The last time Alabama was the underdog in a game, it was against Georgia in 2015. And here we are again, with pretty much everyone with a pulse predicting the Bulldogs to win this one.
So, I spent some time with an actual UGA fan to see if they’re as confident in their own team as the rest of the media seem to be.
Credit to @Macondawg for some really great and detailed answers!
1) From an outside perspective, Georgia has looked so downright dominant that things seem like a foregone conclusion. How euphoric has it been for you as a fan to watch your team play like that all season long?
If you’ve watched the fantastic SEC Shorts video that came out before the season in which a Georgia fan confronts “Hope” you’ve got a pretty solid feel for how the first month or so went. This is not a fan base that knows how to sit back and enjoy the ride without waiting, at least subconsciously, for the other shoe to drop. Because as a UGA fan the other shoe always drops. Sometimes on 2nd and 26. Sometimes on a Josh Dobbs Hail Mary. Sometimes when Chris Conley doesn’t drop a pass short of the goal line.
But at a certain point I think most Bulldog fans reached the point at which they’re enjoying watching the best team they’ve had in a long time. Due to all sorts of weird scheduling quirks Georgia has been the #1 ranked team for much of the season, never ranked lower than #3, and has still played seven noon eastern kickoffs.
That’s meant that the Georgia fan experience this year is to get up, watch your team obliterate it’s opponent by 30 points in a game it likely never trails in, then spend the remainder of the day watching the rest of the college football world burn to the ground until around midnight, with Gainesville, Florida the focal point of the blaze. I assume this is kind of what being an Alabama fan has been like for the past thirteen years, and I have to say, it’s fantastic.
2) You seem to be a well-connected guy... Give me the lowdown: Is JT Daniels actually going to play this week? Or is this Stetson Bennett’s team to the end now?
Stetson is definitely starting, I wouldn’t rule out JT playing though just to give Alabama some different looks. There’s absolutely a reason Daniels was the starter through spring practice and into the Clemson game: when healthy and sharp he’s a legitimate All-SEC candidate. The problem has been that he suffered a pretty nasty oblique injury in one of Georgia’s final preseason scrimmages and wasn’t really healthy until about the Kentucky game. By that point Bennett had been running the offense for two months, and Kirby realized, rightly I think, that messing with an offense that’s scoring 40.7 points a game isn’t that bright.
That being said, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to Pete Golding, I could absolutely see a scenario where Todd Monken puts Daniels behind center and splits Bennett out in the slot, maybe just as a decoy, at some point. You heard it here first.
3) As a follow up on Bennett, he seems to have limited some of the disastrously bad plays that doomed him in 2020. Are they still lurking in there somewhere, just waiting for a competent Crimson defense to coax them out of him?
It doesn’t look that way. It’s always been funny to me that we expect players at other positions (offensive line, linebacker) to grow and mature as they move from season to season. But quarterbacks in particular get a reputation (“Bo Pix”, anyone?) and we just assume that’s who they are.
If the only game you watched of Stetson Bennett’s career was the 2000 Alabama game you could easily come away convinced he just didn’t have what it takes to compete against elite defenses. But people seem to forget that he had Georgia out in front in that one until the Tide made some solid adjustments and some letdowns on defense and drops put him in a much tougher football game. I’m not saying he won’t have an interception. This Bama defense is good enough that I expect them to catch him missing a trailing defender or overlooking a linebacker at least once. The difference from 2020 is that he’s not done that as often this season, and it hasn’t cascaded into more errors. That’s made a big difference.
4) Say Alabama actually manages to take away Brock Bowers in the passing game (won’t happen... Pete Golding’s defense requires tight ends to be left wide open at all times)... Who is going to make big plays catching the ball?
Georgia came into the season with a loaded wide receiving corps. Then we had the type of rash of injuries that Alabama has suffered at tailback. George Pickens tore his ACL in spring practice. Arik Gilbert was looking great, then left the team. Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson, and Arian Smith all suffered nagging injuries in camp. By the time the ‘Dawgs got to the opener they were starting a redshirt freshman, a true freshman, and a walk-on at receiver.
Weirdly, the redshirt freshman (Ladd McConkey) and the true freshman (AD Mitchell) have both blossomed. Now Burton and Jackson are back, and Pickens played his first snaps and made his first catch of the season last week. So we’ve got options there. Add in tight ends Darnell Washington and John FitzPatrick, both of whom are solid pass catchers in their own right, and you have even more guys to keep an eye on.
