All year, I’ve been repeating it ad nauseam:
As much as we all want to crown Georgia and give them the National Title right now, Georgia has not beaten Bama since 2007.
Nick Saban simply owns Georgia. Doesn’t matter if Mark Richt is coaching or Kirby Smart–Nick Saban has consistently found ways to rip Georgia’s heart out over and over again.
And in the biggest, most important moments, too.
Now, you might be surprised to learn that Bama and Georgia have only faced off 9 times since 2000, and while this might be explained by the fact that they’re on opposite sides of the SEC–Bama in the West, Georgia in the East–they’re still in the same conference. 9 times in 20 years is not a lot of games, especially when you consider that 1 of those 9 games was the 2017 National Championship, and 2 of them were SEC Championship matchups (2012, 2018), meaning they’ve only played 6 times in the regular season since 2000. That just seems wrong for teams in the same conference.
At any rate, let’s review the history of the Bama-Georgia rivalry dating back to Georgia’s last win over the Tide in 2007, starting in chronological order:
- 2007: Dawgs win 26-23 in OT in Tuscaloosa. It was Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa, and while the Tide came into the game 3-0 and ranked 16th in the nation, the Tide would ultimately only finish 7-6 that year. Saban’s first year as head coach of Bama was not pretty, as all 6 of the Tide’s losses that year were one-score games, including an embarrassing 21-14 loss to UL-Monroe. If you go back and watch the highlights of this Bama-Georgia game from 2007, strangely, the end of the game played out almost exactly the same as the 2017 Bama-Georgia National Championship, just the exact opposite: Georgia missed a last-second field goal that would’ve won the game in regulation, the game went to OT, Bama was held to a field goal, and then Georgia QB Matthew Stafford launched a pass into the left corner of the endzone on a go-route to Mikey Henderson to win the game on a walk-off. It was almost the same play that Bama ran to DeVonta Smith in 2017 to walk-off the National Championship. It’s kind of crazy when you go back and watch the highlights how similar the ending of this game was to that unforgettable National Championship.
- 2008: Tide win 41-30 in Athens. The Dawgs came into the 2008 season ranked #1 in the nation, but would quickly be overtaken by USC. Still, Georgia was 5-0 and ranked #3 coming into the game against the Tide, who in Nick Saban’s second season as head coach, were much improved and already National Championship contenders. Alabama was ranked #8 coming into the night game in Athens. Georgia wore the black unis and blacked out the stadium, but Bama absolutely dominated the first half of the game, taking a 31-0 lead into halftime. Georgia would try to rally in the second half, getting as close as 31-17, but Bama added another touchdown and from that point on, it was nothing but garbage-time scoring and face-saving for Georgia. Bama would eventually get all the way up to #1 in the nation that season, but ultimately lost 31-20 to Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators in the 2008 SEC Championship Game. Florida won the National Title that year.
- 2012 SEC Championship: Tide win 32-28. The Tide came into the game ranked #2, while Georgia was #3. Given that the winner of this game would face Notre Dame in the National Championship (a game Bama ultimately won in dominant fashion, 42-14), we can safely say that this was the true National Championship game of the 2012 season. A blocked field goal returned for a TD by Alec Ogletree gave Georgia a 21-10 lead midway through the 3rd quarter, and it looked like Georgia was well on its way to securing a berth in the National Championship. But Bama responded by pounding the rock with TJ Yeldon and Eddie Lacy, and by the 4th quarter, they had worn down the Dawgs run defense and were running wild, and the Tide had a 25-21 lead. But the Dawgs also had a hell of a back, too, and Todd Gurley found the endzone early in the 4th to reclaim the lead for Georgia, 28-25. With about 4 minutes to play, Bama faced a 3rd & 5 at the 50 yard line down 3 points, and put the whole season in TJ Yeldon’s hands. He broke a run off-tackle, carried a few defenders, and just barely fought his way over the first down line. AJ McCarron then found Amari Cooper open deep for a 45-yard TD pass to give the Tide the 32-28 lead. A furious late comeback attempt by Georgia in the final minute got all the way down to the Bama 8 yard line with 15 seconds to play, but instead of spiking the ball, Georgia just went for it with the clock rolling. Aaron Murray’s pass was tipped at the line and a Georgia receiver made the fatal mistake of catching the ball with 4 seconds left, short of the goal line, and the game clock simply ran out. An absolute heart-breaker for the Dawgs. Maybe if they’d spiked it, things could’ve gone differently for them, but I think they were trying to keep the Bama defense on its heels. I’m sure Dawgs fans still haven’t forgotten about this one.
