Dawgs On Top: How Georgia Finally Conquered Alabama’s College Football Empire



On Monday, January 10, the Georgia Bulldogs finally overcame their football program’s biggest hump of the College Football Playoff era, defeating Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship Game by a score of 33-18. While Georgia was favored by a spread of two and a half points and was widely considered the best team in the country for the majority of the 2021 season, many doubted Kirby Smart’s squad against the dynastic Tide, who went into the game having won an unprecedented six of the last twelve national championships. 

Amid several successful seasons with Smart at the helm, 2017 seemed the most like it was Georgia’s year, posting a near perfect season and reaching the national championship game to face off against Alabama. Georgia built a 13-point lead midway through the third quarter only to squander it and lose 26-23 in overtime, ending their title dreams in heartbreaking fashion.

To beat Bama, Kirby Smart realized that he had to become Bama. Smart based his vision for the program after what he had learned during his several stints coaching under Nick Saban, and knew he had to focus on recruiting across the country at the highest level and building his team around a top-notch defense. 

This vision for his program started to come true almost immediately. Georgia boasted the number one overall recruiting class in both 2018 and 2020, as well as coming in at second and fourth in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Hauling in world-class talent at such an incredibly high clip soon paid off on the defensive side of the ball. In the past four seasons, the Bulldogs’ defense has finished in the top-20 in points allowed per game, coming in at first in the country this year with a stellar defense that surrendered merely 9.5 points each game, seeming nearly unstoppable.

With the defensive unit put together and firing on all cylinders, the Bulldogs were immediately put into the championship conversation. Smart’s elite team started receiving number one votes in the AP Poll as soon as Week 2 after taking down the number-two ranked Clemson Tigers in a slugfest by a score of 10-3. But Smart’s crew faced another challenge when former five-star recruit and Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year JT Daniels went down in late September with an oblique injury, and again later with a strained lat muscle. In came former walk-on Stetson “The Mailman” Bennet IV, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior. Standing at an unassuming 5’11” 190 pounds, with only a mediocre 8 starts in 2020 under his belt, many doubted whether Bennett could lead Georgia to the promised land. But the Dawgs kept winning, and Bennett remained the starter even when Daniels was healthy, despite Daniels’ undefeated record as Georgia’s signal-caller. Sitting at 12-0 going into the SEC championship game against Alabama favored by a touchdown, all eyes looked upon Bennett to keep the wheels turning for Georgia.

The SEC championship game proved to be a disaster for the Bulldogs. Losing handily by 17 points, Bennett and the lauded defense choked in their biggest game up to that point. Faith in Bennett waned among Georgia fans, calling for the talented Daniels to return to the starting role. Doubt in the Bulldogs started to build once again, with echoes of all the old questions from seasons prior starting to flow right back. 

In the playoff semifinals, which featured Georgia against Michigan and Alabama playing Cincinnati, both ended in blowouts in favor of the SEC teams, thus pitting Georgia and Alabama against each other in a rematch for the national title. 

The battle for the championship started off slowly, with all the points coming from field goals, sending the game to halftime with Alabama up 9-6. In the third quarter, both teams started to come alive, trading scores amid several turnovers. Following an unfortunate Stetson Bennett fumble deep in Georgia territory, Alabama quickly punched it in, putting the Georgia faithful in despair. 

Bennett remained unfazed, telling himself that he “was not going to be the reason we lose the game.” The Mailman delivered a few plays later with a 40-yard throw into a tiny window to freshman receiver Adonai Mitchell, who came down with the ball in the end zone to reclaim the lead. Georgia quickly got the ball back and extended their lead to eight, leaving Alabama playing desperation football. With a minute left, Alabama’s Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young lofted an underthrown ball into the hands of Georgia’s Kelee Ringo who took the return 79 yards to the house, putting a dagger in the hearts of Alabama fans. 60 seconds later, Bulldog linebacker Nolan Smith came flying off the edge to sack Young as the clock read all zeroes and the crowd erupted. In a brilliant display of talent and composure, Georgia would become the kings of college football for the first time in 41 years, Smart finally took down Saban to bring a championship to his alma mater, and Stetson Bennett proved all the doubters wrong, all overcoming numerous obstacles in a victory that can best be described as pure catharsis.