Bama pulls stunner between hedges, 41-30 over Dogs

Published 10:15 pm Saturday, September 27, 2008

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) _ Forget the blackout. This was an early knockout.

Backed by a dominant defense and John Parker Wilson’s accurate passing, No. 8 Alabama raced to a stunning 31-point lead by halftime against self-destructing Georgia and held on to beat the third-ranked Bulldogs 41-30 Saturday night, establishing Nick Saban’s team as a national championship contender in his second season.

Georgia (4-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) became the third team in the top four to fall on a devastating week for ranked teams, joining No. 1 USC and No. 4 Florida in the loss column.

Alabama (5-0, 2-0) is poised to move up at least three or four spots when the new poll comes out Sunday, and the Tide certainly looked as impressive as anyone all year in winning decisively on the road against a team that started the season at the top of the heap.

Wilson went 13-of-16 passing for 205 yards and a touchdown, while Glenn Coffee ran for two scores in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. Georgia scored two touchdowns in the waning minutes.

Not even the most optimistic Alabama fan could have expected Saban, who won a national championship at LSU, to turn the Tide so quickly. This again looks like a program more in keeping with the tradition of Bear Bryant, not Saban predecessor Mike Shula.

Looking for a motivational edge, Georgia came out wearing black jerseys, and most of its fans at 92,000-seat Sanford Stadium also took part in the “blackout.” But the biggest cheers came from the white-clad Alabamians sprinkled throughout the massive stands.

Georgia showed some disturbing tendencies even while winning its first four games, and those sure came back to bite the Bulldogs. They were flagged twice in the opening half for roughing the passer, crucial but familiar mistakes for a team that already was the most penalized in the SEC. Also, an offensive line featuring two freshman and two sophomores was no match for Alabama’s massive front led by 365-pound Terrence Cody.

Knowshon Moreno got only nine carries for 34 yards, and quarterback Matthew Stafford spent much of the game running for his life as Georgia’s 11-game winning streak ended.

The Bulldogs actually made Alabama a little nervous in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, closing to 31-17 on Prince Miller’s 92-yard punt return. But the Tide calmly wrapped it up on the next possession, driving 51 yards in eight plays for Leigh Tiffin’s second field goal.

The game was decided before halftime. Alabama took the opening kickoff and pushed 80 yards in 11 plays, benefiting from two Georgia penalties that helped keep the drive moving.

Miller was called for pass interference in the end zone, which wasn’t a bad one to take since it looked as though he was beaten. But there was no excuse for Akeem Dent delivering a blow to Wilson’s face, which negated a fumble that Georgia recovered after a completed pass. Two plays later, Mark Ingram scored on a 7-yard run.

The Tide was just getting started.

Georgia was called for two more crucial penalties on the visiting team’s next possession — a defensive holding on Miller and another roughing-the-passer penalty when Jarius Wynn delivered a blow on Wilson a full two steps after he let go of a pass. The Bulldogs stiffened near the goal line, forcing the Tide to settle for Tiffin’s 23-yard field goal.

After Brian Mimbs shanked a 19-yard punt, Wilson hooked up with star freshman Julio Jones on a 31-yard pass and Coffee finished off the 48-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown.

The Bulldogs couldn’t do anything right. A.J. Green, the freshman receiver coming off a huge game at Arizona State, had the ball stripped away after a catch. Dont’a Hightower, Alabama’s star freshman on defense, grabbed it out of the air and started another Tide possession on Georgia’s side of the field, this time at the 33.

On third-and-goal at the 4, the Tide lined up in the shotgun and handed off to Roy Upchurch, who burst up the middle without being touched until he was in the end zone.

Wilson’s 22-yard pass to Jones completed the onslaught and left Georgia with its worst deficit in Mark Richt’s eight years as coach.