SEC Championship Game Preview: Alabama vs. Georgia

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The Matchup: #2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) vs. #3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1)

When: Saturday, December 1st

Where: Atlanta, Georgia

Game Time: 4:00 PM ET

TV: CBS

Recent History: Georgia and Bama are all knotted up at 5-5 in their last 10 games, with the most recent game in 2008 when the Tide beat the Bulldogs 41-30 in Athens. Ironically every time Alabama has played in the SEC Championship, Florida was their opponent, so this will be Bama’s first game against a team not named Florida in Atlanta. Mark Richt has won two SEC Championships in ‘02 and ‘05, while Nick Saban has won three SEC Championships in ‘01, ‘03 and ‘09 with two different teams. You can read about the series history in depth here.

Storyline(s): These two powerhouses will play for the right to be called the SEC Champion and furthermore have a shot to bash the Domers for all the marbles. It’s a national semifinal game, if you will. No surprise here, but everything runs through the SEC once again.

What you need to know about Alabama: We’ve seen Alabama play week-in and week-out over the course of this long (but short!) season, and we are still asking ourselves how good this team really is and if they overrated because of the soft schedule. After all, the Tide lost to one of the few good offensive teams they played in Texas A&M.

The Tide started off ‘12 looking like a well-oiled machine with their conductor Nick Saban guiding the bullet train. And it was a cake walk up until LSU, with Bama pulling out the game in the last minute only to eventually lose to Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel the very next week.

Offensively, this group is very balanced, led by the best offensive line in the country, and Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon have taken advantage of the road graders up front. With such a strong running game, AJ McCarron has the ability to make big plays off play action passes. He’s been a very efficient passer this season, with 25 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions. Those two picks, of course, came in the loss to Texas A&M – a game McCarron had to make plays and play catch up for much of the game. The receiving corps has taken a hit with the injuries of DeAndrew White and, now Kenny Bell. With both done for the season, it puts even more emphasis on freshman Amari Cooper to make big plays and stretch the defense.

Defensively, Bama is strong. But how strong? Michigan, Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Texas A&M are the best offenses they’ve faced all year, and they lost to the Aggies. Sure, they’re good and have several players who will play on Sundays, but they have only faced two offenses – three at the most – with a passing quarterback like Aaron Murray in 12 games. The early cupcakes on the schedule did mask some problems on defense in the secondary.

Alabama is the best rushing team in the SEC without a rushing quarterback, and they will attack Georgia’s front seven. Until Georgia proves they can stop the run, Lacy and Yeldon will get fed the carries. That’s where McCarron has been explosive at times, but now with his big-play threat Bell hurt, Kevin Norwood will have to step in and be the #2 guy behind Cooper to make some explosive plays. That’s something to keep an eye on.

The Tide are rolling right now, coming in having posted back-to-back shutouts and outscoring their opponents 98-0 in the last two games.

What you need to know about Georgia: The Bulldogs have been quite an interesting team over the course of this season. As the college football cycle swings up for the Bulldogs, they, much like Alabama, could make an argument for the weakest schedule in the SEC. With only two ranked teams on the schedule – South Carolina and Florida, we knew the SEC Championship game was a must for Mark Richt and this club.

I wrote earlier in the year that this Georgia team is different. Over the course of the college football season, teams ultimately want to get better. And I believe Georgia is doing that.

Offensively, Murray, who is playing as well as any quarterback in the country, and two freshmen running backs that are as good as any backs in the country, lead an explosive offense. Gurley leads all backs in the SEC, rushing for 1,138 yards and 14 touchdowns. Marshall has rushed for 720 yards and eight touchdowns. Murray has two main targets in Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell. Both combine for 70 catches, 1,236 yards and 12 touchdowns. Georgia, too, has lost two receivers to injury in Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in explosive plays over 40 and 50 yards, and Murray and Gurley are a big reason why. Stopping the big play is a must for Bama.

Defensively, Georgia has as much or more talent than anyone in the country. But we know football games are not won on paper, and the reality is that Georgia’s defense has only played up to its potential in, at the most, four games in 2012. Allowing over 160-plus yards on the ground likely won’t get it done against Alabama. This group must load the box and play the run better. Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech both eclipsed the 300-yard rushing mark against the Bulldogs in the last two weeks. However, when this group wants to put its best game together, they certainly have the ability to be better than anyone in college football, led by their leading sacker Jarvis Jones (10.5).

You could say that Georgia is a team that is peaking at just the right time at this point in the season. Of course teams want to save their best for last, and Georgia will certainly try and do so after getting hammered by LSU a year ago in the same venue.

Statistical Comparison:

Category Alabama Georgia
Scoring Offense 39 ppg 38 ppg
Total Offense 433 ypg 463.7 ypg
Rush Offense 214.17 ypg 190.08 ypg
Pass Offense 218.8 ypg 273.6 ypg
Scoring Defense 9.3 ppg 17.7 ppg
Total Defense 233.7 ypg 337.8 ypg
Rush Defense 77 ypg 163.42 ypg
Pass Defense 156.7 ypg 174.4 ypg
Turnover Margin +14 +9
INTs 16 10
Sacks By 30 24
Sacks  Allowed 20 22

What gives? Outside of a few talking heads, this football game has already been won by Alabama. With Nick Saban game planning and Richt and Murray’s sketchy record against top ten opponents, this game is already over, right? Wrong.

