The two have had an eventful rivalry since Smart left Alabama to become head coach at Georgia. This will be the fifth time the coaches will meet with both teams ranked in the top five, and Saban owns a 4-0 record. Alabama has come from behind in all four games to win, three times erasing double-digit deficits.
Friday’s semifinal victories guarantee the SEC will earn yet another national championship. The only question now is which of Saban and Smart will emerge victorious. The two have already met this season, as Alabama scored a 41-24 victory over the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game to secure its bid to the playoff.
The victory came as a surprise to many college football observers, not only because Alabama put up 41 points on what was considered a potentially all-time great defensive unit, but also because the Crimson Tide had struggled to victories over Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Auburn. Georgia, meanwhile, ran roughshod over each of its opponents all season, never facing a serious threat until its first loss.
That game was just the latest of high-profile meetings between Saban and Smart, which track back to the 2018 College Football Playoff championship game. It’s fitting, then, that their latest meeting should once again be for the College Football Playoff championship.
With that, Sporting News looks back at the history of Saban vs. Smart:
Prior to the 2022 College Football Playoff championship game, Saban’s record vs. Smart is 4-0, a record that began with the 2018 CFP title game. Alabama also secured victories over Georgia in the 2018 SEC championship game, a 2020 regular-season meeting and the 2021 SEC championship game.
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 4 Alabama (CFP championship game)
Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT)
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia (SEC championship game)
Alabama 35, Georgia 28
No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama
Alabama 41, Georgia 24
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Alabama (SEC championship game)
Alabama 41, Georgia 24
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia (CFP championship game)
The 2018 national championship game between No. 4 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia marked the first meeting between Saban and Smart since the former left Alabama as its defensive coordinator to take over as head coach of his alma mater. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 13-0 lead, prompting Saban to bench two-year starting quarterback Jalen Hurts at the half in favor of Tua Tagovailoa.
The freshman helped Alabama get on the board before Georgia, under then-quarterback Jake Fromm, lengthened its lead to 20-7. Tagovailoa led the Crimson Tide to 13 straight unanswered points (including the game-tying score on fourth down) to send the game to overtime. Rodrigo Blankenship put the Bulldogs up on the board first with a 51-yard field goal. Tagovailoa took a 16-yard sack on the Tide’s first offensive play before hitting DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard go-ahead touchdown — their first lead of the game — to win 26-23 in overtime.
Dec. 1, 2018: Alabama 35, Georgia 28
No. 4 Georgia rematched against top-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. It seemed as if the Bulldogs would exact revenge on the Crimson Tide after they jumped out to a 28-14 third-quarter lead. Tagovailoa managed to get the Crimson Tide to within one score after a 51-yard touchdown to Jaylen Waddle, but was lost for the game after suffering an ankle injury.
Once again, Saban turned to his backup — Hurts, this time — to lead the comeback victory. He led Alabama to 14 unanswered fourth-quarter points, including the go-ahead 15-yard touchdown run with 1:04 left in regulation, to secure the 35-28 victory over Georgia.
Oct. 17, 2020: Alabama 41, Georgia 24
Saban and Smart once again met in a top-four meeting, this time in the 2020 regular season. Once again, the first half suggested the game would be a back-and-forth affair, with both teams trading blows en route to a 24-20 halftime lead for Georgia. The Bulldogs may have secured their third halftime lead in as many tries, but Alabama managed to wrest momentum with a 52-yard field goal as time expired at the half. Georgia managed to hold onto the lead for the first 11 minutes of the second half before Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones hit Waddle for a 90-yard go-ahead touchdown with four minutes remaining in the quarter.
Alabama was able to secure a 41-24 victory over the Bulldogs after two more touchdowns and a second-half shutout by the defense.
Dec. 4, 2021: Alabama 41, Georgia 24
Georgia once again took an early lead over Alabama, jumping out to a 10-0 advantage. But Alabama rattled off three straight scoring drives — two touchdowns and a field goal — to take its first lead of the game in the second quarter. Georgia tied the game at 17 apiece with a 32-yard pass from Stetson Bennett to Ladd McConkey with 2:06 remaining in the half. But Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young put Alabama on top again with an 11-yard touchdown run with 26 seconds left in the half.
