For the third time in two years, the Alabama defense gets to face off against a Stetson Bennett-led Georgia offense that has proven to be able to hit big plays on the Tide, but has also been prone to some back-breaking mistakes that’s given Alabama back-to-back near-blowout victories.
Since this is a rematch from only two football weeks ago, most of what we talked about before the SEC Championship is still relevant.
The Georgia offense is 5th in success rate and 75th in explosiveness. And while their total rushing yards are good due to the amount of time they’ve spent playing ahead, their average line yards and short yardage rates are only top-40 or so. Where they excel is limiting havoc plays front opposing front sevens (2nd in the country), getting into manageable distances, and converting the chains with the 4th overall passing success rate. That dips to 7th overall on passing downs... which is still really, really good.
On the other side of things, Alabama’s defensive front is one of the best in the country across the board. 2nd in stuff rate, 2nd in line yards, 18th in havoc and 2nd in rushing success rate.
In other words, I expect that Georgia won’t be able to lean on their run game to salt away a game or come out and “establish” or whatever coaches like to call it.
This game will come down to Stetson Bennett converting chains and hitting explosive passes. Can he do it without the disastrous turnovers and sacks that doomed him against Alabama in 2020? Bennett has improved since then, but so has Alabama’s defense. TE Bowers is terrifying for Alabama fans though, as athletic TEs have burned Pete Golding defenses up the seams for 3 straight years now, and Bowers is the best they’ve faced since Kyle Pitts last year.
Georgia is going to score on Alabama, no doubt. There are going to be some huge passing plays and amazingly frustrating scrambles from Bennett. I also think there are going to be quite a few drives with solid stops from the Alabama defense.
For the most part, this is what wound up playing out. The Bulldogs did okay in the running game, but most of their offense came from moving the chains with quick throws or hitting some big downfield throws.
Alabama stopped a few drives with minimal gain, Georgia got a couple of long drives, hit a couple of big throws, and also threw two interceptions with a couple of turnovers on downs.
For the Alabama defense, there are a few major keys to make sure they get a repeat of the first game and give Bryce Young a shot to win it all.
Force Georgia to pass
It’s a bit of a meme in the current meta of football, but the Alabama defensive line has to make sure they’re able to keep the Bulldogs from running the ball. While Stetson Bennett is capable of hitting some big plays and TE Brock Bowers is probably the best in the country, their best shot is still to force Bennett to win the game through the air without turning the ball over.
While Kenny McIntosh got free for a couple of good runs and James Cook hit the edge a couple of times, the Tide defense sufficiently kept Georgia from converting downs with the run game for most of the game last time.
Watch Running Back James Cook like a hawk
In 2020, Cook got free for a massive touchdown reception, and Pete Golding’s defense struggled all season with running backs catching the ball down the field.
In the SEC Championship, Kirby Smart clearly wanted to test that again, trying to get the ball to Cook early and often as he led all offensive players with 15 total touches.
This time, though, Alabama limited the damage, holding the versatile threat to 66 total yards and nothing longer than 14 yards.
Cook will get a few first downs... he’s just really fast and great at getting the ball in space. But allowing massive plays to him will make things really tough for the Tide.
Be ready for the deep sideline balls
A significant portion of the Bulldogs’ success in round 1 was when they threw deep down the sidelines and their receivers were able to draw pass interference penalties. This time, Alabama is likely without both of their starting corners with Josh Jobe out for the season and Jalyn Armour-Davis struggling with a bad hip.
Freshman Kool-Aid McKinstry has been great in relief, though he was the recipient of much of the downfield penalty plays for the Bulldogs in the SEC championship. On the other side, JUCO transfer Khyree Jackson got his first real playing time last week against Cincinnati and did just fine, but you can expect Georgia to plan to test him early and often.
According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, Georgia is favored by 3 with an OU of 52, which means the Bulldogs are expect to score 27-28 points. They scored 24 in the first match, but that includes a redzone trip that ended as a turnover on downs instead of an easy field goal, so 27 points is a safe bet.
Personally, I think it’ll be closer to 31-34 points for the Bulldogs, mostly due to Alabama’s two outside cornerbacks being fresh faces and the plus side of some of the variance from the last game going back to Georgia.
The question will be... Can Bryce Young and the Alabama offense score 35?
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.