- 2015: Tide win 38-10 in Athens. Georgia came into the game ranked #8, while eventual-National Champion Bama was ranked #13 after a week 3 loss to Ole Miss. The Tide absolutely hammered Georgia, and were up 38-3 in the third quarter.
- 2017 National Championship Game: Tide win 26-23 in OT. We don’t really need to re-hash this game, I’m sure everyone still remembers it well. Tide stifled in the first half with Jalen Hurts at QB, down 13-0 at halftime, make the switch to Tua for the second half, and the rest is history. Tua to DeVonta Smith in OT, Tide walk-off win the National Championship.
- 2018 SEC Championship Game: Tide win 35-28. This is another one we all probably remember pretty well. Georgia jumps out to a 21-7 lead, and it seems like the Dawgs will have their revenge. Bama tightens the game up, but with about 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Tua gets hurt with Bama down 28-21, and Jalen Hurts comes in and leads the Tide to a comeback victory. Truly one of the most incredible turn of events we’ve seen in recent college football history given what happened in the 2017 National Championship game with Tua replacing Hurts. The game made everyone in America a fan of Jalen Hurts–everyone outside of the state of Georgia, that is.
- 2020: Bama wins 41-24 in the regular season in Tuscaloosa. The 2020 Tide were an absolute juggernaut, and while Georgia did come into this game ranked #3 in the nation, the Tide were just too much. However, the game wasn’t as much of a blowout as the final score indicates–at least for the first three quarters. Georgia led 24-20 at halftime, and that score held until pretty late in the 3rd quarter, when Mac Jones found Jaylen Waddle open deep for a 90-yard TD. At that point, the Tide never looked back, adding on 2 more TDs, while Georgia wouldn’t score again.
And so these games provide us with the backdrop for tomorrow’s heavyweight bout.
13 years of Georgia heartbreak follow them into the 2021 SEC Championship, and it feels like this is finally the Dawgs’ moment.
They’re favored by 6.5 points, and beyond that, they have just looked like the better team all season long.
This is not a typical dominant Bama team, at least it doesn’t feel like one. It might be unfair to judge the 2021 Tide against last year’s team, which was one of the greatest teams in college football history, but it’s hard to avoid that conclusion if you’ve watched Alabama’s games this year.
They barely escaped Auburn last week in the Iron Bowl. With 1:32 to play, ESPN gave Auburn a 99.7% chance of winning. Jameson Williams was ejected from the game for targeting early on, and honestly, the Tide offense looked straight-up bad without him. You get the sense that if a team can shut down Williams, the Tide offense can’t really do a whole lot.
While Bryce Young has been a Heisman candidate all year, and will probably win the award by default, and while Young did have that beautiful overtime-forcing TD pass late against Auburn that served as a “Heisman moment” for him, he wasn’t all that great in the game. He was 25-51 passing for 317 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. Under 50% completion rate? Yikes. The Georgia defense has to be licking its chops after seeing Auburn have such great success containing Young for most of that game. I’d have to imagine Georgia will try to take away Jameson Williams and make Young win the game by throwing to other receivers, like John Metchie.
The problem for Alabama is that they just don’t have anywhere near as many weapons this year as they did last year. It’s just really hard to replace the guys Alabama lost in the draft this past spring–even if you’re Alabama.
Let’s just quickly go over the players Alabama had drafted this past may:
A whopping SIX guys from last year’s Bama team were drafted in the first round.
They had 10 guys drafted overall. It is just not easy to replace that kind of talent. We’re talking about the Heisman winner, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Najee Harris on offense–not to mention the QB Mac Jones and three starting offensive linemen. Plus they lost Patrick Surtain II, the nation’s best cornerback last season, as well as standout defensive tackle Christian Barmore. Most of these guys won major awards last season.
Again, it is just not easy to replace that much talent, even if you’re Alabama.
Not only did Bama lose a ton of great players from last year, they also lost Steve Sarkisian, who was such a brilliant offensive playcaller for the Tide last season. Assistant coaching moves are often overlooked when comparing teams from year-to-year
I was listening to the Pardon My Take podcast the other day, and they had Andy Staples on (around the 1:18:50 mark). Staples is one of the best college football writers in the business, and he and the PMT guys brought up an interesting point about this year’s Bama team:
Big Cat: “I do not know how Alabama blocks Georgia up front. I think Nick Saban told the world last week, when he did that speech, ‘When I got here, you guys were happy to win a game. Now you guys are complaining we didn’t blow out LSU.’ I think Nick Saban is telling the world, ‘Hey, we don’t have the team this year.’ How do you see this game going?”
