TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A positive COVID-19 test couldn't keep Nick Saban from the sideline, and Georgia's heralded defense had scant hope of keeping Alabama's playmakers out of the end zone.
Mac Jones passed for 417 yards and four touchdowns and the No. 2 Crimson Tide picked apart No. 3 Georgia in the second half of a 41-24 victory Saturday night. It ended up being a decisive 'Bama victory in a collision of the Southeastern Conference’s last remaining unbeaten teams.
The Crimson Tide (4-0), with Saban stalking the sideline after all, rallied with three touchdowns in a 10-minute span starting late in the third quarter.
The nation's top scoring offense ultimately got the emphatic upper hand in a battle with the Bulldogs (3-1) and one of the nation's best defenses.
“This was an obvious great win against a very, very good football team,” said Saban, who was cleared early in the day after a false COVID positiv e. "I was very proud of the way our guys fought in the game.
“I sort of knew it was going to be a 15-round fight and we wouldn’t be winning until the late rounds.”
Georgia had no answer for Jones and star receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, especially with Alabama's own beleaguered defense grabbing two second-half interceptions and three overall. Freshman Malachi Moore had one at the goal line and returned it 42 yards.
Smith caught 11 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including one in the fourth quarter that effectively put it out of reach.
Waddle caught a 90-yard touchdown pass and gained 161 yards on six catches. Jones completed 24 of 32 passes and was strong after an interception on the opening play.
“The goal was just to win the game,” Jones said. “You can look at their defense. They have good players in the secondary, they have good linebackers, they have good defensive linemen but so do we.”
Then there was some old-school ground and pound, too. Najee Harris gained 152 yards on 31 carries carries with a touchdown during that game-clinching span. He did it against the nation's top run defense, which came in allowing 38 rushing yards and 12.3 points per game.
Stetson Bennett completed 18 of 40 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, including an 82-yarder to James Cook. But he threw three interceptions.
Bennett was angry with himself over his mistakes, especially that final interception throwing across his body, calling it “just stupid.”
“I was frustrated with myself,” the former walk-on said.
Alabama got a boost about seven hours before the game when the SEC cleared coach Saban to return to business of usual, determining a Wednesday COVID test was a false positive. He tested negative Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“That was very emotional,” he said.
“It was very crazy,” Jones said. “We were in our little quarterback meeting and he just showed up.”
A maskless Saban was yelling at a referee after an intentional grounding call in the second quarter.
The Tide has won the last six meetings with Georgia, including a 3-0 record against Saban's former defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart. The first two came in the January 2018 national championship game and the SEC championship game the following season.
Kentucky snaps skid at Neyland, beats No. 18 Tennessee 34-7
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Kelvin Joseph and Jami Davis returned interceptions for touchdowns in the first half and Kentucky shut out No. 18 Tennessee in the second half to bury the Volunteers 34-7 Saturday.
It was Kentucky's first win in Neyland Stadium since 1984, the Wildcats' largest margin of victory in Knoxville since 56-0 in 1893 and their most lopsided victory in the series since 1935.
After getting six interceptions and allowing only a safety against Mississippi State last week, Kentucky (2-2) picked off three passes against the Vols (2-2).
Tennessee has now followed up an eight-game winning streak with a two-game losing streak.
Joseph's 41-yard touchdown and Davis' 85-yard return — both off interceptions thrown by Jarrett Guarantano — helped put Kentucky up 17-0 in the second quarter.
Earlier in the season, Kentucky had shown signs of having difficulty recovering from adversity. Against Ole Miss, a missed field goal was followed by 21 straight Ole Miss points and a 42-41 loss. Kentucky seemed to solve that Saturday.
Nix picks cost No. 15 Auburn in 30-22 loss to South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Kevin Harris ran for two touchdowns and South Carolina turned three interceptions thrown by Bo Nix into points to defeat No. 15 Auburn for the first time in 87 years with a 30-22 victory on Saturday.
The Tigers (2-2 Southeastern Conference) had won eight straight in the series and jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes. But Nix, the sophomore quarterback, threw three picks and the Gamecocks (2-2) cashed in each time to win consecutive games for the first time in more than a year.
Shi Smith had eight catches including a 10-yard TD grab midway through the third quarter and put South Carolina ahead for good, 20-19.
Auburn was driving on its following series when Nix threw his third interception — and second to cornerback Jaycee Horn who brought the ball down the left sidelines to the Tigers' 8. Harris was in the end zone a play later for a 27-19 lead and Auburn could not recover.
The Tigers closed to 30-22 on Anders Carlson's 22 yard field goal with 6:39 left. Auburn got the ball back once more with 2:15 left and drove to the South Carolina 13. Nix, though, was called for intentional grounding trying to avoid a sack and the Gamecocks held on to beat the Tigers for the first time since 1933.
Arkansas forces seven turnovers, beats Ole Miss 33-21
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas forced quarterback Matt Corral to throw six interceptions as the Razorbacks scored 24 points off seven turnovers in a 33-21 win over Mississippi on Saturday.
Three first-half Rebels’ giveaways helped provide Arkansas (2-2, 2-2) a 20-0 halftime lead. It was the Razorbacks’ largest halftime advantage in an Southeastern Conference game since 2016, their last winning season.
Corral entered the game second in the league in yards passing and had thrown just one interception through three games for Ole Miss (1-3, 1-3). He threw two touchdown passes against the Razorbacks but had a season-low 200 yards in addition to his six picks.
Linebacker Grant Morgan took Corral’s fifth interception 23 yards to the end zone for the game’s final score with 3:07 remaining. Hudson Clark’s third interception on Ole Miss’ ensuing drive sealed the game.
Feleipe Franks was 21-of 34 passing for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Arkansas.
Jerrion Ealy ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries for the Rebels.
No. 11 Texas A&M beats Mississippi State 28-14
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Isaiah Spiller ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns and Kellen Mond threw for two scores to help No. 11 Texas A&M beat Mississippi State 28-14 on Saturday.
Texas A&M (3-1) led 14-0 at the half and had 325 yards of total offense in the game. Ainias Smith caught five passes for 20 yards and a touchdown. Chase Lane caught two passes, including a 51-yard touchdown reception in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
Mississippi State (1-3) had little offensive rhythm for the third straight game. The Bulldogs' first touchdown came on Emmanuel Forbes' interception return in the third quarter.
Bulldogs coach Mike Leach benched starting quarterback KJ Costello midway through the second half for freshman Will Rogers, same as he did last week in a 24-2 loss at Kentucky. Rogers connected with Malik Heath for a 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Texas A&M’s defense continually disrupted the line of scrimmage, finishing with six sacks and eight tackles for loss. Mississippi State had minus-2 yards rushing and 217 yards of total offense.