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CFP National Championship Q&A with Dawg Sports: Part Two — the path to a Georgia victory

Field position battles, X-factors for the game, overcoming emotion, and more.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Georgia at Notre Dame

It’s going to be a busy day for the Tide front seven. It’s been a great ride for these two.

Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Continuing coverage of our extensive Q&A’s betwixt the two sites, two of SB Nation’s oldest: both are two-parters, both are in-depth, and despite what may seem a tongue-in-cheek response, we cannot in good faith sanction “white barbecue sauce.”

If you’ve not read Macondawg’s excellent responsese to our first set of questions, I encourage you to do so. And, in case you missed it yesterday, here were our responses to their first set. They’ll have our part two up a bit later or as soon as I get around to answering them..

Dig in. These have been some of the best, most incisive interviews we’ve done with beat reporters and analysts at our opposite number. The credit is all to Dawg Sports.

9. Grading on a curve, neither team is exactly Texas Tech here, Georgia defensive line has been gashed in standard-down defense: teams are getting ahead of the chains far too often and the ‘Dawgs are generating stuff plays far too little (though, they have done fairly well against power running.) Are the linebackers having to play more aggressive at the line to compensate for the interior DL?

The interior defensive line for Georgia is an interesting group. There’s a ton of talent there, perhaps more than anywhere else on the team. But a couple of players have missed time with injury or been forced to play through it (any of this sounding familiar?). Trenton Thompson has struggled a little with injury, but senior John Atkins has had a quiet though productive season. Sophomore Tyler Clark has emerged as a fantastic combo tackle who can plausibly play anywhere from a 5-technique down to the nose. I think if you back at Auburn: Part One, the numbers look a little better. But there’s no doubt that as the season has progressed the linebackers have emerged as the top unit on that Georgia defense.

10. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb get the press, but I think most casual viewers don’t really understand the contribution to the offense that D’Andre Swift has. Do you see him as a potential x-factor here?

Absolutely, for two reasons. One, he’s Georgia’s top sideline-to-sideline runner. It’s a gross oversimplification, but I like to say that Chubb is the north/south tailback, Michel is the diagonal runner, and Swift is the edge guy. He also has the best hands of the three, which has come in really handy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Jim Chaney try to work the swing pass game to Swift to try to make the Alabama defense run the entire field.

But the big advantage Swift affords the ‘Dawgs is that he absorbs quality carries. It’s hard for most teams to be as effective as Georgia has been with a power rushing offense because it’s hard to run the ball 40 times a game week in and week out without reducing your starting tailback to hamburger meat. But when you play five tailbacks every game as Georgia has this season it’s a lot easier to have a fresh Sony Michel if, for example, you need to crush Baker Mayfield’s dreams in double overtime. Hypothetically.

11. One thing that was really apparent in Georgia’s three toughest games was some sloppy tackling on the backs (again, commiseration time: we’ve seen that off and on all season too.) Obviously Auburn, Oklahoma and Notre Dame have better backs and offensive lines than most. So, was this just the talent level of the opponent, or are missed tackles something that have plagued Georgia this season?

I had to go back and watch the Notre Dame game to get a fix on this one. I think against the Irish a lot of it was early season sloppiness. Notre Dame was a lot better football team than the Appalachian State team Georgia opened with, and there were several instances of sloppy footwork and (what appeared to be) bad gap decisions. The Auburn game however saw a whole different set of issues. Tackling Kerryon Johnson ain’t easy. Georgia made it harder by going for strips rather than tackles. Gus Malzahn made it even harder by wearing the Georgia defense slap out. I worry far more about the latter situation on Monday, about a fatigued Bulldog team letting bad habits creep in.

Rose Bowl Game - Oklahoma v Georgia

The Bulldogs’ Kenyan Drake: The defense doesn’t get a break when Swift takes the field

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

12. Grading on the curve of their recent histories and available talent pool, these two teams have awful return games. Stinkers. Despicable. Non-factors, even. Georgia and Alabama are 56th and 57th in punt return efficiency and 76th and 61st in kick return efficiency. Where that really matters Monday, is that Alabama is 4th in the nation in generating defensive field position for itself. So, how can the ‘Dawgs counter one of the Tide’s greatest strengths: Generating crappy field position for opposing offenses?

To be fair, y’all ain’t the only ones. Georgia has given up two kickoff returns of 30+ yards this season, Alabama has given up four. Between them neither has given up a punt return greater than 30 yards. While J.K. Scott is surrendering 7.97 yards per punt return, Georgia’s Cameron Nizialek is surrendering 5.25 per return, and at one point this season went four games without surrendering a single punt return. [Ed. Note: J.K. Scott did not surrender a punt return until the 10th game of the season.] That’s a significant change for a UGA team that’s been truly wretched in every facet of the kicking game for years. So I expect this one will be the type of field position battle that non-SEC teams like to point to as some sort of deficiency. Let’s be honest, a lot of them don’t know good football, God bless ‘em. But if you told me a special teams play is the turning point in this one I’d believe it all day long.

13. If you polled 10 SEC fans, I don’t think 9 outside of the State of Georgia could name you a single Bulldog receiver. Tell us about them: Who’s the deep threat? Who makes the clutch catches? What unsung hero is going to go over the middle and have a career day against Alabama’s 5th string inside linebackers?