Staples: “So I was on the same path as you when I covered the Florida-Alabama game in Gainesville. When I saw Nick Saban talking after the game, and how kind of giddy he was to get out of there with a 31-29 win against a Florida team that wound up getting its coach fired. I was like, “Hooo, this doesn’t seem like Nick Saban. Maybe he knows what his roster is relative to his other rosters that have won National Titles looked like.’ And maybe he’s kind of trying to manage everybody’s expectations, and I feel like that’s where they are right now. And I also feel like Bama has kind of over-achieved in getting to 11-1 this year.”
This is an interesting point.
When I heard Nick Saban’s rant against Bama fans, admittedly I didn’t really think too much of it. I just chalked it up to Saban being his typical ornery self.
But now I think these guys have convinced me there was more to it. It wasn’t just Saban riffing off the cuff. He was making a deliberate point, as if to say: “Look, y’all, our goal is to win the National Championship, but you’d better lower your expectations. This is not the same squad as last year. This team is not beating any and everybody by 30. It’s a grind this year. We’re in dogfights every week. You should be happy with a win.”
And so while I do pretty much agree with the guys in the podcast in their assessment of this year’s Alabama team, I also don’t think we should take it as Nick Saban just giving up and writing off the season. He is absolutely still trying to win a National Championship. It’s just going to take a hell of a lot more Saban Magic than it did last year.
They’re 11-1 right now. One game stands between them and the Playoff. If Alabama can beat Georgia, then they can beat anybody in the country. Saban knows this. There is no better team out there than Georgia–no team that is going to pose a greater challenge to Alabama.
Granted, even if Bama wins, they’ll probably have to play Georgia again in the playoff given that Georgia is probably in no matter what, but if you beat them once you can beat them twice. If Bama does win this game, and they do meet up in the National Championship for a rematch, all the pressure is going to be on Georgia.
Georgia has no real pressure in this game, meaning they can play loose. They don’t have to worry about missing the playoff, and this lack of pressure might actually cause them to play even better. Certainly they want to knock Bama out of the race and make up for the past 13 years of pain and suffering Bama has inflicted upon them, so they’re absolutely going to go all-out in the game, but they also know in the back of their minds that if they come up short, they’re still in the playoff.
But if the two teams do meet up again in the playoff, all the pressure will be on Georgia at that point. The narrative will shift from, “We were the best team all season, we had this thing in the bag, we were well on our way to winning our first National Championship since 1980, this has been a dream season,” to “Oh shit. If we lose to Bama again, all our hopes and dreams go down in flames.” They might freeze up.
Anyway, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, but the point is that I think it’s a little too much to say Bama may be prematurely conceding defeat. I absolutely do not think that’s the case. Bama is in it to win it. Nick Saban believes he can win this game, he just knows it’s going to be a heavy lift.
I will never, ever write Nick Saban off in a game. You’d be a fool to do that.
Okay, with all that contextual stuff out of the way, let’s actually get into the game itself.
The first thing I want to discuss is the Alabama passing game vs. the Georgia defense. This is the marquee matchup in the game; it’s strength vs. strength. Alabama has one of the best passing attacks in the country, and it’s how they win games. Georgia has the best defense in the country, and it is how they win their games.
If Alabama wins this game, it will be because they were able to throw the ball well. If Georgia wins this game, it will be because they were able to stop or at least slow the Bama passing attack.
That’s what will decide this game.
Bama has no run game right now. This might be the worst Bama rushing attack Saban has ever had at Alabama. His teams are known for having elite run games–bruising, punishing, powerful, violent running backs and mauling, bulldozing offensive lines. You think about Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson, TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Najee Harris–Bama always has a great running game.
But not this year. They rank just 79th in the nation in rushing yards per game at 149, and 84th in the nation in yards per carry at just 4.0. This run game is nowhere close to Bama standards. Last year Bama averaged 5 yards per carry. They averaged 5 yards a carry in 2019, 5.2 yards per carry in 2018, and 5.7 yards per carry in 2017.
We’re talking about a massive drop-off in the run game at Alabama this season.
And right now, Alabama only has one healthy running back left, and that’s backup RB Trey Sanders. Their starting running back, Brian Robinson, is banged up and considered day-to-day. It is very hard to imagine Bama being able to run the ball at all without Robinson, and even if they have him, he won’t be 100%.
Bama ain’t running the ball on Georgia. The Georgia run defense allows just 2.5 yards per carry to opposing running backs, 3rd best in the nation.
So Bama will have to pass. They have no choice. They’re going to be as one-dimensional on offense as a Saban team has ever been. The game will be on true freshman QB Bryce Young’s shoulders.
So how does Georgia’s defense hold up against the pass, then?
Pretty damn good, unsurprisingly.
Georgia ranks #2 in the nation in pass yards allowed per game, just 151.5.
