When Alabama football faced off against Georgia in last month’s SEC Championship Game, most experts (and some, ahem, other people) picked the Dawgs to roll into the playoffs as an unbeaten top seed. An Alabama win would require its best performance. As I wrote in this same preview for the SEC Championship Game:
If we get the best of the Alabama offense this year, more specifically the best of the Alabama passing attack, the Tide will have a great chance to take home another SEC title and playoff berth. If we see blown blocking assignments, dropped passes and Young holding the ball too long, it will be a long afternoon.
Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will need to have his best game as well. Ideally, there will be some short passes early to get Young into a rhythm. Alabama has started slow on offense this season, but grabbing a lead and making Georgia’s offense play from behind should be priority one. Williams is going to have to get loose a time or two, and the tight ends are going to have to be involved in the seams.
Alabama didn’t get off to a fast start, but everything else in there went the Tide’s way. The offensive line played its best game of the season by a wide margin, drops were minimal and Young put on a clinic. The result was a SEC Championship Game record passing performance, 41 points on the board and some humility for the top ranked defense in the land.
The matchup obviously hasn’t changed much in a month and in fact Georgia is favored again according to DraftKings sportsbook, so for this iteration we will focus on potential adjustments. Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning had this to say about getting after Young in yesterday’s assistant coach teleconference.
Ultimately we want to create pressure. We want to be able to get after Bryce. As far as how to do it, I don’t want to give away our secrets yet, but wait until the game to figure that out. We want to generate pressure.
And certainly there’s a lot of different ways you can do that. And he’s really good at avoiding the rush. And they did unique things to protect him. We have to attack it a little bit differently, but how we do that, there’s a lot of different ways we can do it.
Make no mistake, they will bring something different to the table this time after allowing 421 passing yards last time. Or, at least, that’s what pretty much everyone expects.
“Georgia has the personnel, but they found themselves getting a four-man rush and not getting much pressure on the quarterback with what they brought, and they paid the price,” an SEC coordinator said. “The matchups are in [Georgia’s] favor. [Alabama’s] offensive line is good, but not as good as everybody believes it to be, because nobody wants to go at it. You go back and look at the tape, people who have gone at them have found ways to get pressure.”
We got a glimpse of what that might look like in the second half back in Atlanta.
Early in the game, Georgia played it a bit more conservatively as they have most of the season, and it worked out well with the Dawgs up 10-0. Young and Jameson Williams changed everything with perhaps the most important play of the game.
While the Mike did come on an A gap blitz here, Georgia only rushed four as the WOLB dropped into coverage rather than rushing the passer in a simple zone blitz concept. Unfortunately for the Dawgs, Alabama’s line adjusted to the action, Brian Robinson stonewalled the blitzer and Williams was able to find a soft spot in the zone. A perfect ball from Young allowed Williams to take it to the house and Alabama was on the board.
On Jameson’s other touchdown early in the third quarter to put the Tide up 31-17, we saw more of the same. Georgia ran a game up front but ultimately brought only four, and Alabama was able to pick it up. With a clean pocket, Williams was able to hit a double move and run past the safety.
It’s fairly clear that Alabama’s offensive line matches up better with the size and power of the Georgia front than undersized, quicker units that have given them problems throughout the season.
What should be concerning for Alabama fans is that Georgia turned up the heat after that and held Alabama to a mere three offensive points over the last 28 minutes of game action. Yes, some of that was Alabama “taking the air out of the ball” after a pick six staked them to a 21 point lead, but two third downs showed that Kirby Smart knew he had to take more chances. On this 3rd and 10 with about six minutes left in the third, Georgia sent six and got a pretty good shot on Young.
Then, on this 3rd and 3 early in the fourth quarter, Georgia essentially sent six again as #33 Robert Beal would have come on a blitz had Brian Robinson stayed in. As it was, Georgia sent five against five and won handily.
This is where the chess match comes into play. While those blitzes were highly effective, the numbers aren’t there on the back end if the offense is able to pick it up a bit better. OC Bill O’Brien and OL coach Doug Marrone are undoubtedly working diligently on adjustments to better handle the Georgia blitz. Does Georgia come out taking risks from the jump after the secondary got exposed by Young? Or, do they come out even more conservatively and hope to better limit Williams with John Metchie out? Some of that may be decided by the availability of injured starting RG Emil Ekiyor Jr. and RT Chris Owens, for which we have received zero updates.
Bill O’Brien had this to say about adjustments.
They’ve got a great front. We’ve got to do a good job against that front. I think Bryce does a really good job of understanding and processing. But it’s a whole different ball game on Monday night.
So it’s a tremendous challenge. Coach Smart, Coach Lanning, Coach Muschamp, those guys are at the top of their game when it comes to defensive coaching. And then they have the players that can make it happen. So we’ve got a big challenge. We’re excited about it. We’re practicing hard. Our guys always practice hard. That’s the way this program’s been built. And we’ll be there Monday night but it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us.
Needless to say, both sides are going to keep things close to the vest.
Coming into the last matchup, the question was whether Georgia had finally assembled a defense that could slow an elite modern passing attack. They failed that test rather miserably and will undoubtedly be motivated to prove it an anomaly. Conversely, Alabama will need another stellar performance from Young if they are to bring home the trophy.
An already compelling matchup is now downright fascinating with the rematch element. Only four more days until we see it unfold.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.