SEC Championship: 5 things Georgia does well that should worry Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — We’re inching closer to the best matchup of conference championship week.
No. 1 Alabama is set to face No. 4 Georgia on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game. The winner is a lock to make the College Football Playoff while the loser will have to sweat out Selection Sunday as the committee decides their fate.
On paper, Alabama is the better team in pretty much every statistical category, but what are somethings that Georgia does well that could give Alabama some problems?
Here are five.
1. The run game
Statistically, Georgia has the best rushing duo in the SEC. Sophomore D’Andre Swift has 962 yards and junior Elijah Holyfield is just a tick behind at 896. Both average more than 6 yards per carry. Both have rushed for at least 7 touchdowns. The duo aims to become the latest pair of Bulldogs to have a 1,000-yard season. There have been 13 to do it a total of 19 times in school history, most recently Nick Chubb (1,345) and Sony Michel (1,227) in 2017. Swift has had 100-yard games in four of Georgia’s past five games, and he’s used the big play to get there. He is a legitimate threat to score on a long run.
2. The return game
Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman leads the nation with 21.79 yards per punt return. That’s an incredible mark. Only one other player in the country has an average better than 17 yards (New Mexico’s Marcus Hayes, 21.2).
Alabama coach Nick Saban mentioned it as one of the areas Alabama must focus on.
“Hardman is really, really a good returner,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They’ve made some explosive returns this year, so we’re going to have to do a great job of covering. We also have to protect especially after last week when we had an error in protection and got a punt blocked. But they do a great job of holding up and he’s a very dangerous returner. Obviously to me the best we’ve seen all year.”
3. Falling behind early
This hasn’t been an issue for Alabama, but it might be Saturday. Georgia has pounced on opponents early, particularly in its biggest games this season. Several times, the Dawgs’ defense forced a turnover and either scored or set up a touchdown.
For the early part of the season, Alabama’s offense did its work in the opening half. So much so that games were out of hand and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was done midway through most third quarters. Alabama’s offense would go ball control in the second half to put teams away.
But the Tide have endured slow starts the past two weeks before an overwhelming third quarter.
Against The Citadel, Alabama was tied at 10 heading into halftime. Alabama used a 27-point third quarter to put that one away.
This past Saturday, Alabama’s offense wasn’t as efficient as we’ve seen it be, taking a 17-14 lead into the break. The Iron Bowl appeared to be on pace for a close finish, but Alabama added 21 points in the third quarter and another 14 in the fourth for good measure.
The last thing Alabama wants is a slow start against Georgia. They got away with that last year in the national title game, but the Bulldogs have the type of offense that can run the ball and control clock if necessary.
4. Efficient, yet explosive offense
Georgia is on pace to have one of the best scoring averages in school history. The Bulldogs have scored 40+ points in seven games this year and are averaging 40.1, which is second in the SEC behind Alabama. The 2014 team owns the school record at 41.3 ppg. Georgia has scored 57 touchdowns in 2018 while the defense and special teams have each chipped in two scores.
One reason? Much like Alabama, Georgia can score quickly, from anywhere on the field.
The Bulldogs’ average scoring drive is 6 plays, and they’ve 28 touchdowns in 5 plays or fewer. They’ve scored 13 on 3 plays or fewer.
This is the most dangerous, versatile offense Alabama has faced.
5. The kicking game
Alabama simply cannot let the field goal kickers decide this game. It’s far too big of a risk.
Not only is Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship the superior kicker, he’s far more battle-tested, too.
Alabama fans might not remember, but it was Blankenship’s clutch 55-yard field goal just before halftime that changed the momentum and fueled Georgia’s comeback victory against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl semifinal. Georgia trailed 31-14 before that kick. Blankenship also drilled a 38-yard field goal in the first overtime to give Georgia a lead.
Alabama fans don’t need to be reminded what happened in last year’s championship game. Sure it ended well, but it wasn’t without stress. Blankenship hit all 3 of his field goal attempts and the Tide missed two — most notably a potential 36-yard game-winner on the final play of regulation before winning in overtime.
Alabama has changed kickers, but the problems continue. The Tide are 13-for-18 on field goals. Blankenship is 19-for-22.
In comparing players, he might be the biggest advantage Georgia has.