ATLANTA — The Godzilla unit of the whole national college football season, Georgia’s defense, underwent an attack so outrageous Saturday that all the understanding accrued across three months seemed to go kaput in hours. Somehow, an Alabama offense had gone from stagecoach to spaceship in seven days, and somehow, from the second quarter forward, the defense of the year and maybe even of the ages began to look misshapen, distorted and maybe even winded.

The No. 1 Bulldogs would finish the SEC championship game with one of the odder phrases possible: upset by Alabama. The 41-24 pasting in front of 78,030 goggle-eyed witnesses would become the seventh straight Georgia loss to Alabama dotting the last 14 seasons among neighbors who seldom meet. It would plunk Georgia Coach Kirby Smart to 0-4 against his former boss, Alabama Coach Nick Saban, after multitudes woke up figuring Saturday the last day of that schneid. It might make the Georgia fans, who filed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium with something north of hope, wonder: If not now, when?

Well, maybe in a few weeks, if they can stomach the thought.

While No. 3 Alabama (12-1) certainly qualified for its seventh College Football Playoff in the eight seasons of the four-team concept, and its brilliant Californian quarterback, Bryce Young, almost certainly qualified for Alabama’s third Heisman Trophy in that span, college football intellectuals figure there’ll be a space also for Georgia (12-1), even after its defense spent a day looking like somebody else’s defense.

It had given up a puny 229.7 yards per game across 12 games.

Here, it gave up a no-way 536.

It had given up a microscopic 83 points.

Here, it gave up 41 percent of that, discounting a late interception return for a touchdown.

“It didn’t do any damage” to the Georgia psyche, Smart said thereafter. “What it did was reinvigorate our energy. It re-centers you.” He said he told his players, an entrenched and unanimous No. 1, “I love ’em and I appreciate ’em, and you know, the outside noise begins now.”

Alabama knew such noise already, in the form of mass harrumphs at its imperfections which had been more imperfect than usual, mostly from its lavishly privileged fans. So before he thanked the media in general, Saban got the chance at a one-liner, which he nailed: “You guys gave us a lot of really positive rat poison (meaning derision). The rat poison that you usually give us (flattery) is usually fatal. But the rat poison you gave us this week was yummy.”

The whole jarring onslaught of it, done with a so-so rushing game, helped Alabama zoom from 10-0 behind to 31-17 ahead, and it came just seven days after the Crimson Tide had looked near-stagnant down the road at Auburn through almost the entirety of regulation time, which ended 10-10. “I think sometimes when you start a game,” Saban said, “the speed of the game gets you a little bit,” what with practices unable to simulate the Georgia defense, but then “once you sort of get used to the speed of the game, you start operating a little bit better.”

Young went 26 for 44 for 421 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions, amassing 461 total yards, an event record. Wideouts, long an Alabama specialty, zigzagged madly. Jameson Williams, so fast he can seem to produce contrails, caught seven passes for 184 yards, and John Metchie III caught six for 97 before sustaining a knee injury. Eight Alabama residents caught passes. The offensive line, doubted since its muddled venture to Auburn, allowed zero sacks and an inconsequential four tackles for loss to a frightening front seven, such that Young extolled that line and said, “I think they just kept hearing it [criticism] and hearing it.”

By the way, the day had begun as a Georgia moment in a Georgia season. A contagious bravado filled the air as Georgians filed into the stadium. The two reds, so close to each other in the Pantone scheme, made the indoors into another lower-case red sea.

All seemed predictably Georgian up to a point, and that point came four seconds into the second quarter. When 6-foot-7 tight end Darnell Washington reached up to pluck a five-yard touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett for a 10-0 lead, the Bulldogs had just gone 97 yards in eight plays, their long path downright utopian.

Bennett had thrown six passes, completed six passes, completed them to six people — to three wide receivers, two tight ends and a running back. He had completed them to Ladd McConkey, Jermaine Burton, Zamir White, John Fitzpatrick, George Pickens and Washington — two guys from Georgia and one each from California, North Carolina, Alabama and, just for show, Las Vegas (the touchdown).

It looked precisely as drives should look, and it looked precisely as Georgia’s season had looked: airtight.

By then, one might have wondered: Can Alabama be blanked?

Answer: Hell, no.

On third and three, Young backed up from his own 33, looked a bit left and then back a bit right toward Williams, who ran alone between the hash marks at the 47. “We had a couple of busts,” Smart said. Williams caught it, headed left, reached the left sideline and kept gathering speed when that seemed improbable.

The 67-yard touchdown that made the score 10-7 didn’t change everything by itself, but a good lawyer could make a case that it did. Suddenly, a Georgia defense that came about as close to impermeable developed the bad kind of holiness: 24 points and 319 yards in the second quarter.

Young, masterful, guided Alabama 80 yards on six plays for a 14-10 lead, 79 yards in 12 plays for a 17-10 lead, 75 yards in nine plays for a 24-17 lead and, after halftime, 75 yards in five plays for a 31-17 lead. He threw pinpoint passes such as the 13-yard touchdown to Metchie that made it 14-10. He found receivers suddenly so alone it looked like they’d just stepped in off the sideline. He scrambled some, with moves worth the outrageous ticket prices. He even scrambled briefly once out of a thicket before pitching smartly to Brian Robinson Jr. for a 13-yard gain.

By the time that electrifying transfer from Ohio State, Williams, ran behind two Georgia defenders up the right side just after halftime to collect a 55-yard touchdown bomb, a feast for the eyes and that 31-17 lead, the game had become very much about Young rather than about the Georgia defense. It looked like Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, the former Houston Texans coach, had emerged from his laboratory, his eyes Auburn-bleary, but a solution in hand.

It went all the way to Young chewing clock with grinding plays in the fourth quarter, then saying, “I’m super-excited,” as people often do when bound for New York.

— Chuck Culpepper

This story has been updated. Find highlights by Glynn A. Hill below.

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