SEC Championship Countdown: 5 matchups Georgia must win to beat Alabama
There’s still plenty of football to be played this weekend when Georgia takes on Georgia Tech and Alabama plays Auburn, but despite that, there’s nothing wrong with jumping ahead to the huge Dec. 1 SEC Championship Game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Georgia.
The rematch of last year’s National Championship Game is the most anticipated matchup of the season in the SEC. This pairing was predicted in July, and now it’s just a week and change away.
For 1-loss Georgia to beat unbeaten Alabama, here are five matchups that the Bulldogs have to win in order to knock off the Crimson Tide:
1. Score first and play with a lead
One of the defining staples of Georgia’s season is that is has been able to jump out to early leads, and oftentimes it’s been the defense doing the scoring, like at South Carolina and Missouri. It’s especially critical to get a leg up on Alabama because the Crimson Tide haven’t had to play under any pressure all year, winning every game by at least 22 points. It would be good to force them to play catch-up, and see if that affects them negatively in any way.
2. Georgia DBs win more than they lose vs. Alabama WRs
If we learned anything from last year’s national title game, it’s that Alabama’s explosive wide receivers can break open a game at any time, especially late with the outcome on the line. Georgia lost this battle last year — and lost it badly at times — and that can’t happen again.
It’s a daunting challenge: Alabama has had 30 passes cover at least 30 yards — second only to Ole Miss in the SEC, and that’s without Tua Tagovailoa playing in the fourth quarter almost every game. Including tight end Irv Smith Jr., Alabama has 5 receiving targets who average more than 18 yards per catch.
Deandre Baker has had an All-American season at one corner, and safeties J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte have been better than expected. The other corner remains a concern. True freshman Tyson Campbell won the starting job at the beginning of the season, but he has struggled at times with breakdowns and miscommunication. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Eric Stokes, but both will see plenty of action against Alabama, and they will need to play well. If not, it could be a long night.
3. Break off some big plays on offense
Alabama’s defense is too good to expect to have a lot of long drives against it all night long, so it would sure help a lot to break off a lot of big plays. Georgia has been doing that all year, and they’ve been doing it better than anyone. Here’s some amazing numbers to the depth of Georgia’s explosive talent at the skill positions: 8 Georgia runners have had a gain of 30 yards or more this season, and 8 receivers have had catches of 30 yards or more.
D’Andre Swift, Mecole Hardman and Tyler Simmons are on both lists. Swift might be the key piece here. Finally healthy after dealing with groin and ankle injuries earlier in the year, Swift has been on a tear in the past month. His burst is surely back as well, as evidenced by his 83-yard touchdown run against Kentucky and his 77-yard dash against Auburn. Doing it again against Alabama would be a huge plus.
4. Put enough pressure on Tua Tagovailoa to get him on the move
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa seems to be a lock to win the Heisman Trophy this year, and it’s well deserved. He is 164-for-237 passing (69.2 percent), with 2,865 yards and 31 touchdown passes. He’s only thrown 2 interceptions all year. Georgia’s sack total (17) is pathetic, but Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has been adamant all year that they’ve put enough pressure on quarterbacks to make them uncomfortable. That’s what has to happen against Tagovailoa.
Sitting comfortably in the pocket, he can pick defenses apart, even the very good ones. He’s that accurate, and he’s that smart at reading defenses. But he’s also playing on a less-than-perfect knee, and he feels less comfortable moving around and getting hit. If Georgia can pressure him and knock him around a little bit, it might take away a bit of his effectiveness.
5. Control the line of scrimmage on early downs
Alabama has been crushing people all season. Its defense, as always, is great, but what’s made them different in 2018 is that the offense is the best Alabama has seen, maybe ever. The Crimson Tide are first in the nation in passing yards per completion (minimum 100 completions), third in total offense, third in third-down conversions, and seventh in passing offense. They have been so successful because they’ve avoided being in difficult 3rd-and-long situations all year.
That will be a key for Georgia, to hang tough on first and second down and make every third-and-long event a pressure-packed moment. It will be a tough task because Alabama’s offensive line is so good, but creative game-planning might make the difference.