But, if you can believe it, that’s even underselling how good they are. Because Georgia is so often up big on teams, they get thrown at a lot. Teams abandon the run game against them and just pass.
Georgia allows just 4.92 yards per opponent passing attempt, which is by far the best in the nation. The next-best team in opponent yards per passing attempt is Cincinnati at 5.38, and then Washington at 5.4.
However, as elite as Georgia has been at stopping the pass this year, you can maybe start to poke some holes in that just a bit.
For one thing, they lost a lot of defensive backs in the offseason. I went over above how Bama lost 10 guys to the draft this spring, but Georgia lost a lot, too: 9 in total were drafted, including 4 DBs.
Eric Stokes was drafted in the first round, and Tyson Campbell in the second. PLus Richard LeCounte in the 5th and Mark Webb in the 7th.
Georgia also had 3 DBs transfer in the offseason, meaning they lost a total of 7 DBs since last season. Their starters in the secondary are all currently upperclassmen, though, so it’s not like they’re Ohio State and throwing a bunch of true freshmen out there.
And obviously they’ve done really well all season long, as they’re the best pass defense in the nation.
But they haven’t really been tested that much this season. Nobody they’ve played thus far can really throw the ball well. Let’s take a look at their Power Five opponents this year and their yards per passing attempt on the season:
- Clemson: 104th in passing YPG. 6.04 YPA.
- South Carolina: 97th in passing YPG. 6.83 YPA.
- Vanderbilt: 105th in pass YPG. 5.55 YPA.
- Arkansas: 74th in pass YPG. 9.12 YPA.
- Auburn: 59th in pass YPG. 6.93 YPA.
- Kentucky: 72nd in pass YPG. 7.97 YPA.
- Florida: 39th in pass YPG. 8.23 YPA.
- Mizzou: 66th in pass YPG. 6.67 YPA.
- Tennessee: 54th in pass YPG. 8.88 YPA.
- Georgia Tech: 95th in pass YPG. 6.98 YPA.
Those ten teams together average 7.32 YPA.
Bama, meanwhile, is 7th in pass YPG and averages 9.26 YPA.
Georgia has not faced a passing attack like Bama’s all year. Not even close. Arkansas is pretty close to Bama in terms of YPA, but Arkansas is not nearly as pass-happy a team as Bama. Arkansas only passes the ball 35.7% of the time, which leads to the conclusion that Arkansas only throws the ball well when they’re able to run on teams.
Bama, though, throws the ball about 50% of the time on average.
Bama is going to come out throwing the ball. That’s their game plan. They are not going to try to establish the run and then hit you with play action, they’re going to come out guns blazing. They really have no other choice.
I don’t think any of the teams Georgia has faced this year have been primarily passing teams. So I do think that Bama should be able to have some success throwing the ball on this Georgia secondary.
By no means do I think Bama is going to light up Georgia’s secondary, but don’t be surprised if Bama is able to have success passing the ball.
So how can Georgia stop the Alabama passing attack? While Bama does not have the stud wide receivers they had last season, Jameson Williams and John Metchie are both pretty damn good in their own right. I don’t think Georgia will be able to smother them.
Georgia is going to have to rely on its front seven and pass rush to disrupt the Bama passing game, and unfortunately for Bama, Georgia will probably have a lot of success doing that.
I said earlier that Bama’s running game has fallen off significantly this season compared to prior seasons, but we never really went into why exactly that had happened.
Partly it’s because Brian Robinson simply isn’t as good as Najee Harris was, but Brian Robinson is no slouch, either. I mean, he’s got over 1000 rushing yards, averages 4.9 YPC, has over 1,200 yards from scrimmage overall and has scored 16 total TDs this year. The dude is good.
But the real reason Bama has had trouble running the ball this year is because their offensive line just hasn’t been anywhere near up to Bama standards this season.
Let’s take a look at the Bama offensive line’s advanced stats from Football Outsiders:
There’s a lot going on here so let’s break it down.
- Average Line Yards: This is basically how many yards of space your offensive line creates on running plays. The offensive line gets credit for any run between 0-3 yards, and then 50% credit for any runs that go 4-8 yards, which Football Outsiders credits half to the running back. Anything over 8 yards, all credit goes to the runner. The best offensive lines in the nation average over 3.0 in average line yards. Georgia’s offensive line, which is 10th in ALY, averages 3.05 line yards per carry. Basically this stat just tells you how much credit the offensive line deserves for the running game. It’s how many yards the offensive line creates for the running back. Bama’s O-line ranks 40th in this category.
