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Alabama vs Georgia Preview: When the Bulldogs Have the Ball

Kirby Smart is no Lane Kiffin, but can the Alabama defense really stop the bleeding against a top-3 team in the nation?

Tennessee v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Thankfully, Kirby Smart and his offensive coordinator Todd Monken are no Lane Kiffin. They’re averaging 36 points/game, but Auburn held them to 27.

The Bulldogs had a bit of a QB roller coaster this offseason, as Wake Forest grad transfer and sure lock to win the Heisman Jamie Newman decided to opt out of the season and their other transfer, JT Daniels from USC, still isn’t ready to play from his injury last year.

They started some dude named D’Wan Mathis against Arkansas, and, well, it was awful. They moved to some guys named Stetson Bennett IV by halftime, and Bennett has been at the forefront of the team ever since. Once a 2-star prospect that walked on at Georgia, Bennett left for the JUCO ranks, gained a star in the recruiting services, and came back to the Bulldogs in the 2019 class.

He’s by no means the focal point of the offense, but Bennett has been a steady enough player at QB to keep the offense moving, completing 63% of his passes for 8.2 yards per attempt without an interception. He’s got a very strong preference for throwing slants, seams and square in routes, but tends to avoid stuff towards the sidelines and has not shown much consistency (though not a total lack of ability) in being able to hit throws downfield.

He’s also quick on his feet and is good for 3-4 designed QB carries per game.

At wide receiver, Kearis Jackson is the go-to target on most any down. The 6’0” sophomore is a do-everything guy who can beat a man deep down field, take a screen pass, or work out of the slot. He’s got 3x as many yards as the next highest receiver, and he’s right at 40% of the production of the entire passing game.

George Pickens is the big receiver on the sideline that is mainly used in backshoulder fades and deep balls. He’s only at 87 yards so far this year, and hasn’t yet lived up to the expectations placed on him as a 5-star recruit in 2019. The same could be said of senior Demetris Robertson, another 5-star recruit that famously played recruiting games all the way until signing day and ultimately picking Georgia over Alabama.

Freshman Jermaine Burton is another guy to look out for as a guy who excels at breaking tackles on screen passes.

The Bulldogs have a couple of giant tight ends in Tre’ McKitty and John FitzPatrick who play regularly and have 6 catches between them. Again, most of that is on quick slants and seams up the middle.

The real engine of this offense, though, is the running game. Zamir White Has 300 yards on 54 attempts with 4 touchdowns this season, and Kirby Smart has no qualms slamming him right up the gut of the defense over and over and over. He’s spelled by the speedy Kenny McIntosh, who’s used in sort of the old Kenyan Drake role as a change-of-pace receiving back. Finally, true freshman Kendall Milton will come in for a drive to give White a break at times.

While the Alabama offense and the Georgia defense will be a clash of the Titans, the matchup on the other side of things is a bit of a wet noodle fight. While Georgia’s offense has been... okay... They’ve struggled with consistently run or pass blocking, and are averaging less the 4 yards per carry despite trying to feature the run game. And while Bennett has thus far done well at avoiding sacks and throwing the ball away, he’s under plenty of duress during the game.

Alabama’s defensive line played exceptionally against Missouri, but struggled mightily against the senior-laden A&M offensive line and against Ole Miss’s misdirection. A more straightforward match against Georgia’s line might be just the key to getting them back on track.

Alabama’s outside corners should also have no problem with George Pickens or really anyone on the outside. Don’t expect too much in the way of the deep ball.

The biggest issue for Alabama will be what plagued them the last two weeks: the seams. If the Tide safeties don’t fix their issues, then Bennett is going to throw to Kearis Jackson and the tight ends across the middle all game long, and will happily toss some checkdowns to McIntosh out of the backfield. Plus, the Tide defense struggled to tackle Matt Corral in the backfield, and Bennett will likely give them similar issues with his agility.

I don’t expect this offense to totally stun the Tide defense like Ole Miss did, but they have plenty of talent and just the type of QB that tends to give Alabama problems. I’d ultimately expect them to score in the high 20s to low 30s.