Alabama didn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. Young hit Jameson Williams for a 55-yard touchdown strike for his second long touchdown of the game following a 67-yarder earlier in the second quarter. A 42-yard interception return for touchdown by Jordan Battle made the score 38-17 in favor of Alabama with 11 minutes remaining. The Bulldogs scored a late touchdown to make it closer, but couldn’t close the distance in the loss.
LONDON — Manchester City have shown themselves to be in a league of their own, so the Premier League should be thankful that Chelsea and Liverpool are still able to keep us all entertained. Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge helped neither team and only consolidated City’s vice-like grip on the top spot, but football is about jeopardy, risk and overcoming flaws, and when it all comes together, you get an unforgettable game like this one.
Even before City moved 11 points clear at the top of table with a 2-1 win at Arsenal on Saturday, this second-versus-third clash was always a case of both sides needing to win to maintain faint hopes of catching Pep Guardiola’s winning machine. City’s win at the Emirates was their 11th successive Premier League victory and they have all been won with such monotonous ease, scoring 33 goals and conceding just seven, that every three points is now met with little more than a shrug of inevitability.
Barring an unlikely collapse in the second half of the season, City will win a fourth league title in five years and you will struggle to count on the fingers of one hand the times they have had to dig deep into their reserves to overcome adversity during that period. Guardiola has built one of the all-time great teams in English football history during his six years at the Etihad, but they may simply be too good to contribute to games like this one.
Chelsea and Liverpool gave us such a pulsating encounter because they both have weaknesses that can be exploited by their opponents. And as a result, they both had to take risks in an attempt to secure a crucial victory.
And they also had to go into the game with unwanted distractions hovering over both clubs.
City, in contrast, have enjoyed a remarkably serene run of successes since losing to Crystal Palace in October, which is why they are free-rolling to another title. But the Premier League is regarded as the most exciting in world football because of games like this, and teams like Chelsea and Liverpool and the drama they create.
Christian Pulisic, playing centrally in the absence of Lukaku, wasted a golden chance to open the scoring on seven minutes when, with only stand-in keeper Caoimhin Kelleher to beat, he was indecisive and allowed the youngster to smother the ball. It proved a costly miss when, two minutes later, Mane took advantage of his lucky escape from a sending off by pouncing on a mistake by Trevoh Chalobah to score.
Chelsea were in disarray and Liverpool looked like the team that won the title in 2019. When Mohamed Salah made it 2-0 on 26 minutes with a stunning near-post finish after gliding past Marcos Alonso, it seemed as though Liverpool were about to give Chelsea the kind of hammering they inflicted on Manchester United during a 5-0 rout at Old Trafford earlier this season.
Liverpool were unable to score a third, though, and two Chelsea goals in the space of three minutes at the end of the first half turned the game on its head.
When Kelleher punched Alonso’s in-swinging free kick clear on 42 minutes, the keeper looked to have done well to deny the Chelsea defender. But the ball dropped the Mateo Kovacic on the edge of the penalty area and, as he was backpedaling, the midfielder somehow guided a volley beyond Kelleher and into the net. It was a spectacular display of technique by the former Real Madrid player and it gave Chelsea a foothold back into the game.
And it took them just three minutes to score the equaliser when Pulisic atoned for his earlier miss by latching onto N’Golo Kante‘s pass before beating Kelleher with a precise left-foot shot past the Republic of Ireland international. As the chaos continued on the pitch, Mason Mount almost put Chelsea 3-2 up in first-half stoppage time with a scuffed volley that bounced just wide of the post.
When a game is so eventful in the first half, it rarely delivers a second half of the same quality because of coaches plugging the holes that had led to the earlier excitement. But while the goals stopped flowing, the entertainment didn’t.
Salah forced a crucial save from Edouard Mendy with a 25-yard lob on 57 minutes and Mane was also denied by the Chelsea keeper. Kelleher, not to be outdone, then produced a stunning save to prevent Pulisic from scoring his second of the game.
