Something's gotta give: Can Tide's defense stop Georgia's big-play run game?
There are a lot of quality story lines heading into Monday night’s national championship game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs. None is bigger than Alabama’s run defense going up against Georgia’s impressive ground game.
The Bulldogs are led by a trio of running backs that rivals any group in the country.
Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and freshman phenom D’Andre Swift are all capable of being workhorses. Fielding them as a unit makes it seemingly impossible to stop them on a consistent basis — well, unless they’re playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Other than that regular-season game against Auburn in Week 11, Georgia has managed to rip off at least one run of 20-plus yards in every game. In fact, the Bulldogs are first in the country in runs of 20 yards or more.
Georgia is in the title game because of its rushing offense. It absolutely was the reason the Dawgs beat Oklahoma, but it wasn’t a 1-game blip. It’s been a year-long thing (decades-long thing, RBU?). Also, nobody runs like that on Alabama. A few more numbers on the key to Monday: pic.twitter.com/lXKV0dT8zW
— Chris Wright (@FilmRoomEditor) January 2, 2018
The most impressive part is that Georgia’s explosive run game was at its best during the biggest moment of the season — facing off against No. 2 Oklahoma in the first round of the College Football Playoff.
The Bulldogs had been averaging 2.8 runs of 20-plus yards heading into that matchup against the Sooners. They proceeded to witness their top two running backs rip off seven gains of 20 yards or more (three from Chubb, four from Michel).
If you want an idea of just how good the duo ended up being in Pasadena, look no further this 44-yard run from Chubb early in the second half:
Nick Chubb is a grown man pic.twitter.com/zh0goMj1zH
— Football Is Life (@FootbaIl_Tweets) January 2, 2018
Overall, Georgia has seen five running backs gain 250 or more yards this season. Here’s a breakdown:
- Nick Chubb – 205 carries, 1,320 yards, 15 TDs
- Sony Michel – 142 carries, 1,129 yards, 16 TDs
- D’Andre Swift – 77 carries, 603 yards, 3 TDs
- Elijah Holyfield – 50 carries, 293 yards, 2 TDs
- Brian Herrien – 61 carries, 265 yards, 1 TD
Michel (No. 6 at 7.95) and Swift (No. 8 at 7.83) both rank in the top 10 in the country in yards per carry, and Chubb is in the top 30 (6.44). So it isn’t surprising that Georgia leads the rest of college football in a lot of statistical categories surrounding explosive run plays.
The trio features size across the board, as Chubb (5-10, 225), Michel (5-11, 215) and Swift (5-9, 215) all have thick, powerful frames that allow them to run through would-be tacklers.
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) September 30, 2017
As you can see, Swift — almost always fresh because he gets but 5.5 carries per game — is able to cause defenses problems with his raw power and leg drive.
So, the question becomes … can Alabama’s defense stop Georgia’s run game from being able to produce big plays? Chubb and Michel are fresh off a performance where they ran for a combined 326 yards and five touchdowns on only 25 carries — good for 13 yards per carry.
Well, let’s not forget just how dominant the Crimson Tide’s defense has been this season. They’re No. 1 in run defense (91.77 yards per game) due to them giving up only 2.7 yards per carry.
Let’s also not forget the graphic from earlier that stated that Alabama is first in the country in everything outside of runs of 40-plus (tied at No. 3) and 50-plus (tied at No. 2) yards. That’s about as dominant as you can get when it comes to stopping big-play runs.
Most recently, the Tide held an impressive Clemson run game to 64 yards on 33 carries — a 1.9-yard average. The running backs accounted for only 46 of that, and Clemson’s quarterback, Kelly Bryant, was the only player to have a gain of 20-plus yards.
The bad news for Alabama is they’ll be playing without yet another linebacker. Edge rusher Anfernee Jennings — who had a dominant performance against the Tigers on Monday night — suffered a sprained knee and will miss the national championship.
Best game in an Alabama uniform for both Anfernee Jennings & Isaiah Buggs.
Buggs was exceptional with his hands shedding blocks & tracking plays. Jennings did it all. Set the edge, won in pass pro. Just two all around dominant performances.
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) January 3, 2018
It’s a tough loss, as Jennings had arguably his best game of the season — 5 tackles, three of them for losses including a sack — while being a key contributor to stopping Clemson’s run game.
It certainly makes Alabama’s defense more vulnerable, but the front seven is playing its best football right now. Terrell Lewis, Christian Miller, Jamey Mosley and true freshman LaBryan Ray will all be asked to pick up the slack in Jennings’ absence. They are all capable of getting that job done.
Georgia needs to be able to lean on that explosive run game with true freshman Jake Fromm starting at quarterback. He’s been able to handle big moments so far, but facing off against the No. 1 defense on the biggest stage in college football is quite the task.
Oklahoma’s defense — if you didn’t know — is only No. 67 in the country.
If Alabama is able to limit the Bulldogs’ success on the ground in the same way that Auburn did in its first matchup with Georgia — only 79 yards on 27 carries from the running backs — then the Tide win.
It’s that simple, but easier said than done.