- Standard Downs Line Yards: This is like the Average Line Yards stat, but adjusted for situation. “Standard downs” are the following: first down, second down and 7 or fewer yards to go, third and 4 yards or fewer to go, and fourth down and 4 or fewer yards to go. A standard down means the offense basically has the whole playbook open (generally speaking, obviously field position is also a factor). You can run or pass, the defense isn’t keying on anything in particular. For instance, on a 3rd down and 10, the defense knows you’re going to pass, so this is not a “standard down”; it’s a passing down, even if you don’t actually end up passing the ball. Bama’s offensive line ranks 66th in creating rushing yards on standard downs. That is very uncharacteristic of Bama.
- Pass Downs Line Yards: This is how many rushing yards your offensive line creates, but in situations that are considered “passing downs.” So, for example, 3rd and 10 is a passing down. 2nd and short is generally considered a passing down, or at least it can be. What this category is telling us is that Bama’s offensive line does a good job in run blocking when the defense is expecting a pass.
- Opportunity Rate: The percentage of carries that gain at least 4 yards, when 4 yards are available (so basically everywhere on the field other than inside the opponents 3 yard line. Bama’s not too bad at this, as they have a 51% opportunity rate, good for 39th in the country. But for Bama standards, this is not great. In 2020, they ranked 29th. In 2019, they ranked 6th. In 2018, they ranked 5th, and in 2017, they ranked 4th.
- Power Success Rate: This is where things start getting ugly. Power running situations are defined as runs on third or fourth down with 2 or fewer yards to go that achieve a first down, or a touchdown. This is short-yardage situations. Bama ranks 81st in the nation in power success rate. That is not good at all, and very uncharacteristic of Alabama. They ranked 5th in the nation in power success rate last season, for reference. This is normally Nick Saban’s bread and butter: he knows his line is bigger, stronger and just plain better than yours, so he lines it up and runs it down your throat in short yardage situations. But Bama’s offensive line hasn’t been great at doing this in 2021.
- Stuff Rate: This one is simple. It’s the percentage of RB carries that are stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. It’s when your offensive line gets blown up. Bama only ranks 57th in this category.
- Sack Rate: Okay, now we’re getting into the pass-blocking categories. This one is pretty self-explanatory, too: how often do you allow your QB to get sacked? Bama ranks 82nd nationally. This is bad news considering Georgia’s defensive line ranks 9th in the nation in sack rate.
- Standard Downs Sack Rate: This is the sack rate adjusted for situation. So, how often does the line allow a sack on a standard down, which we defined above. Bama is 79th.
- Pass Downs Sack Rate: Similar to above. Sack rate allowed by the O-Line in passing situations. Bama ranks 89th here. Not good. Where does Georgia rank in this category? 8th. This is a recipe for disaster for Alabama.
It is becoming pretty apparent here that the way Georgia will attempt to stop the Alabama passing game is to constantly keep the pressure on Bryce Young. For one thing, Bama’s offensive line is not that good this season. And second, Bryce Young is a true freshman. Georgia is going to test him early and often and see if he can handle the pressure.
Georgia’s front seven is going to be coming after him all game long, because Georgia knows the Bama offensive line is exploitable.
It might not even matter that much how well Georgia’s DBs handle the Alabama receivers if Georgia is able to consistently pressure Young.
Bryce Young is going to have to get rid of the ball fast in this game. I doubt he’ll be able to hang in the pocket and wait for Jameson Williams to get open deep. There’s going to have to be a lot of underneath, short and intermediate passing plays in the Alabama playbook, because Bryce Young might not have enough time in the pocket to throw it deep.
I want to say I trust Saban to be able to figure out how to compensate for his lackluster offensive line, but then again, when is the last time Nick Saban has ever really had to coach with a mediocre O-Line? He’s not used to it at all. It’s foreign to him. So much of Alabama’s game plan revolves around mauling people up front, and I don’t know how well they’ll be able to adjust against a ferocious front-7 like Georgia’s.
Football Outsiders has offensive line stats going back to the 2014 season, so I was able to compare Bama’s offensive line this year to its offensive lines in past seasons, and this probably won’t surprise you, but this year’s Bama O-Line is the worst Saban has had in at least the past 8 seasons.
The way I ranked the lines was I just took the rankings in all the categories listed above and averaged them out to get an average line ranking for each season.
This is the worst Bama O-line they’ve had in a while, and it’s really not even that close, either:
2018 was the best, 2021 is the worst. Highlighted in blue are years Bama won the National Title.
Now, it’s not as if this means all hope is lost for Bama. When they had their two best offensive lines of the past 8 seasons, 2018 and 2014, they didn’t even end up winning the Championship those years.
And their second-worst offensive line of the CFP Era, 2016, they lost the National Championship Game on the last play to DeShaun Watson and Clemson. It wasn’t even their offensive line’s fault. Their offense scored the go-ahead TD with like 2 minutes to play. The defense let them down that year.