In total, there were 25 chances over the 90 minutes, with both sides registering six on target. Neither could find a winner, though.
“For the outside world it was quite a good game to watch, but we came here for three points and didn’t get them,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said.
Even if one team had done enough to claim all three points, it’s difficult to imagine they would have been able to close the gap on City, who are destined for another title. And the challenge facing both chasing clubs only grows more daunting in the next month, with Salah (Egypt), Mendy and Mane (both Senegal) now heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
But the Premier League still knows how to excite, even if the title is already a foregone conclusion.
Doncaster’s Lightning Novices’ Chase could be next on the agenda for Do Your Job following his creditable effort in defeat at Kempton over the festive period.
Runner-up to My Drogo and Belfast Banter in Grade Two and Grade One novice hurdles in the spring, Michael Scudamore’s stable star made a successful start to his chasing career at Warwick in November.
The eight-year-old fell at the eighth fence when stepped up in class for the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, but bounced back to finish second to Edwardstone in the Wayward Lad last week.
With Scudamore keen to avoid a rematch with the winner, who is seemingly bound for the Kingmaker at Warwick, Do Your Job could instead bid for Grade Two honours at Doncaster on January 29.
Reflecting on his Kempton performance, the trainer said: “I was very pleased. He jumped well and travelled well and did everything right, he was just beaten by a better horse on the day.
“The main objective was a clear round really and maybe if we hadn’t fallen at Sandown we might have pressed on a bit more and made it more of a staying race.
“The most important thing was to get a clear round under his belt and get some more experience over fences for him.
“I think we’ll stick to novice races while we can and we might look to the race at Doncaster. That is what we have pencilled in at the moment, anyway.
“It would certainly be Plan A to try and avoid Edwardstone and I was very pleased to read he was going to go for the Kingmaker. Hopefully they stick to that plan!”
While Do Your Job looks set to remain in novice company on his next start, Scudamore admitted is considering a step into the handicap arena for the Grand Annual at Cheltenham – a race he won with Next Sensation in 2015.
He added: “I’m sure he’ll have an entry in that. He also ran very well at Aintree last year, so there’s that to consider as well.
“He looks like a horse that could have the right sort of profile for a Grand Annual and we’ll see nearer the time.
“In some ways it might make more sense to go for a handicap now, but as we saw at Kempton some of these novice events don’t have a lot of runners in them and there’s some decent prize-money on offer, so it seems silly to pass them over when you’ve only got one chance to run in them really.”
Lito Adiwang was booted out of ONE Championship strawweight rankings after coming up short against Jarred Brooks. ‘The Thunder Kid’ is already itching to step back inside the cage and hopes to fight a ranked fighter next.
Of the fighters in the ONE Championship strawweight division rankings, the 28-year-old Filipino seeks to score a date with No.2-ranked Yosuke Saruta.
“I want a big comeback. I still want a big name. I want to challenge Yosuke Saruta. Maybe if ONE allows it, and he wants it, then I’ll take it. Saruta is someone who I really want to test myself against,” said Adiwang in an interview with ONE Championship.
The 28-year-old admits it is a dangerous fight and a huge risk to take. The high-risk, high-reward scenario is something that Adiwang would like to take as he seeks to put his name back in the rankings again by beating a former champion.
“It’s a big risk for me because I’m coming off a loss, but I want a great comeback and a big name in my return so I don’t fall far off from the rankings.”
Lito Adiwang seeking for a better year in 2022 at ONE Championship
Adiwang now holds a professional record of 13-4 and has been competing in ONE Championship since October 2018. He won his first five fights before receiving his first loss against Koha Minowa via a split decision two years later.
The Benguet-based fighter had three fights in 2021. However, he also suffered his second loss in ONE Championship against Jarred Brooks.
Still in his prime, Adiwang goes back to the drawing board and seeks to polish his MMA skills in 2022.
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“I have to check my mistakes inside the Circle, but I also have to check my mistakes outside the Circle. It has to be a balance. Sometimes, I forget other personal obligations and those are the things that I have to work on. I have to balance things out based on last year. I have to correct this in 2022.”