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Georgia’s History Against Alabama Is Defined by Heartbreak. Can It Finally Break Through?

For the past 15 years, Georgia repeatedly has pushed Bama to the brink … only to lose in excruciating fashion. Before Monday’s national championship matchup kicks off, let’s go through that past to understand what’s really at stake.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

Georgia’s mascot was Uga VI when the Bulldogs beat Alabama in 2007, during Nick Saban’s first season as the Crimson Tide’s head coach. Uga VI was a good dog, as all Ugas are. He was the heaviest Uga of all time, at 65 pounds. He was the winningest Uga, too, as Georgia won 87 football games in his tenure, including going 3-0 against the Tide. Uga VI died in 2008 at 9 years old—heart failure, as often happens with English bulldogs. His successor, Uga VII, passed away before Georgia could beat Bama again. Same with Uga VIII and Uga IX. Four Ugas have now died since the last time that Georgia defeated Alabama, huffing and puffing their way across the rainbow bridge to roll around on that big bag of ice cubes in the sky.

It’s not particularly notable that Alabama has a long winning streak against Georgia. After all, Alabama has a long winning streak against pretty much everybody. Alabama has won six of the past eight SEC championships and three of the past seven College Football Playoff national championships. The Tide have won 34 consecutive games against SEC East competition, a streak that dates back to 2010.

But unlike Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee, Georgia hasn’t been doomed from the moment its games against Bama have kicked off. (Sorry, Vols fans. You know it’s true.) Georgia has been the second-best program in the SEC in recent years, repeatedly facing the Tide on prominent stages. Since 2012, the Dawgs have met Bama in the SEC title game three times. Monday will mark their second national championship showdown in five seasons. The Bulldogs have been ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll for each of their past seven matchups against Alabama, six of which were played in the state of Georgia.

They’ve lost all seven. According to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, the Dawgs have led or been tied with Bama for 71 percent of their past four matchups. It hasn’t mattered. They led by double-digits, and they forced Alabama to overtime. None of it’s made a difference. These two programs have played some of the most memorable games in recent college football history—and one has all the wins.

It makes sense that Georgia would be capable of pushing Alabama to the brink. The Dawgs have essentially built their own version of Bama. Their head coach, Kirby Smart, was Saban’s defensive coordinator from 2008 to 2015. Their co-defensive coordinators, Dan Lanning and Glenn Schumann, both used to serve on Saban’s staff. Their special teams coordinator, Scott Cochran, spent 17 seasons working as Saban’s strength and conditioning coach at LSU and then Alabama; Smart lured him away by offering him an on-field coaching gig.

Even the way Georgia plays is reminiscent of many past Alabama teams: The Bulldogs try to suffocate their opponents on defense while cobbling together enough points on offense. They’re ranked first in points allowed per game (9.6); no other FBS team allowed fewer than 14. Meanwhile, their quarterback is a junior college transfer named Stetson Fleming Bennett IV. This Georgia squad feels more Sabancore than the last few Bama teams that have put up 50 points per game behind Heisman Trophy–caliber QBs.

If the Dawgs win Monday night in Indianapolis, they will end a 40-year title drought and achieve a glorious breakthrough against a team that has tortured them. If Bama wins, it’ll just be another title for the Tide. If history has taught us anything, it’s that we can expect Georgia to get as close to a victory as possible before Alabama snatches it away. To understand what’s at stake, let’s go through the past 15 years of a rivalry that is somehow both the most competitive in the sport and totally lopsided at the same time.

Alabama 41, Georgia 30 (September 27, 2008)

Saban’s first win over Georgia was so devastating that it convinced the Dawgs not to wear black uniforms again for seven years. Entering the game, Georgia had all the hype: It was 4-0, ranked no. 3 in the nation, and had Matthew Stafford at quarterback. ESPN’s College GameDay came to Athens for the game, and Georgia wore black uniforms while inviting fans to black out Sanford Stadium. This didn’t work as intended. As Cochran, then with Alabama, said at the time: “They’re wearing black because they’re going to a motherfucking funeral.”

Alabama raced out a 31-0 halftime lead. Georgia didn’t host another blackout until 2016. (Cochran, now on staff at Georgia, said he’s glad that his players aren’t old enough to remember the “funeral” comment.)

In retrospect, the Tide coming into a supercharged Sanford Stadium and blowing the doors off their opponent was the first glimpse of how ruthless Bama would be under Saban. It was also the first glimpse of just how effective it would be at breaking Georgia hearts.

Alabama 32, Georgia 28 in the SEC Championship Game (December 1, 2012)

This was essentially a play-in game for a spot in the national championship: Bama came in ranked no. 2 in the polls, while Georgia was ranked no. 3. Georgia surged to a 21-10 lead behind a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown—a quality entry in the Nick Saban Special Teams Disasters Catalog. But Alabama took the lead with three minutes left in the fourth quarter on a 45-yard pass from AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper:

Georgia almost responded with a game-winning touchdown, but finished 5 yards short. Wide receiver Chris Conley slipped and fell inbounds with five seconds left and the clock running:

Alabama went on to absolutely destroy Notre Dame in the national championship game—the Fighting Irish getting their asses kicked on a big stage is perhaps the only college football tradition more reliable than the Dawgs getting their hearts ripped out by the Tide. After coming so close to beating Alabama and then watching the Tide roll in the title game, Georgia was probably left wondering what could have been.