Senior Javon Wims is the team’s leading receiver (44 catches, 704 yards, 7 touchdowns). At 6’4, 220 pounds he’s a big-bodied guy with fantastic hands. My favorite Javon Wims stat this season is that of his seven touchdowns this season three have come after a no-catch call was reversed by replay. He makes grabs you just can’t appreciate with the naked eye. Junior Terry Godwin (34 catches, 591 yards, 6 touchdowns) is a versatile guy who plays a lot in the slot and is likely the best route runner on the team. Tide fans may remember him from his SportsCenter highlight (that’s still a thing, right?) catch against Notre Dame.

Sophomore Mecole Hardman is the Swiss army knife of the group, not simply in getting the ball downfield but also on jet sweeps, end-arounds, and any other way Jim Chaney can get the ball in the hands of one of his most dynamic players. Keep an eye on Hardman. He’s speedy, elusive, and is not the guy you’re concerned about if you’re solely playing the percentages. I think that makes him dangerous in a game like this. It’s always the quiet ones who also run sub-4.4 forties, man.

14. Much will be made about Nick Saban’s record against former assistants. But it’s safe to say that Kirby’s not just a regular ole’ former assistant, despite the great situation he inherited. So, how personal do you think this game is to Coach Smart? Has he said anything or has anything about his demeanor tipped his hand?

As Alabama fans know, Kirby doesn’t really lack for intensity no matter who Georgia’s playing. But he really wants this one. And I think he’s been busy convincing his team that they can go take it. My sense is that it would mean something to Kirby to be the first former assistant to beat Saban, and that he’s fully aware of the symbolism involved. As much as Smart doesn’t like to talk about it, the guy understands narratives. Case in point? The first thing he did when a mic was stuffed in his face ollowing the SEC Championship was to thank the fans for traveling well all season, point out that you don’t see that kind of fan support everywhere, and noted that he was ready to go recruit the next generation of Bulldogs. There was nothing spontaneous about that.

Likewise, Smart knows that if he can beat Saban with a UGA team that played 16 true freshmen from last year’s signing class, he can hit the road for 2019 and make the case that he’s building the next big thing in college football. But he may only get one shot to be the big new thing. He knows that he has to capitalize on it.

15. For different reasons, there has to be some fear in both camps about an emotional and/or physical hangover following the semis, right? And, is Nick Saban right -- do we need to build a travel day in there for teams that have to truck it cross-country?

Like Coach Saban, I don’t understand what the damned hurry is. I get that you want to spotlight the semi-final games, but there’s no reason not to play this game eight or nine days following the semifinals. Next year there’ll be a nine-day break. The next year the committee is screwing it up the other way with a sixteen-day delay between the December 28th semifinals (the Peach and Fiesta) and the national title game on January 13th in New Orleans.

For purposes of this year, it’s entirely possible that Alabama’s players were in bed in Tuscaloosa well before Georgia was, and I think the entire Bulldog organization is kind of running on adrenaline. I hope it’s not an issue, but I’m worried that it will be. And we shouldn’t be in a position where that sort of logistical hurdle is even a perceived factor.

College Football Playoff National Championship Coaches Press Conference

You get the sense Kirby Smart wants this win as badly as he wanted the Georgia job to begin with.

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

16. This situation is somewhat old hat to Alabama fans: It’s the 7th national title the Tide have played for 25 years. For the Georgia faithful, this is everything that they’ve wished for since Dooley retired. Is getting here enough for them? And is there some fear that having so much success so early will create unrealistic expectations for Kirby Smart...even by lunatic SEC standards?

The standards for Kirby were clear from day one: play for and win national championships. You’re right, it’s a ludicrous standard which only about ten teams in America have even the faintest hope of achieving. No, getting here isn’t enough, not in the long term. It’s enough for the moment, I think. Georgia currently has the top ranked recruiting classes for 2018 and 2019 after signing the #3 class last season. Bulldog fans expect those classes to eventually turn into titles. If it’s not this season Bulldog fans will be gut-wrenched, but they’ll still be pretty proud on Tuesday morning.

17. I know you remember law school, as much as you may want to forget it. So, let’s play the First Year memo game synthesizing everything we’ve learned about Georgia-Alabama: The team that wins the game will be the team that _____, and for the forgoing reasons that winner will be _____.

Remember it? It was the best four years of my life. The team that wins will be the team that has superior depth and as a result wins the fourth quarter, and for the forgoing reasons that winner will be worthy of a national title, even though I have no idea who it will be, but suspect the answer is Alabama.

In all seriousness, this one is probably one fluky tipped pass or fumble from going off the rails for both teams. I worry seriously that the combination of emotion and fatigue for Georgia just isn’t conducive to playing smart football against a ‘Bama team that’s been here before.

Mark Richt’s lost control of ‘Dawg Sports, Pawwwwl! Seriously, thanks to Macondawg, the other staff and editors at DS, and the engaged, intelligent fans they’ve brought our way. Give ‘em a few clicks. You can follow DS on twitter at @dawgsports and Macon at @Macondawg.

Chime in below. There’s a lot to digest here.


What team has the biggest emotional or physical hangover to overcome following its semifinal game?

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  • 76%
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