So it’s not like this is a death sentence for the 2021 Crimson Tide.
But the fact remains that they’ve never had an offensive line this bad. This is really uncharted territory for them. This is by far the worst offensive line Saban has had in the CFP era.
And there’s even more bad news, too, if you can believe it. Starting center Darrian Dalcourt hurt his ankle in the Iron Bowl and had to leave the game. He’s been limited at practice all week and is considered day-to-day. No way he’ll be 100% for the game tomorrow, if he’s even able to play.
So what’s the takeaway from all this?
Pretty simple: Bama’s going to come out throwing the ball, but they might not be able to protect Bryce Young and give him time to throw because this is the worst Bama offensive line in the CFP era.
But we haven’t even really gotten that much into Georgia’s defensive line.
I’m assuming Georgia’s defensive line is as elite as it gets, and we’ve seen a few stats already up above, but we haven’t broken down Georgia’s defensive line the way we did with Bama’s.
Let’s take a look under the hood for Georgia:
Here’s what we have: 44th in average line yards allowed, 18th in standard down line yards allowed, 80th in passing down line yards allowed, 10th in opportunity rate, 25th in power success, 40th in stuff rate, 9th in sack rate, 18th in standard downs sack rate, and 8th in pass downs sack rate.
Georgia’s pass rush is absolutely elite.
But I was a bit surprised to find they’re not all that elite when it comes to stopping the run. I mean, they’re not bad by any stretch against the run, but I guess I expected them to be better.
This, however, works in Georgia’s favor, because I think they’re absolutely good enough to stifle the lackluster Alabama run game, and I don’t know if Alabama’s offensive line will be able to handle the Georgia pass rush. Georgia’s pass rush is elite, Bama’s pass blocking is really subpar.
And college football games are generally decided in the trenches, as we all know.
So I think in this marquee matchup category, the Bama offense vs. the Georgia defense, I have to give the edge to the Georgia defense.
And we’re only focusing on the line play here. We haven’t even talked about Georgia’s linebackers. They have probably the best linebackers in the nation this year, highlighted by Nakobe Dean. The linebackers are the real strength of that defense, and that’s why we can’t just focus on the defensive line stats alone. It’s really about Georgia’s entire front-seven, not just their defensive line.
Bama has a really good passing game, and Georgia hasn’t faced anything like it all season, but Bama is also going to be pretty one dimensional on offense. That’s a big problem in and of itself, but when we also consider that Bama’s pass blocking is weak, and Georgia’s pass rush is elite, I get the feeling that it’s going to be tough sledding for the Bama offense tomorrow.
Okay, we’ve gone in-depth on the Georgia D vs. Alabama O matchup, and while I think that is the where and how the game will be decided, we can’t just ignore the Georgia offense against the Bama defense.
After all, even if their defense shuts down the Bama offense, Georgia is still going to have to score some points in the game. It’s not going to be like the Clemson game where Georgia wins 10-3 and their only TD comes off a pick-six.
I don’t think Bama will get completely shut down. I think Bama will score at least 10-13 points at the very least. They’re not going to get shutout.
So let’s take a look at the Georgia offense and the Bama defense, starting with Georgia’s offense.
Georgia is primarily a ball-control type offense. They’re not a quick-strike team. That’s not what they do. They stonewall you on defense, and then, when they get the ball, they hold on to it. It’s a genius game plan that compliments their elite defense, because not only is it already very hard to score on their defense, they make it even harder by limiting your opportunities to score.
Let’s take a look at some of their biggest games to illustrate this point. We’re going to be looking at time of possession:
- vs. Clemson: Georgia won time of possession 31.5 to 28.5.
- vs. Arkansas: Georgia won time of possession 36.5 to 23.5.
- vs. Auburn: Georgia 33, Auburn 27 ToP.
- vs. Kentucky: Georgia actually lost time of possession by a big margin, about 38 to 22. But this was because Georgia hit on some big plays that allowed them to score quickly. They still won the game 30-13.
- vs. Florida: similar situation to the Kentucky game. Florida won ToP by about 5 minutes. Georgia had a pick-six and a TD off a turnover late in the first half, which is obviously going to cut down on your offense’s time of possession.
- vs. Tennessee: Georgia won ToP by about 5.5 minutes.
As you can see, the Dawgs don’t always dominate time of possession, but when they don’t, it’s usually because they’re hitting on big plays or getting defensive scores.
But against Bama, I have a feeling they’re going to try to play keep-away. They don’t want Bryce Young to have the ball in his hands.
What does Georgia do well on offense?