Alabama 38, Georgia 10 (October 3, 2015)

Two weeks before this matchup, Bama had lost to Ole Miss, in a game that included this highlight, and fallen out of the top 10 in the AP poll. It righted the ship by kicking the hell out of then-eighth-ranked Georgia, taking a 38-3 lead in front of a miserable crowd in Athens.

The Tide went on to win that season’s national championship by beating Clemson. Georgia closed out the season by firing head coach Mark Richt, ending his 15-year tenure at the school.

Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT) in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game (January 8, 2018)

Everything was set up for Georgia to finally break through. The Dawgs had just won their first SEC title game since 2005 and survived an iconic Rose Bowl semifinal by edging out Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma. For the first time, the national championship game was being played in Atlanta. Georgia looked like a force in Smart’s second season at the helm, and held Bama in check through the first half of the title game. The Dawgs shut the Tide out over 30 minutes of action to carry a 10-0 lead into the locker room.

Everything was set up for Georgia to finally break through … and then Saban made the incredible and unprecedented decision to bench SEC Offensive Player of the Year Jalen Hurts in favor of true freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa wasn’t the only youngster who got serious play, either: True freshmen Najee Harris, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III all made big plays in the second half after riding the bench early. Saban had essentially subbed in an entire unit of touted second-stringers at once. The result is the stuff of legend.

Alabama tied the game at 20 to force overtime. After being sacked for a 16-yard loss on the Tide’s first offensive play of the extra period, Tagovailoa threw a walk-off title-winning touchdown to DeVonta Smith—in the same corner of the end zone as Amari Cooper’s 2012 SEC-winning catch.

This is the best football game I’ve ever seen in person. I was standing in between a section of Georgia fans and the pylon when Smith caught his game-winning touchdown. I recently rewatched the video I took of that score, and realized that an empty aluminum Bud Light bottle flew out of the Georgia section and whizzed past my right shoulder as Smith streaked through the end zone in celebration. Georgia fans were bottle-throwing mad after suffering a fourth straight demoralizing loss to Alabama—but there would be more.

Alabama 35, Georgia 28 in the SEC Championship Game (December 1, 2018)

This game was a direct sequel to the national championship 12 months prior. Alabama went with Tagovailoa as its starter after his title-game heroics, relegating Hurts to the bench. But Tagovailoa was unproductive against Georgia, going 10-of-25 passing with two interceptions as the Bulldogs took a 28-14 lead. In the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa got hurt—allowing Hurts to come in to lead a stunning comeback.

It was a beautiful redemption story for Hurts … you know, unless you’re a Georgia fan. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs had a quarterback development of their own: They played Jake Fromm over coveted true freshman backup Justin Fields, but chose to deploy the future first-round NFL draft pick on a doomed fake punt with the score tied at 28 in the fourth quarter. Fields transferred to Ohio State mere weeks later.

That’s just how this rivalry has gone: One team pushes a button to insert its prized true freshman at quarterback and wins a glorious victory. The other pushes the same button and has a stick of dynamite blow up in its face. Time and again in these games, Georgia is Wile E. Coyote.

Alabama 41, Georgia 24 (October 17, 2020)

Credit to Georgia—most teams didn’t come close to beating Alabama in the 2020 season. But the Bulldogs went to Tuscaloosa and put up a good fight. This was a matchup between the second- and third-ranked teams in the nation, and Georgia established a 24-17 lead late in the first half. Then it got buried by 24 straight Alabama points. The Dawgs gave up second-half touchdowns to Jaylen Waddle, Najee Harris, and DeVonta Smith, all of whom became first-round NFL draft picks and just had incredible rookie seasons.

Alabama went on to win the national championship, because that’s what Alabama does. Georgia pushed Bama harder than any of the teams the Tide faced in the playoff, a story we’ve heard before.

Alabama 41, Georgia 24 in the SEC Championship Game (December 4, 2021)

Last month, Georgia had a chance to deliver a knockout blow to Alabama’s title chances. The Bulldogs were undefeated and sitting atop the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings. Alabama had lost to Texas A&M in October, so a second loss would have eliminated it from the playoff picture. This was Georgia’s opportunity to squash its Bama problem early. Instead, Bama did the squashing.

Before the SEC title game, Georgia’s defense hadn’t allowed more than 17 points in a game all season. Bama hung 41, with quarterback Bryce Young all but clinching the Heisman Trophy with a 421-yard, three-touchdown passing performance.

Bama won 41-24, the exact same score as the 2020 regular-season matchup. That’s kind of how this rivalry works: These teams keep playing the same games, in the same venues, sometimes on the same dates. The names and years are different, but the end result is always the same.

Georgia now plays under the watchful eyes of Uga X, nicknamed “Que,” the feisty boy who once picked a fight with the Texas Longhorns’ mascot, Bevo, in the Sugar Bowl. Que is almost 9 years old—that’s 63 in “dog years,” but probably somewhere near 100 in bulldog years—and he’s never seen Georgia beat Alabama in football. Every dog has its day … except, apparently, against Nick Saban. If Bama triumphs Monday night, its streak against Georgia will extend to eight games spanning 14 years. We can only pray that it doesn’t reach five Ugas.