But the player who should worry Bama fans (to the extent Bama fans know how to worry when they face Georgia) is tailback James Cook. Cook has 17 catches on the season, 3 of which have gone for touchdowns. He’s got excellent hands and Monken likes to sneak him out into space. He’s not going to get a steady diet of catches, but once or twice he will get a shot, and how Bama defends that could be a factor.
4.5) Seriously, who, on all of this Earth, has the pure hatred for their child to name him Ladd McConkey?
Funny story. Twitter was a ablaze earlier this season with jokes about “Ladd’s dad” but in fact Ladd’s dad is actually named Benji and was an all state option quarterback at Dalton High in north Georgia during the early 90’s. I remember watching film of him as a player (we never actually played his team) and can confirm that Ladd’s dad could make you look real bad.
5) Georgia sent like 5 defensive backs to the NFL draft last year... How have they gone about replacing all those guys and still being such a dominant defense? Is the secondary play just a mirage due to such a great front seven and pass rush?
The front seven ha certainly helped protect the defensive backs, but that should be the case if you’re doing it right in the Saban/Smart school of defense. Redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo has been pretty solid at one corner and Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick has held down the other. But the key for Georgia has probably been the emergence of veteran safeties Lewis Cine and Christopher Smith. Both guys played behind those current NFL standouts for two seasons and have picked up where they left off.
So I’d say the secondary is solid, if not spectacular. But Georgia’s front seven is the best I’ve seen in thirty years of watching Georgia football. Just about any unit would suffer by comparison.
6) Basically every starter on UGA’s defense is a senior or junior. There’s going to be a MASSIVE departure next year. So my question is two-fold: first, does this make things a make-or-break kind of year for Kirby? Second: are there any young underclassmen who look to be on the next wave of superstars to build around on defense in 2022 and 2023?
Indeed, Georgia is probably going to lose as many as nine starters off this defense. But as Alabama fans have learned through the years, that’s less dispositive when you’re playing 25+ players week in and week out. There are some definite 1A/1B positions. For example while Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt will be moving on at defensive tackle Georgia will return Jalen Carter, Tramel Walthour, Zion Logue, Warren Brinson, and Nazir Stackhouse, all of whom have played in at least ten games this season and were more highly rated recruits than Davis or Wyatt. It also helps that the secondary will return Ringo, safety Dan Jackson, and several talented freshmen. So while the names may change, and 2022 looks like a younger unit, 2023 could be another very deep veteran group.
The flip side by the way is that the Bulldogs will likely return eight starters on offense. So if Todd Monken stays put there’s reason to think that side of the ball may be the strength of the 2022 team.
7) Say Alabama springs the upset this Saturday (man, that sentence sure tastes funny in my mouth), how much do you think that will affect the confidence of the Georgia team going into the playoffs?
I think it depends on how it happens. If Georgia loses a close one because they didn’t play their best game I don’t know that it shakes them too bad. The committee isn’t going to put these teams at 1/4 or 2/3 and make them play back to back. So there’ll be a game in between any rematch. I don’t trust either of these teams to beat the other twice.
On the other hand, if the Tide come out and stuff the UGA offense, score points in the defense, and generally run away with it, yeah, I think the Bulldogs may have some difficulty regrouping.
8) Is anything short of a national championship going to be considered a failure at this point by the fans?
Yes. There’s really no other way to put it. And I don’t think it’s unique to Bulldog fans. When you’re ranked #1 for the majority of the season and look like the only team in the nation that hasn’t shown any obvious weakness, that’s how you expect the story to end. Would Georgia make wholesale changes if they don’t win it all? No. I think this program has reached the point where it’s viewed as more a matter of when rather than if Georgia breaks through to a title.
9) What would it look like if Alabama pulls off the win? And what do you think UGA needs to do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Georgia needs to limit big plays defensively and not turn the ball over. If they do that, I like their chances. Todd Monken has shown an ability to dial up big plays and get points in chunks. But if the Dawgs miss on those big play opportunities then we may have a problem. You only get so many free shots against a good defense and you have to make them count. Alabama has been making a lot of those pay off this season, especially to Metchie and Williams, and I expect that’s how this one ultimately gets decided.
10) In your heart of hearts.... Do you beleive Kirby Smart finally gets past Nick Saban this weekend?