Happy Friday, everyone. Tomorrow we find out whether the rest of Alabama's season will be spent competing for a playoff spot or for another consolation appearance in a "New Year's Six" bowl. This will literally be the most hyped, most important game in Athens in years. As someone who spent quite a few years in the Peach State growing up and who shares pro sports allegiances with most Georgia fans, perhaps I can offer some insight into their mindset this morning.
Simply put, Georgia sports fans have come to accept disappointment as a way of life. Whether talking about the Braves winning only one World Series despite fifteen consecutive playoff appearances or the Falcons' overall futility and spectacular failures on the biggest stages, (only in Georgia does one blow a 17-0 lead, at home, in a conference championship) the hopes of the Georgia sports fan are historically dashed on an annual basis.
The Dawgs are no exception. It has obviously been 35 years since UGA last won a football national championship, and it hasn't been for a lack of talent. In 2002, a loss to Ron Zook and the nemesis Florida Gators was the only blemish on a 13-1 record. In 2007, an inexplicable early season loss to a bad South Carolina team kept UGA from getting the opportunity to play LSU for the right to whip the Buckeyes in the national title game. Needless to say, Alabama has played a role in recent seasons, spoiling "The Blackout" in 2008 and outlasting the Dawgs in the epic 2012 SEC Championship Game. The latter opened a wound that has yet to heal, as Georgia fans rightfully feel that a mere five yards separated them from that elusive championship. Tomorrow's game offers the salve.
So, what are most UGA fans thinking this morning? While they have plenty of respect for the Tide, they are thinking that their team is good enough to win, and they would be right. They are unlikely to talk much about it though, at least not among Alabama fans. No matter how hard they try, they simply can't fully believe that their beloved Dawgs will emerge victorious. They've learned better. Here's hoping that the Tide can keep that tradition alive.
On to it...
The last Alabama trip to Georgia was remembered for a black out. Seven years later, the rematch's legacy could be shaped by a more natural factor. There's about a 100-percent chance of rain Saturday afternoon in Athens, National Weather Center meteorologist Ryan Willis told AL.com on Thursday evening. And it's going to be heavy. The most soaking rains are expected in the afternoon when Alabama meets Georgia at 2:30 p.m. in Sanford Stadium. Willis said 2-3 inches-plus is in the current models with "persistent, heavy rainfall."
Really hate to see this. While I believe that such conditions will likely favor the bigger Tide defense, you never like to see a game of this magnitude played in poor weather. Those who are making the trip, pack accordingly.
"At the beginning of practice, we run routes and do 7-on-7 to get that chemistry," Howard said. "That allows us to have chemistry in the game because he gets our timing down with us coming out of our routes and breaks. That helps out a lot in the game." Coker and Alabama (3-1) will face their first true road test against Georgia (4-0) in Sanford Stadium on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on CBS. Alabama hasn’t played in Athens, Ga., since 2008, when they won 41-30. The last time the two programs met came in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, a 32-28 victory for the Tide.
In hindsight, allowing the quarterback competition to spill over into the regular season may have been a mistake, particularly since it appears that the two chief competitors were running largely different offenses. Good to hear that the players feel that they are developing a chemistry with one another. It would be great to see the passing game from the opener show up again.
Sisler asked Saban if he thinks the 2015 Alabama football team has that "it" factor and the leadership needed to be successful this season, and against Georgia on Saturday. Watch the video above to find out his answer to that question and several others.
Saban mentions that the older players on the team are positively affecting the younger players on the team. This runs in contrast to Saban's infamous comments at the end of last season when he talked about some of the external factors affecting the team.
"The whole goal in running the football — up front anyway — is to get movement, get guys moved back or get guys moved sideways or something, but get them off the spot, get them out of their gap," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "But these guys are very big and strong and physical, and they're good fundamentally. It's hard to move them. It's hard to get them where you can create a little space for the backs, and that's what everybody's having trouble with. ... It will be a great challenge for our team."
This is the matchup Alabama fans are hanging our hats on. Very rarely do football games really come down to the "keys" espoused by the talking heads, but I think this one is an exception. If Nick Chubb is able to gain 7-8 yards per carry running right at Alabama, I don't see an Alabama victory. Fortunately, that seems unlikely against a front of this caliber.
"I think the difficulty is, once you get to the season, we can't invest a lot of reps in Bo Scarbrough when he can't play in a game," Saban said Wednesday of Scarbrough, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds during the spring. "We have to get the guys ready to play in the game. You're talking about a guy that really knows how to play running back. But now you're going to try and teach him how to do all these other things during the course of the week? It's really, really difficult.
I look for Bo to get a few carries this week, and based on these comments it sounds like we will see him lining up in multiple positions in the near future. Alabama fans have been drooling at the thought of seeing Scarbrough carry the football.
"I think you should do what your instructor is telling you," he said. "He's your coach. But I'll tell you the hardest part is the hills, you know? When the truck wanted to roll back. I mean, when you have a big heavy truck and it rolls back and you have a car behind you and you have one foot on the brake, one foot on the clutch, how are you going to get the gas without taking one of those some other kind of way. So you have to do it quick and if you don't lean on the clutch, you're going to roll backwards." Saban then admitted he might not be the one to answer this. "Hey, I was 3-for-3, man," he said. "I went three summers, three clutches. And you're asking for my advice?"
So what about that question to Pruitt about helping Alabama to its three national titles? It was re-prefaced this way: He played a role in his six years in Alabama's run. Did he take anything from there to Georgia?
"I was very blessed to work with the people at Alabama," Pruitt said. "So yeah, I think it's hard to argue what they've done over there. It's been successful. So you've gotta take a little bit of it and use it to your advantage."
There definitely seems to be a mutual respect between Saban and Pruitt, and UGA has obviously adopted some of Saban's "Process."
Two great running backs will be asked to take the pressure off their respective passing games. The Tide's Derrick Henry and the Bulldogs' Nick Chubb will be tested by two pretty good defenses. Alabama's front seven is one of the best in the country, and that's one reason why I like the Tide in this game. This is also a big game not just for the direction of these teams this season, but the direction of these programs. People are asking whether Alabama is starting to slip and wondering whether Georgia is finally ready to take the big step forward in the SEC. In this situation, this is a game Alabama knows how to win. Pick: Alabama (+2)
In any other conference, Henry's exploits -- 17 carries per game, 6.3 yards per carry, two scores per game -- would garner major attention. In the SEC, his production is lagging far behind that of Fournette and Chubb. Still, he and Kenyan Drake are combining for more than 25 carries per game at more than six yards a pop, and Alabama ranks ninth in Rushing S&P+. That makes it awkward that Kiffin is calling so many passes. Alabama is running 55 percent of the time on standard downs (87th) and 24 percent on passing downs (99th). Alabama's top three wideouts (ArDarius Stewart, Calvin Ridley and Richard Mullaney) are averaging just 8.4 yards per catch with a 56 percent catch rate, a miserable 4.7 yards per target. Robert Foster, who was both a little more efficient (83 percent catch rate) and explosive (11.6 yards per catch), is out for the season with injury.
I think Bill Connelly just said #RDTBL. At least a couple of analysts are rolling with the Tide tomorrow. Enough talk, let's play the thing.
That's it for today, folks. Those who are traveling, be safe. Roads in the South are going to be a mess.