivational moment that will transform the collective psyche of a Georgia program that received a huge boost when it needed one in the worst possible way.

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