Georgia football: 3 key matchups Dawgs can exploit against Alabama in SEC Championship
In some ways, this matchup is strength on strength for the SEC Championship with Georgia and Alabama being in the top 5 of the SEC in several categories.
But there are areas to exploit if Georgia is able to return to the top of the SEC for the first time since a 28-7 win over Auburn in the 2017 SEC Championship Game, Georgia’s first SEC title since 2005.
Getting rid of the elusive Alabama hurdle could provide just the tonic Georgia faithful need to get set up for the postseason — and ideal momentum for the College Football Playoff. Still, there is a consensus opinion that Georgia could lose and still make the Playoff, and that would create a possible rematch scenario.
But before then, here are 3 key matchups Georgia can, and must, exploit against Alabama on Saturday:
Alabama offensive line
It is difficult to believe this is a weakness for the Crimson Tide since the unit is anchored by left tackle Evan Neal, who was a preseason All-America and is a likely top-shelf NFL Draft pick. But Damieon George Jr. at right tackle was the true weak link in the Iron Bowl and was replaced at halftime by Chris Owens. Resident SEC offensive line expert Cole Cubelic described protection breakdowns and shuffling magnifies issues.
Kirby Smart dismissed a lot of the issues to replacing NFL talent that left after last season and being on the road at Auburn, one of the toughest places to play.
“Anytime you lose the talent they have, you’re going to have guys that come back and have to grow with experience,” Smart said Monday. “… It’s a tough environment. That game is always different. The 9 years I was there, you never could judge anything on that game because it’s such an intrastate rivalry.”
We do it each week, my Sunday SEC takeaways…
ALABAMA: Win vs rival on road. Win & in. Credit for battling & finding a way. OL struggles obvious,especially RT. No push, protection breakdowns & shuffling magnifies. QB pretty damn good. Final drive amazing. 47 & 48 great up front
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) November 28, 2021
The Crimson Tide are 12th in the SEC in sacks allowed at 35, or 2.9 per game. Georgia, for perspective, has given up 8 sacks this season. Alabama also is dead last in the SEC in tackles for a loss per game with 7. Georgia allows just 3, which leads the SEC.
Alabama pass defense
Alabama allows 10.9 yards per completion, and opponents are completing 64% of their passes against the Tide, which is 10th in the league. While Auburn QB TJ Finley struggled, other SEC West QBs have flourished against the Tide. Texas A&M’s Zach Calzada turned a lackluster year into a career night in the upset win over Alabama as he went 21-for-31, with 3 touchdowns. Arkansas and Mississippi State each had at least 300 yards passing. The Razorbacks averaged 11.5 yards per attempt, while Tennessee reached 10.1.
Remember the last time these teams played, James Cook became a tremendous weapon for the Georgia passing game out of the backfield, and had 4 catches for 101 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown.
Alabama’s red-zone defense
Alabama’s defense allows touchdowns on 60% of opponents’ red-zone trips, which ranks 9th in the SEC. The overall scoring percentage is 10th in the league. On the other side of the ball, Alabama leads the SEC, and Georgia is No. 3 in red-zone conversions on offense. And speaking of last year’s meeting, Georgia scored 2 touchdowns in the red zone.
This year, one of Georgia’s few struggles has been red-zone offense, but Smart has said the key to red-zone execution is to run the ball stubbornly.
Any one of these areas could turn the tide for Georgia, but capitalizing on 2 or more could lead to a lopsided victory in Atlanta. Texas A&M, Auburn and, to an extent, Florida have laid out a blueprint to beat Alabama, and now it’s up to Georgia to roll it out and pull it off.