We’ve seen quarterbacks who have beaten Nick Saban-coached teams – Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Jordan Jefferson, and we come to the conclusion that Aaron Murray must have a big game. Is it coincidence that all four of those quarterbacks are dual-threat guys? Does Murray have it in him? I think he has to have his best game yet, and Georgia’s offense has to be extremely balanced.

But on the flip side, how good is this Bama defense? Losing to the best offense they played all season in the Aggies at home, can they stop Murray, Gurley and Marshall? If you want to attack Bama’s defense, you attack the back end. We saw Zach Mettenberger have success, and Johnny Manziel had success, too. Murray can have that type of effect.

Georgia also needs to win the turnover battle. Seeing that Alabama was -5 in TO margin against LSU and Texas A&M, the Bulldogs’ defense has a nose for the football and will have to create some turnovers to shorten the field for their offense. More importantly, the Bulldogs will have to score off those turnovers.

Both teams are pretty much even athletically, and it could come down to the better coach and game planner in preparation for this national semifinal game. Nick Saban or Mark Richt – who are you taking?

Photo Credit: John Reed-US PRESSWIRE

REFERENCES

COMMENTS

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  • Nice write up but I’m just ready for Saturday! Hoping both of these teams give us an awesome show.

  • Look at three and arguably all four of those QB’s you mentioned – all of them are dual threat quarterbacks. As an Alabama fan, I saw this coming since the Ole Miss game. For some reason our scheme just doesn’t allow for much in the way of stopping that dual threat. However, I will give Alabama a little bit against A & M we did make some adjustments and held Manziel to just 9 points through the last three quarters of the game.

    Ultimately it comes down to one aspect for Alabama – putting pressure on Murray.

    • There are only two pro-style QBs that I can remember beating Saban at Alabama. Brian Johnson from Utah in Sugar Bowl and Stephen Garcia at South Carolina. The key for Georgia is a fast start and make Alabama play catchup with AJ McCarron, much like TAMU made them do this season, as well as LSU.

      • Watched the Bama-TAMU game with my wife (a Bama fan) and told her that was Kingsbury’s game-plan all along: make McCarron play catch-up. Georgia’s best chance to win this game is create a large point spread early before Alabama makes their adjustments. They tried this with LSU last year but had too many dropped passes. I just don’t see Georgia pulling out a win if it’s a close game throughout. More than Jarvis Jones, Georgia needs to make the score board pressure McCarron and the Tide offense from the get-go.

        • Agreed…that was huge for TAMU. problem is you can game plan aggressively all you like but execution and the ability to adapt on the fly will fall squarely on the shoulders of Murray.

      • how about a pro-style guy who played under the same offensive staff… Matt Stafford

  • Win or lose, i just wanna see UGA show up and play a good game. These 2 teams match up well against each other so I cant wait to see what happens!

  • I’m actually a bit worried about this game. I think Georgia has a ton of weapons, and Alabama’s lack of pass rush concerns me. With that said, I also don’t have any faith in Mark Richt to game plan this game and beat Saban. Should be close and go down to the wire.

  • Jon, UGA gave up over 300+yards rushing the last two games b/c both GASO and GT are triple-option teams. That yardage will skew any defensive numbers for the season as a whole.

  • Not worried about our defense at all. They are playing exactly how we thought they would and have been for the entire second half of the season. I agree with you in the fact that this game will be won or lost on Aaron Murray. But I disagree that he has to have his best game yet. In fact I feel like that has been his downfall vs the better defenses. He tries to do too much. The INTs in the florida game were evidence of this. He can make all the throws and he knows it, but against good defenses you can’t take the same chances. I think this game will be decided by his ability to take the check-down when needed and recognizing Bama’s blitzes(easier said than done), assigning protection and hot routes accordingly. It also wouldn’t hurt if he used his legs(ala Manziel) to get a first down or two instead of forcing the ball and risking the pick. When ya play the top Defenses ya gotta take what they give ya and wait for your shots.

  • Love all the talk about Bama’s superhuman O-Line. UGA has only allowed 2 more sacks this year and thats with an awful game by the O-line at Ole Miss

  • Great article! I can’t wait for this Saturday! Aaron Murray needs to stay calm and not force the pass. When he does this he tends to throw too hard and the ball gets deflected into the arms of a defender. The O-line is key in this game. Give Murray time and he can eat the Alabama secondary. Gurshall will need to to be effective too so they can sell the play action.

  • Look at the defense stats…especially the scoring D. It is defense that wins championships, and many teams have seen that a “bend but not break” philosophy will work. That is what the Dawgs will go with. I am going with my Bulldog brethern…

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