Georgia football: Can Dawgs slow down Bryce Young and Bama's elite passing game?
Opponents who have shown a willingness to commit to the passing game this season have made some dents in the vaunted Georgia defense. They haven’t delivered a dramatic blow, but multiple opponents have shown a propensity to find opportunities in the secondary.
The question this week is if Alabama, which outclasses Tennessee, Auburn and South Carolina from a passing threat perspective, can make significant damage against that Georgia secondary. Those 3 opponents are the only teams to top 200 yards passing this season against Georgia. However, behind Bryce Young, Jameson Williams and John Metchie, Alabama has topped 300 yards passing in all but 3 games this season. What’s more, Alabama has reached at least 317 yards passing in 6 of the past 7 games.
Because of the dramatic loss of talent from last season, when Georgia saw 8 defensive backs leave because of the NFL, graduation or transfer, this was the most concerning area of the whole team entering the season, especially on defense.
About a month ago, Kirby Smart had a near-viral answer to a question about analytics, but he ultimately praised the play of Clemson transfer cornerback Derion Kendrick, and added that Kendrick does a phenomenal job in practice, taking notes and understanding importance. Kendrick is an intriguing player in games like Saturday because he was a 3-year starter at Clemson, 2 on defense, and played in the College Football Playoff each season. He is familiar with the big stage and facing talent like Alabama has on the other side.
Another player the Georgia brain trust is confident in is safety Lewis Cine, who leads Georgia in participation with 82% of possible defensive snaps this season, including every snap against Clemson, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Don’t be surprised if Georgia adds a wrinkle to its defensive secondary similar to what it did against Tennessee when Christopher Smith was moved to “Star” and Dan Jackson was inserted into the lineup, though Smith may not play on Saturday. After Georgia gave up 10 points in the first quarter in Knoxville, Georgia moved Smith and replaced starter Latavious Brini, and then Jackson took over in Smith’s spot. Javon Bullard, the backup “Star,” was injured at the time.
Another scenario, especially with the possible juggling at Star and safety positions, is Georgia could leave Kendrick and Kelee Ringo on an island, as Alabama will likely take a page out of Tennessee’s game plan, and force Georgia to play 1-on-1 on the outside.
Leaving cornerbacks on an island is not exactly a novel concept against Alabama. For anyone who watched the Iron Bowl, they would remember that Auburn’s elite corner, Roger McCreary, was faced with several 50/50 plays. He had to walk the tight rope of pass breakup versus pass interference almost every play.
Roger McCreary came to play against Alabama today. Had been all over Jameson Williams and now showing off against John Metchie. pic.twitter.com/IOJZqAVxjW
— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) November 27, 2021
Given Alabama’s 417 passing yards against Georgia last year, it begs the question if Georgia has made enough changes, or improvements, in passing defense, and the pass rush has a lot to do with it. It has proven to be second to none, mostly from an onslaught perspective, meaning there isn’t one player who stands out, but the Bulldogs simply don’t relent. The other element to keep in mind is the up-tempo adjustment Alabama made at halftime of the Iron Bowl, which paid immediate dividends.
Nick Saban has already noted that Georgia does a good job of disguising and mixing coverages on the back end, even though the corners typically play “off coverage.”
The key this time will be keeping a player like Williams from taking a short pass and going the distance. Of course, Georgia is well aware that Williams leads the country in touchdowns of 70-plus yards, with 4.
As Smart said Sunday night, “They’ve got wideouts from all over. There’s no shortage of talent at wideout, I can promise you that, never has been.”
Alabama’s running backs room is as depleted as Georgia’s wide receiver room. The Tide also have a Heisman front-runner at quarterback. The Tide might not have many other options than for Bryce Young to throw it 45+ times Saturday. He threw it 51 in the Iron Bowl, somewhat out of necessity after starting running back Brian Robinson left with a pulled muscle in his leg.
It is the one sure-fire way Alabama can win this game, by hitting big plays in the passing game. Georgia neutralizing that possibility will be one of the keys to the game.