Well, in terms of passing, they’re only 60th in the country in yards per game, but they average a very healthy 9.53 yards per passing attempt, which is actually a bit better than Bama does. But Georgia doesn’t pass the ball as much as Bama, only 25 passing attempts on average to Bama’s 37 per game.
Georgia is a lot better at running the ball. They average 202 yards per game rushing, which is 24th-best in the nation, and their 5.4 yards per carry average is tied for 8th-best in the nation.
None of this is surprising. Georgia under Kirby Smart has always been a run-first team. The year they made it to the National Championship, 2017, they had Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift running the ball. The run game leads the way for Georgia.
But this is not to say they can’t pass. Stetson Bennett, their QB, is #2 in the nation in average yards per passing attempt with 10.8. That’s really good. He’s #2 in adjusted yards per attempt at 11.9. He’s got a 21-5 TD:INT ratio, and he’s #2 in the nation in passer rating at 188.5, which is even ahead of Bryce Young, who is 5th at 176.8, although Bennett only has 183 passing attempts this season vs. Young’s 419.
Georgia is a capable passing offense, but not a prolific one. The point here is that they’re not a one-dimensional offense by any stretch. It’s not as if they can’t throw the ball at all. They absolutely can throw the ball, and Stetson Bennett is a very efficient quarterback.
And this is important because Alabama’s defensive strategy is going to be to force Bennett to throw the ball. You always want to take away your opponent’s strength, and Georgia’s strength on offense is their run game with Zamir White and James Cook (James Cook is Dalvin’s little brother, and he is a special player from what I’ve seen of him).
Neither guy really is used as a workhorse. Zamir White only has 128 carries for 691 yards on the year (5.4 YPC average) with only 5 receptions for 48 yards total.
Cook has 90 carries for 581 yards, a 6.5 YPC average, and 17 receptions on the year. I guess you could call Cook the “pass-catching back” but Georgia just doesn’t really throw to their running backs a whole lot in general, so it’s a relative term.
The question is, will Alabama be able to stop them?
Fortunately for Alabama, while their offensive line is pretty bad, their defensive line is unquestionably elite. They rank highly in just about everything:
They’re elite at stopping the run, and they’re elite at getting to the quarterback.
There’s really nothing they do poorly, or even do at an average level. They’re either good or great in every category here.
This is fantastic news for Bama fans, because I think the Bama defense matches up well against the Georgia offense.
Remember earlier when I said Georgia’s run defense ranked 3rd in the nation in yards per carry allowed at just 2.5? Well, Bama’s ranks 2nd at 2.4 YPC allowed.
It will be a point of emphasis for Alabama to stop the Georgia run game. It’s not going to be easy, though, because Georgia’s offensive line is really good:
If there is any area where Georgia’s offensive line has shown weakness, it’s in short yardage situations, where they rank just 71st in the nation. Bama’s D-Line ranks 5th in short yardage situations.
So this is going to be the matchup to watch: Can Bama’s offensive line impose its will and stop the Georgia run game, thereby forcing Stetson Bennett to pass?
Georgia’s offensive line ranks highly in pass protection, but Georgia hasn’t really had to rely on the pass all season long. If they’re in third-and-long situations against Bama, are they going to be able to protect Stetson Bennett? And will Stetson Bennett be able to make big throws?
I think Alabama has a great shot at limiting the Georgia run game, though I don’t think Bama will be able to shut it down. Georgia’s offensive line is really good, and they will not get manhandled.
The X-factor in the matchup between the Georgia offense and the Bama defense, however, is Bama’s Will Anderson. This dude has the potential to alter the game himself. He’s that good.
He’s only a sophomore right now, but when he’s eligible for the draft in 2023, he will undoubtedly be a top-5 pick, maybe even #1 overall.
He currently leads the FBS in tackles for loss with 26 (next closest has 22, and only 3 other guys have more than 20 TFLs this year) and he’s tied for 1st in the nation in sacks with 13. This dude is an absolute beast. He’s listed as an outside linebacker, but he usually lines up with his hand in the dirt on the line as a defensive end. But he’s also fast and can drop back into coverage. The dude is incredible.
He’s probably, in all honesty, the best player that will be on the field tomorrow between both teams. I know everyone loves Jordan Davis, but Jordan Davis doesn’t even really play on 3rd down. Will Anderson is an every-down player. And he gets after the quarterback like nobody else.
He might be the best college football player in the country right now, honestly. It’s kind of messed up that Bryce Young gets all the Heisman love when Young isn’t even the best player on his own team. Will Anderson is the best player Bama has, and he would probably win the Heisman in a fair world.
