5 reasons Alabama will beat Georgia on Saturday
It doesn’t get much more succulent than this.
Well, actually, a full Bryant-Denny Stadium with no masks, no fear of COVID-19, both teams’ head coaches present and a full offseason and nonconference slate under Alabama and Georgia’s belts wouldn’t hurt. But this is 2020, and we’ll take what we can get.
And despite all the coronavirus chicanery, what we get doesn’t happen often: FBS’ top offense against its top defense.
But that’s far from the only storyline when the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs square off at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. If No. 2-ranked Bama is to top No. 3 UGA in a potential SEC Championship Game and/or College Football Playoff preview without head coach Nick Saban available, these will be 5 reasons (in no particular order):
1. The Crimson Tide overcomes the absence of Nick Saban
With its head coach sidelined due to COVID-19, Alabama will be leaning on the experience of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and perhaps analysts Butch Jones and Mike Stoops — all former Power 5 head coaches — while Saban directs traffic from his home during quarantine. The rules state Saban can’t have any contact with his group Saturday, so for now his role will be preparatory only. That means no in-game adjustments from one of the sport’s best-ever minds.
How does that dynamic motivate a team that already had its credibility as a contender questioned in the past week? There are legitimate concerns about Alabama’s defense, enough for many to pick Georgia even before Wednesday’s news about Saban. But big games from leaders like linebacker Dylan Moses, end LaBryan Ray and cornerback Patrick Surtain II could shift the narrative.
2. Mac Jones
Through 3 games, Alabama’s quarterback leads FBS in passer rating (220.35) and yards per attempt (a ridiculous 13.3). He was sensational in a shootout win against Ole Miss, completing 28-of-32 passes for 417 yards during the most prolific offensive game in SEC history. But Jones has yet to see a defense the caliber of Georgia’s. He won’t have as much time to throw, and the Dawgs’ secondary is seasoned. And with the Crimson Tide’s defense struggling, this is the type of game where the QB might have to put the team on his back.
3. Najee Harris
Just as Jones hasn’t seen a defense like UGA’s, the Bulldogs haven’t seen a back like Harris. They don’t make as many of ’em quite like this manchild anymore, but the ones who do come out of the woodwork tend to end up at Alabama. Another scintillating ground performance from Harris — who had 206 (!) yards and 5 (!) touchdowns against the Rebels — would help the Tide’s defense out tremendously.
3. Speaking of that Tide defense …
This is a group with top-5 expectations that’s suddenly on the ropes after yielding a program-worst 647 yards to Ole Miss. How do you fix tackling, miscommunication and blown assignments in a week’s time? Defensive coordinator Pete Golding has his work cut out for him, but Georgia’s offense presents different challenges, and Saban won’t be there to assist. It’s more of a line-up-and-smack-you-in-the-mouth type of approach; Bama will need to match that moxie, control the trenches and get after Stetson Bennett IV if they’re going to win Saturday.
5. A special teams surprise
Georgia’s kicking and punting game have been among the nation’s best this season. Could Bama disrupt it with a blocked kick in a game in which momentum will be at a premium? Maybe Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith cracks a big return. In a matchup between titans, special teams can often be the great decider.