SEC Championship Game: What common opponents can tell Georgia about Alabama
As soon as last year’s epic national championship game ended, we couldn’t wait for another Alabama-Georgia rematch. And now, about 11 months later, we’ve got it.
No. 1 Alabama is 12-0 and having a season for the ages, cruising to the SEC West title. No. 5 Georgia is 11-1 but has played great through the second half of the season to claim the SEC East. The two teams square off on Saturday in Atlanta (4 p.m.; TV: CBS) for the conference title.
Last year’s national title game was so close that it came down to one final play before Alabama snatched a victory. On paper, this game might be a little different, just because the Crimson Tide has been so dominant all year, winning all 12 games by 20 points or more, something that hadn’t been done in more than a century. Alabama is a 13.5-point favorite against Georgia.
In comparing the teams, there are things we can glean from their matchups this season with common opponents. There were four of them — LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and Missouri. Let’s take a look at all four to see where we can notice some trends.
1. The most disparate barometer is LSU
- Alabama result: The Crimson Tide defeated LSU 29-0 on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge.
- Georgia result: The Bulldogs lost to LSU 36-16 on Oct. 13 in Baton Rouge.
- The skinny: For as good as Georgia has been all year, this was the outlier, its one awful game. They couldn’t do anything right on either side of the ball, and, even worse, they got pushed around physically, something they take pride in doing themselves. LSU rushed for a whopping 275 yards that day and threw for 200 more. It was downright ugly. LSU was supposed to be Alabama’s toughest test in a showdown of No. 1 vs. No. 3 three weeks later, but it never materialized. Alabama pitched a shutout that day in the 29-0 rout, and its defense was suffocating, holding LSU to just 12 yards rushing on 25 carries.
- Glass half-full for Georgia: Frankly, it’s hard to find an optimistic thread for the Bulldogs in comparing those two games. The shining light for Georgia is that they learned a lot about themselves that day, and during their bye week, they vowed to fix things. They did, and they’ve been unbeatable — and much more physical — in the six games since.
- Glass half-empty for Georgia: The rushing yards totals — 275 to 12 — says a lot about the quality of Alabama’s front seven and the struggles that Georgia’s front seven had that day. On Saturday, it’s going to be imperative that Georgia does a much better job of stopping the run.
2. Auburn hung around for a while in both games
- Alabama result: The Crimson Tide defeated Auburn 52-21 on Nov. 24 in Tuscaloosa.
- Georgia result: The Bulldogs beat Auburn 27-10 on Nov. 10 in Athens.
- The skinny: Auburn trailed Alabama by only three points at halftime and hung tough with some gadget plays that worked in space and by forcing a turnover. Bama went nuts in the second half to blow it open, though. Georgia had trouble moving the ball on Auburn early and actually trailed 10-6 midway through the second quarter. Once they got moving, though, they cruised, and Georgia’s defense was sharp the rest of the way.
- Glass half-full for Georgia: This is the only one of the four games that came after the LSU loss, when Georgia was a different — and much better — team. Auburn’s front seven is very good, but Georgia was able to run on them for 303 yards, with a healthy D’Andre Swift accounting for 186. Alabama managed only 123 yards rushing against the same defense. Georgia’s running game is dramatically different now with Swift healthy. His burst is back, as evidenced by his 77-yard touchdown run in this game.
- Glass half-empty for Georgia: Georgia had trouble blocking Auburn’s front in the passing game for much of the time, and Jake Fromm threw for only 193 yards and had an interception. Against that same defense, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa threw for 204 yards — in the third quarter alone. He finished with 5 touchdown passes on the day.
3. Tennessee is rebuilding, and it showed in these two games
- Alabama result: The Crimson Tide defeated Tennessee 58-21 on Oct. 20 in Knoxville.
- Georgia result: The Bulldogs beat Tennessee 38-12 on Sept. 29 in Athens.
- The skinny: The Bulldogs weren’t overly impressive on offense in this game, never really finding a rhythm. Alabama had no troubles, scoring 42 points by halftime and getting touchdowns on six of its eight first-half possessions.
- Glass half-full for Georgia: The Bulldogs’ run defense was excellent, allowing Tennessee only 62 yards rushing all day. The Vols aren’t much this year, so it’s difficult to take too much from it, but the Georgia defense certainly showed up in this rivalry game. Alabama shut down their run game, too.
- Glass half-empty for Georgia: Tennessee’s defense is not very good, but the Bulldogs still struggled to get rolling against them. Sandwiched touchdowns around halftime saved the Bulldogs from having a fight on their hands. Alabama was far most impressive in kicking Tennessee around, but then again, they do that every year.
4. Missouri knows how to play against Georgia
- Alabama result: The Crimson Tide defeated Missouri 39-10 on Oct. 13 in Tuscaloosa.
- Georgia result: The Bulldogs beat Missouri 43-29 on Sept. 22 in Columbia.
- The skinny: Partly because they play every year and partly because Missouri quarterback Drew Lock is really, really good, Missouri always seems to give Georgia’s defense fits. Lock threw for 221 yards against Georgia, but the big difference was that the Tigers ran the ball well while having the Bulldogs spread out. Against Alabama, Lock threw for only 142 yards and 2 interceptions, because Missouri’s offensive line couldn’t block Alabama’s front.
- Glass half-full for Georgia: The Bulldogs’ pass rush early in the season just wasn’t very good. It was partly scheme, but it was also a lot of young guys still finding their way. The optimist in me says that pass rush is a lot better now, even though the sack totals aren’t high. The pressure has been there, and oftentimes that’s enough.
- Glass half-empty for Georgia: Watch Alabama’s pass rush vs. Missouri compared to Georgia’s, and it’s like night and day. This might be the most one-sided comparison we saw outside of the LSU stuff.