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Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes (27) runs with the ball during the Bulldogs' game with Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Photo by Walt Beazley/Courtesy UGA Sports Comm)

It’s an obvious statement, but Georgia’s upcoming trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is the big one. 

The Georgia-Alabama matchup is important for players looking to cement the Bulldogs as the SEC’s top squad, but it’s also big for the rivalry itself — where Alabama has taken the last five victories and hasn’t lost to Georgia in 13 years. Head coach Kirby Smart carries an 0-2 record against the Crimson Tide, which he coached from 2007-2015. 

Tre’ McKitty, Georgia’s graduate transfer tight end from Florida State, said this week’s game will be the biggest he’s played in his college career. 

“It’s tough, you know, night game, [No.] 2 vs. 3,” McKitty said. “But you really just have to do your best to blur it out.” 

Georgia has a little more of a chip on its shoulder this week. The Bulldogs haven’t defeated the Crimson Tide since the last time they traveled to Tuscaloosa in 2007. To put it in perspective, this was when Nick Saban coached his fourth game at Alabama, Detroit Lions starting quarterback Matt Stafford was in his sophomore season with the Bulldogs and Smart coached defensive backs in his first year with the Tide. 

Georgia’s last two losses to Alabama carried substantial weight. The 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship was clinched by the Crimson Tide in an overtime thriller, and the 2018 SEC Championship Game saw the Bulldogs give up a 14-point lead as Alabama won 35-28. 

Smart said the Bulldogs haven’t been discouraged by their past, and he sees the two high-profile games against Alabama as learning opportunities. 

“There’s enough of our players that have played Alabama two games that know it’s a physical brand of football,” Smart said. “It’s a physical game. We played them twice, and it wasn’t like they didn’t feel like they could beat them.” 

Cornerback Eric Stokes started in the 2018 SEC Championship Game and isn’t letting the Bulldogs’ past hiccup against the Crimson Tide get to him.

“I’m just trying to go 1-0 every week,” Stokes said. “I see they are our next opponent, and we’ve just got to do our business.” 

Former Saban assistants have gone 0-21 against his Crimson Tide, with Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss Rebels coming close in Alabama’s 63-48 victory last weekend. Smart said he doesn’t focus on that record. 

“I mean, what’s everybody’s record against Coach Saban?” Smart said in a virtual Monday press conference. “Everybody always makes it about the assistants. I always laugh because I don’t know anybody in the last 10 years that has a really good record against him.” 

What’s good for this year’s Bulldogs is they’ve executed solid second-half performances this year, contrary to the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons where they allowed Alabama to outscore them a combined 47-17 in the second half of their last two matchups. 

“At the end of the day, most games come down to the fourth quarter when you have two talented football teams,” Smart said. “In both cases, we got to finish better. A lot of that comes through maturity, execution — all of the little things you have to do right at the end of the game to give yourself a chance to win.”