Alabama's RBs vs. Georgia's RBs: Which group has the edge?
I’ve looked. There’s nothing.
Nothing suggests that either Alabama or Georgia will be completely stymied in the running game. Both are too deep, too experienced and just too good for that to happen.
Georgia isn’t LSU. The Dawgs aren’t just going to give it to Nick Chubb 30 times and hope it works out against Alabama. On the flip side, Alabama isn’t Auburn. The Tide aren’t one-back reliant like the Tigers were with Kerryon Johnson.
To think that one of these groups will shrink on college football’s biggest stage seems unrealistic.
To think that either Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll or Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is going to start throwing the ball all over the place is a bit far-fetched too. Georgia has ran the ball on 70 percent of its plays from scrimmage this season and Alabama has done so 66 percent of the time. The ground game got each of these programs to the dance, and they aren’t about to ditch their dates as soon as they walk through the door.
It won’t matter that each defense allowed just 8 rushing touchdowns all year, either. Both teams are going to use their bevy of NFL-ready backs to try to move the chains, and it’s going to be a joy to watch.
So how in the world can one predict who has the advantage? Well, let’s give it a shot.
Of the five backs who will likely have a significant workload on Monday — Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift — there’s only one who legitimately concerns me. After what he did in last year’s national championship before he got injured, it’s somewhat shocking to think that it’s Scarbrough.
I outlined before the Sugar Bowl that there was nothing to suggest that Scarbrough would return to his 2016 postseason form, and he laid another egg against Clemson. He was held to 24 yards on 12 carries, and his longest run of the night went a whopping 6 yards. He did add 2 catches for 16 yards, but to call Scarbrough a “factor” in the Sugar Bowl would be a bit of an exaggeration.
One could’ve predicted that Scarbrough would’ve struggled against Clemson’s dominant defensive line. Georgia doesn’t have quite the game-changers up front that the Tigers do, but I’m still not convinced Scarbrough can do anything against a legitimate run defense — one that isn’t Arkansas, Colorado State, Mercer or Vanderbilt.
Harris, on the other hand, should have more success against Georgia.
He’s obviously been the better back all year, and if the Clemson game was any indication, the Tide will lean on him more than they do Scarbrough. Harris got a season-high 19 carries against Clemson, which said a lot about Daboll’s trust in him. He has plenty of ability to replicate the performance of Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson, who scampered for 201 yards rushing in the Rose Bowl. Both can get to the outside and put pressure on Georgia’s linebackers to make plays in space.
So does that mean Alabama has the edge? I’m getting there. I promise.
On the surface, Georgia actually has had the better backfield all year. I mean, Chubb and Michel combined for a ridiculous 367 yards and 6 touchdowns (including the game-winner) in the Rose Bowl. They’re one of the best duos in college football history and amazingly enough, Swift could wind up having the most upside of all of them.
Georgia’s backfield is an offensive coordinator’s dream. Guys can run between the tackles or outside the tackles, they can pass block or catch passes; and more times than not, those factors overwhelm the defense. The Dawgs have all the weapons to light up the best of the best.
So does that mean Georgia has the edge? Not so fast.
There’s one big thing holding me back from giving the Dawgs the edge, or rather a No. 1 reason why I’m hesitant. They have to face Alabama’s No. 1 run defense. What does that mean?
Well, Georgia gets to battle a unit that allowed just 1.9 yards per carry against Clemson. Speaking of that yards per carry stat, here’s another one you’ll find incredible. Alabama is riding a streak of 38 straight games without allowing 4.0 yards per carry. Who was the last team to do it against the Tide? Ironically enough, it was Georgia in 2015.
Who could forget this run?
That, of course, was the last time that Alabama and Georgia met. Despite the Dawgs’ rushing efforts that day (take away that 83-yard run and it was only 2.97 yards per carry), it was still a 38-10 blowout loss.
But this isn’t about some game in 2015. Even though Chubb and Michel will be there for Georgia once again, that’s about the only common denominator from that game. This is almost an entirely different cast of characters with some entirely different circumstances.
I’m more partial to Alabama’s No. 1 run defense in 2017. There’s also the fact that since Alabama was trucked by Ohio State in their 2014-15 semifinal matchup, the Tide have allowed just 2.2 yards per carry in five Playoff games. You just can’t expect to beat Alabama by running the ball 50 times for 200 yards. That’s not in the Tide’s DNA.
What is in Alabama’s DNA is having someone like Scarbrough or Derrick Henry or Eddie Lacy step up with a monster performance on the national championship stage. Conventional wisdom says that Harris will be that guy this year. Maybe Scarbrough has one of those games where he has 10 carries for 50 yards and 2 touchdowns, and coupled with Jalen Hurts’ rushing ability, that proves to be enough.
It doesn’t matter as much that Alabama’s running backs haven’t been quite as good as Georgia’s this year. Facing that Alabama front is a brutal, brutal task. Anyone doing that is at an automatic disadvantage.
We’ll see if that hill is too steep for Georgia to climb on Monday night.