1. We've seen Greyson Lambert play three games against air and then look like an entirely different quarterback versus a semi-competent Vandy team. Is the true quarterback the South Carolina version, the Vandy version, or somewhere in between? And, how good does Lambert need to be for Georgia to win?
This Saturday, I think he needs to be excellent. Lambert gets a lot of grief over Vanderbilt, but he was solid in the second half of that game going 11 of 16 for 116 yards in the final 30 minutes as Georgia stretched their lead. He seems to struggle with pressure, so a strong game by the offensive line in pass protection will be needed so those jitters and happy feet from the first half against the Commodores, and from his Virginia days, don't reappear. But I think this is a huge game for Greyson Lambert. Bama's defensive abilities against the run are well known, so he'll have to be able to hit Malcolm Mitchell over the top, and move the ball through the air to succeed. But he'll also have to pick his moments since Chubb and Michel still need their touches, and Saban can bring the blitz and put together confusing coverages behind them. So in addition to completing some passes, Lambert will also have to be able to make the right reads pre-snap, since Georgia does a lot of run/pass option plays, and he'll be the one making sure we are in the right play at the right time to take advantage of whatever the Crimson Tide defense is going to give us.
2. I have maintained that neither Derrick Henry nor Nick Chubb, the 1As to Leonard Fournette, will hit 100 yards or be the deciding factor in this game. Rather, I think that whomever can be most creative with touches for Sonny Michel or Kenyon Drake will win the game. Is that fair? If I'm wrong, why?
I think you're wrong and right. Georgia is still suspect on the interior DL, despite some solid play in the first four games from Chris Mayes, John Atkins, and Sterling Bailey up front. And memories of that 2012 SEC Championship game where Lacy and Yeldon ran at will between the tackles are still pretty fresh, so I think Henry can easily get triple digits. Chubb will have the tougher defense to get his yards against, but may have the better OL to give him lanes, and he's got amazing vision and an ability to get his regardless, so I don't like betting against him finding a way to get 100 too. But I do agree that the team that can make some explosive plays will win, and our respective defenses will be too focused on Henry and Chubb to let them really do that. That leaves Drake and Michel, and both are similar in their speed, and comfort both out wide or in the backfield. They are both difference makers, and capable of turning a 5 yard dump pass into a 75 yard TD that swings momentum.
3. More than a few commenters think this one has the potential to be shootout, a la 2012's SECCG. Given the teams' relative defenses, and the fact that both offenses go through the tailbacks, where do these points come from?
Not that I agree with the talking heads, as you'll see in my answer to #6 below, but if I had to guess, it's from outside the tackle box. Georgia's secondary has shown issues tackling in the open field, and locking down coverage, so if Henry or Drake can get into the secondary, we're in trouble. And if we focus too much on what's happening in the backfield, Alabama has Howard able to break loose down the seam, and athletes out wide to make a move and get deep. Georgia feels the same way, not that they will score big on Nick Saban cause I doubt anyone in college football really expects that before playing him, but that we have the weapons to put up points. Isaiah McKenzie is a threat to score on every kick return, while Malcolm Mitchell is looking healthy (knocks on wood), and showing the same deep ball ability we've seen from him in the past. Plus, both teams are pretty good offensively too. Alabama has topped 30 in every game so far, and set records under Kiffin last year. Georgia has done the same scoring over 30 every chance, and twice gone over 50. And even against good run defenses, Chubb, Drake, Henry, and Michel all have shown to be very tough to bring down in the open field and easily able to take runs all the way if they can reach the second level going full speed.
4. Every Alabama fan's eyes will be on Malcolm Mitchell versus Cyrus Jones (and likely bracket coverage.) If Alabama can contain Mitchell, who is the next man up that can do damage to an Alabama secondary that has been suspect over the middle?
Jeb Blazevich, Jay Rome, and Sony Michel. We've used Terry Godwin as a kind of Malcolm Mitchell lite so far, and used McKenzie as one does with a 5'8 or so burners; jet sweeps and hitches and other plays to get him the ball in space. But to attack the middle of the field, Georgia uses Michel and their TEs. The sophomore from Miami is an excellent route runner, and is comfortable on crossing routes if split wide or the circle routes back over the middle as a RB. But Georgia will also use their big TEs a lot, and frequent 2 TE sets might be a good way to match up against Bama's strong front seven. Both Rome and Blazevich are big targets, capable blockers, and enough athlete to be used at WR on occasion. They do a good job working the middle and intermediate routes, so I'd suspect Brian Schottenheimer has a plan to use them extensively.
5. What do you see as the biggest mismatch in Georgia's favor? In Alabama's?
For Georgia, it's on the edges offensively. Getting Malcolm Mitchell in 1 on 1 coverage, or finding ways to isolate a mismatch with Michel or the TEs. There is clearly no mismatch going against the Alabama DL running the ball. And the Crimson Tide has done a good job protecting the QB, so Georgia's pass rush of Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, and friends isn't a mismatch, even if Jeremy Pruitt has done a good job moving Floyd around to maximize his impact. That pretty much just leaves Mitchell, and getting Michel, Rome, or Blazevich on a LB in coverage. So apparently our best mismatch is against Alabama's LBs? That doesn't sound right. Maybe it's in the return game, but saying you'll take against of special teams against Saban doesn't sound quite right either.
In reverse for Alabama, Georgia's veteran OL makes that not much of a mismatch but a great match against the defensive front 7. And the Tide seem to lack the playmaking ability through the air to exploit Georgia's questionable secondary. The Tide secondary isn't the overwhelming strength it has been in recent years, so that just leaves running between the tackles. Alabama is excellent at that, as always, but Georgia has allowed just 3 yards per carry so far, and the strength of the Dawg defense is the front seven as well, though the bulk/power difference seems strongly in favor of the Tide there.
6. What is our final score, how do we get there, and why?
27-24, with a lot of back and forth, a couple big plays, and a lot of emotion. I think both teams will be very hyped with Georgia looking to prove they are an elite program, and Bama wanting to reestablish themselves in the title hunt. Georgia's hiring of Pruitt, Hocke and others makes for a lot of ties back and forth between our programs right now, so I'm thinking both sides will come focused, motivated, and with everything they got to get the W. There's a lot of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness matchups here. But I'm seeing a very close game, lots of running the ball, which means lots of running in to walls, with the result still being in doubt until the final minute or two, if not the final whistle. A couple turnovers or a big special teams play could make all the difference in this one.