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
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.
|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|
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