Immediately after the Iron Bowl, we began spitballing on predicted lines for this game. Initial offerings were roughly in line with my quick guess — about -4, UGA.
When the line opened last night, it was at -6.5, nearly a full touchdown for the Bulldogs. It seemed a bit high to me, given the relative SOS and just a cursory memory of where the teams lie in relation to their efficiency data. I still thought that -3 was a better pick.
Imagine, then, my surprise,when I got into the datasets this morning and discovered that not only are the Bulldogs not favored by a touchdown, but based on metrics and algorithmic predictions, the entirely wrong team is favored.
When one factors in efficiency, penalties, over/underperformance, ATS trends, and the like, Alabama actually turns out to be a -3.16 favorite.
Weird. Why? How?
In a word? Alabama’s defense.
The Alabama offense vs. Georgia defense is almost a wash. Even after farting around with LSU and the debacle in Auburn, the Tide is still 3rd in the nation in offensive efficiency, including being 4th in drives with an explosive play (though just 16th in XR), 2nd in preventing negative drives, 2nd in preventing negative plays. and 1st in offensive pass efficiency.
Georgia’s defense is in the Top 10 in all of those metrics, save one: Defensive drive efficiency — They’re still very good at preventing scoring drives, of course. But at just 19th, that means that when a team has some success gnawing on the UGA defense, there is a decent chance to score. And that’s against a defense that has has seen just one team in the Top 50 in offensive efficiency — Tennessee (26th). The next best? Arkansas, at 53rd — with an injured KJJ making his first road start.
The Vols put up 17 on UGA, but the contest was still within two scores until late in the 3rd, when the Vols committed one of their four giveaways / bad 4th down attempts, and going into the 4th, it was just 27-10. For the game, UT was still almost 50% on 3rd down, completed 2/3rd of their passing attempts with a 2:1 TD:INT ratio, and had a very respectable 7.7 YPA through the air. That is a bit lower than their per-attempt rate through the season (8.9 YPA in conference games) — about 14% or so, but it is significantly higher for UGA’s YPA allowed (5.5) — by almost 40%.
Where UGA’s defense did their best work was against the Vols rushing attack, which is roughly on par with the Tide’s (59th ER vs. 56 ER). UGA was particularly good at playing the option man (just .7 YPA allowed on RPO). But the RBs still garnered 3.6 YPA up front.
Moral of the story? Rushing is going to be a bit harder, but three straight can get you a first down, and more importantly, a concerted passing attack by a competent offense that prevents turnovers can move the ball on these puppies through the air.
No, rather, the real difference maker is UGA’s offense — or rather, its hidden struggles. First, the UGA defense hasn’t been its usual self in forcing TOs, but their trifecta of QBs have thrown more interceptions than Alabama has total turnovers (10 vs. 9). But ‘Bama not only doesn’t turn it over much (9), they’ve been amazing at forcing them (20). The result is a pedestrian +2 for UGA in the turnover battle.
And when you contrast the Alabama defense with that which UGA’s offense has seen already, Clemson is the best exemplar, right down to the (relative) weakness being surrendering the explosive passing play. In sum, it is the second-best defense Georgia will have faced all season. They mustered a lone field goal against the Tigers on the road. And a big part of that reason why is their third down offense.
It is not discussed enough, but one of the reason’s Alabama’s offense has been so efficient, for all its struggles, has been the 3rd down offense. Against SEC teams with winning records? It is hitting over 61% on 3rd down. Against ranked teams? It is 50%.
Georgia isn’t 50% on third down by any parsing of the numbers. And, against ranked teams. In SEC play, UGA is 42% and against winning teams it is just 38%. It is an offense that, in short, has put up remarkably efficient numbers until it gets close to its weight class — which has happened precisely one time all season.
For Georgia to win, the Bulldogs will have to get explosive passing plays consistently, get ahead of the chains, stop Alabama on 3rd down — where the Tide has been at its best against its best competition — and then convert enough passing plays to get the W...and then cover a TD.
The numbers just don’t think they do it.
Forget covering, analytics suggest this is a razor-thin margin where Georgia’s offensive sputters a bit, and the defense is on its heels enough in the passing game, to where it doesn’t quite survive the full 60 minute.
Look, I’m as surprised as you are here. Still, this is about my wallet, and I don’t bet my heart. So, this isn’t Gumping, just math. It can be wrong, sure. But know that it’s not coming from anywhere but math and a closer look at why the numbers suggest what they do.
27-25 Alabama, and Athens melts slap the f’ down.
87% to cover 6.5
68% to win S/U
Go forth lads and lasses to profit and a fat bank. You can also check out plenty more at our SuperGroup.
Does Alabama cover +6.5?
This poll is closed
Yes, covers and wins
Covers, but loses the game
No, Georgia finally gets a win and covers