I can’t emphasize enough how good this dude is. He reminds me of Von Miller. That’s how good he is. He’s quick, explosive, strong and flat-out gets to the quarterback. He has a high motor and never gives up on a play. Von Miller has never been the biggest or strongest guy on the field, he just knows how to beat his man and get to the QB. That’s what I see with Will Anderson on his tape. He simply can’t be blocked.
Will Anderson is good enough of a player the he could change the game by himself. No doubt Georgia is well aware of him, though, and they’ll be keying on stopping him. But you can’t stop a guy like Will Anderson for a whole game. Eventually he’ll break through and start causing problems.
As for Georgia’s offense, they have 2 potential X-factor players. The first one is James Cook, who I talked about a bit earlier. I just really like what I’ve seen out of him when I watch Georgia play. He’s not a bruiser, but Georgia needs to figure out how to get the ball to him in space and allow him to make plays.
The other potential X-factor for Georgia is George Pickens, the wide receiver who has been out for most of the season after tearing his ACL in March. George Pickens finally made it back on to the field against Georgia Tech last week, catching one pass for 5 yards. Kirby Smart gave him 7 snaps total in that game.
Had Pickens not torn his ACL in spring camp, he would be undoubtedly the best player on the Georgia offense. He’s viewed as a first round draft pick for 2022. The dude is legit. He adds a whole new layer to the Georgia offense. They have no other player who can do what he does.
It’s probably too much to ask to expect him to come in after a torn ACL and only taking 7 snaps last week and become a game-breaking receiver. I don’t think that’s possible. But his presence will definitely add something to the Georgia offense. Bama will have to account for him.
Georgia has been playing and winning all year without him, so anything they get out of him tomorrow is icing on the cake.
But the fact remains that the best team in the country is getting its best offensive player back. There’s no way that can be a bad thing for Georgia.
History shows us that the winner of this game will probably win the National Championship.
11 of the past 15 SEC Champions have won the National Title.
The only times the SEC Champion hasn’t won the National Title in the past 15 years:
- 2013, Florida State beat Auburn in the National Championship
- 2014, Ohio State beat Bama in the semifinal.
- 2016, Clemson beat Bama in the National Championship.
- 2018, Clemson beat Bama in the National Championship.
It takes a truly special team to be able to beat the SEC Champion in the postseason.
That 2013 Florida State squad had Heisman winner Jameis Winston, plus an absolutely loaded roster in general.
The 2014 Ohio State squad was also really stacked as well.
In 2016 and 2018, Clemson had transcendent QBs: DeShaun Watson, and then Trevor Lawrence.
I don’t know if I really see any team like 2013 FSU, 2014 OSU, or 2016 & 2018 Clemson out there in the other conferences.
I thought Ohio State was the only non-SEC team capable of winning the whole thing, but Ohio State got absolutely smashed by Michigan.
Even though Michigan won that game, I don’t really think Michigan is capable of beating either of these two teams.
And so this means, as usual, the SEC Championship is an enormously important game. It’s the game of the year thus far, and probably will end up being the real National Championship game when all is said and done.
Georgia has been the better team all season long. In fact, Georgia has probably been the best team in the country all season long.
But my power ratings only have them as about a 1 point favorite over Bama right now.
Georgia hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2007. I’ve said it a thousand times, but I’ll keep saying it until it’s no longer true.
Alabama has the better quarterback and better offensive weapons.
Alabama has probably the single best player on the field between both teams in Will Anderson.
And most of all, Alabama has Nick Fucking Saban.
I will not count Alabama out at all.
I think it’ll be close, but I think Georgia will end up on top.
Prediction: Georgia 23, Alabama 20.
I don’t like Bama’s offensive line, and I think Georgia’s offensive line is good enough that they’ll be able to move the ball somewhat on that stout Bama defensive front.
It’s all about the trenches.
Plus, Bama has had too many close-calls with teams that should be way beneath them. A 31-29 win at Florida (a team Georgia beat 34-7), a loss on the road to Texas A&M, a 20-14 win at home against a bad LSU team, and an extremely fortunate overtime road win against an Auburn team that didn’t even have Bo Nix (a team Georgia beat 34-10 on the road when Auburn had Bo Nix).
Alabama just has not been dominant this year.
It feels like Alabama has been “cheating death” all year long, but this Georgia team is just too good to let Bama off the hook like all of Bama’s other opponents have (minus A&M of course).
The only way I see Bama winning is if Will Anderson gets a strip-sack and Bama can turn it into points. I think Bama needs points off turnovers in order to win this game. I don’t think they can just straight-up beat Georgia without turnovers going in their favor.
Fortunately for Bama, there is one category in my power ratings formula where Georgia ranks anything lower than excellent, and it’s net turnovers. They’re 54th in net turnovers. So maybe….