Alabama vs Georgia … Breaking it Down!

For Terre, greatest Dawg fan in the universe.

Glancing at the schedule preseason for the SEC in 2015, October 3 in Athens Georgia jumped off the page. The big bad Alabama Crimson Tide under the direction of maestro Nick Saban rolling into Georgia to battle Mark Richt and his Bulldogs. This had the appearance of one of the pivotal games of the season in determining the division winners who would face off at the Georgia Dome at the end of the season for the league championship and a likely berth  to the four team national playoff. That prelude is still in effect, however, the dynamics of the game and the implications of the match-up have definitely shifted.
It is odd that you don’t hear a lot of talking in these days leading up to this very big clash  of ranked powerhouses. Both fan bases are remarkably sedate.. This is attributable to a couple of reasons. Number one, Georgia and Alabama do not play often so from a rivalry standpoint, that element is virtually nonexistent. Both groups of supporters are also imagining the devastation of a loss instead of focusing on the importance of possibly winning. That comes from what the result of the game sets up, and from dismaying  uncertainty in peoples minds of how they expect the game to go.

From Alabama’s  standpoint, everything is on the line in this game. A second conference loss, following up the stunning defeat at the hands of Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa, would make the Tide 0-2. With the rigors of the remaining schedule and history to reference, there is next to no chance that Alabama would be relevant in any discussions of a national championship consideration. and most likely knocked out of the race to be the SEC West representative in Atlanta. Bottom line, any season at Alabama that does not result in winning a national championship, or at least reaching the playoff, is considered an abject failure. Everyone within the program and all of their massive, devoted , passionate followers, have been dramatically spoiled by success and have intentionally set the bar at the highest level possible. Of course that is a direct result of the program’s remarkable success.

For Georgia there are two different levels of thought as to the pertinence of this game. Unlike Alabama, it is not a do or die situation. Even with a loss on Saturday, wins in the next two weeks over division foes Tennessee and Missouri would still  leave the Dawgs in a strong position to win the East. A defeat would set up a great deal of additional pressure going to Knoxville next week, as back-to-back losses would be very damaging. Georgia fans are chewing their fingernails down to the nub with the thought, or is it just mistaken perception, that Georgia shrivels in the spotlight of huge games.However, looking back at recent years, Georgia has had very few high profile, mega-magnitude showdowns on their home turf. Alabama’s last visit to Athens, the lopsided blackout game in 2008, is the last example of Georgia not stepping up in a huge spot at home. The last game even comparable to this one, was LSU’s visit two years ago. That Tiger team led by now NFL stars Odell Beckham Jr.,Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Hill and Zack Mettenberger, fell to Georgia in a thrilling shootout. George’s most notable bobbles have not come in Athens typically but at road venues and in Jacksonville. You also cannot chalk up the loss in the SEC championship game to Alabama in 2012 as a poor performance or  choke. Georgia wound up just four yards away as time expired from authoring a stunning upset of a tremendous Alabama team  that would go on to win the national championship. On the other hand, UGA coaches and players will not have the mindset of thinking back to previous games. Simply seeing the crimson and white across on the other sideline in Sanford Stadium, will not fill their heads with thoughts that it’s just another opponent who they are actually expected to beat. It is still Alabama, the king of the hill led by the exultant czar Saban, the supreme entity  of all college football.

The role reversal of Georgia being the favorite is a wrinkle most probably did not anticipate. Alabama has not been the underdog in any game in over 70 previous appearances. The last time was in 2009 in the game against LSU. But there are questions as to whether or not the Crimson Tide dynasty is finally slipping. Georgia may perceive that the behemoth is on the field but that perception may not turn out to be a reality.  Is this Alabama team as good as it’s recent predecessors? Even if the answer to that question is no, it must be considered, that in recent years when Alabama has exhausted their margin of error in terms of being in a position where they could not afford to lose a game, they have played their best football. Backed against the wall,  make no mistake, this is a very dangerous animal. The oddity of the game is, both teams may be adopting the identity and casting themselves in the role of David looking to deploy a slingshot, as opposed to one of the other being a fearsome giant in the role of the insurmountable force. Kind of the hunted versus the hunted.

I find that the dime store analysts present on every network and the way they break down games to be comical. I watched one such analysis last night where the teams were being compared position by position. For example, this “expert” deemed that Georgia had the edge in the area of running backs. These teams feature unquestionably the best tandem of backs on their squads as anybody in the country. But comparing them to each other is the laughable because on Saturday, Chubb and Michel for Georgia will not be lining it up against Bama’s Henry and Drake. They will instead face the front sevens in both respective defenses. And of course the offense of line in their match ups against those defenses is a huge component in the equation. So the question is not who has the better backs,  but who’s running games will have more success. Giving Georgia the slight, and I mean razor thin margin as to the talent of their backs, the next thing to look at is the accompanying units. Georgia’s offensive line is better than Alabama’s. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tide’s line and linebackers rate the overall nod over UGA. I believe the excellence of all of these players and units the make up, make the running game on paper, appear to be dead even.  The additional factor of running quarterbacks are not really in play here. Although a slight edge would have to be given to Alabama’s Coker after he showed some impressive scrambling talent in the Ole Miss contest. Let’s just say that neither he or Lambert or going to win any track meets anytime soon.

The tipping of the scale as to who rushes the ball more effectively will probably be determined by the ability of the respective teams to throw the football. Once again on paper  going in, Georgia would appear to have a significant edge. Suddenly celebrated quarterback Greyson Lambert comes in 33 of his last 35 in passing efficiency and set an NCAA percentage record in the win over South Carolina. However, Lambert’s proficiency could be a mirage. Georgia completely bewildered South Carolina’s beleaguered defense with never before seen multiple sets and a devastating running game that overwhelmed the Gamecocks. And last weeks statistics against Southern University cannot even be considered due to the laughable mismatch of the teams. There is no debate however that the Georgia receiving corps rates higher than the Alabama group. George’s Malcom Mitchell is clearly the best player among the respective wide receiver contingents. Additionally, new offense of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has arrived in Athens with NFL background and strategy. Previous philosophy at UGA did not include regular use of tight ends and running backs in the passing scheme. The Dawgs, blessed with two explosive breakaway backs, and three Gronk/Graham body style tight ends, have aerial weapons galore. Alabama secondary has been vulnerable to downfield passing attacks for the last three seasons. In overall offensive prospects for success, the nod has to go to Georgia.

As previously discussed, the Alabama front seven ranks better than George’s predominately because of their lineman upfront. Both sets of linebackers are absolutely outstanding. Secondaries for both teams are at times extremely leaky. UGA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is a former Saban assistant and employs similar philosophies in the defensive backfield. Conversely, the boss of the Tide defense is former Georgia great and DB himself, Kirby Smart.. Overall, it is hard to proclaim one defense better than the other. Alabama would probably get the nod but Georgia’s ability to exert pressure negates any advantage.

In terms of special teams, Alabama’s placekicking situation is a mess. Large advantage for  UGA are there. The Alabama planter, is clearly superior to Georgia’s. The Georgia kick returner’s are explosive and dangerous. The Alabama specialists in that area thus far have self detonated being guilty of crucial turnovers. Alabama kick coverage teams appear to be much more proficient then Georgia’s. Are you getting the picture here? It appears to be another standoff.

This game appears to be about as evenly matched as any game could possibly be. Georgia playing at home with more positive checks in there column of match ups certainly looks like the team to select. However, it’s Alabama that rates best in many of the intangible categories. This should be quite a contest for a national television audience and 93,000 at Sanford Stadium privilege enough to witness it.

The prediction… Georgia  26 Alabama 24