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Roll ‘Bama Roll SEC Championship Roundtable — Will the Tide’s magical run continue in Atlanta?

Most pundits are giving ‘Bama no shot. Is the Tide being disrespected?

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another Roll ‘Bama Roll Roundtable: this time, a beefy, girthy edition for the 2023 SEC Championship. Most pundits are giving ‘Bama absolutely no shot, with many even predicting an outright blowout for the ‘Dawgs. Is that pessimism warranted? Do the Tide have enough weapons to give the puppies pause? Indeed, is Alabama being #disrespected? Or, is the disparity just that great?

Let’s find out. Erik is your interlocutor, with (most of) the crew providing their thoughtful responses.


1. Georgia hasn’t looked like the characteristic juggernaut this year. They’ve had big games where they explode (Ole Miss, Kentucky, Florida), and then look very mortal against Mizzou, Georgia Tech, South Carolina etc. What’s the missing ingredient in the 2023 ‘Dawgs?

BT: So, I think the biggest difference from 2021-2022 to this year is a lack of true star talent. Sure, Brock Bowers is still there, and they have a couple of former 5-star defensive backs, but most of the rest of the team are all JUST very, very good players. Bowers is a sure-fire first round pick, but past that? OT Amarius Mims probably was going to be, but he missed most of the season and is just now getting back. CB Kamari Lassiter is probably a solid second round guy. And Sophomore Safety Malaki Starks will be a 1st rounder in two years. Georgia is a great team, but do they have the star players to make the big plays when they have to have it? I’m not sure.

Plus there’s that 2013 and 2018 Alabama vibe to them. They’ve barely been tested all season. What happens when they run into a semi-decent team?

CB: They definitely have the athletes. I think what they are missing can be found in the NFL (and in alcohol rehab). And that is the leadership. Carson Beck does not strike me as a leader and a dude that people want to fight for. Same goes on defense. There are no real DOGS who fires the defense up. All those guys left the team in January.

EE: It’s hard to not point the finger at a defense that has sent 21 players to the NFL over the last three years, a super-senior QB, two now-NFL running backs, and — lost amidst all of this — the coordinators, particularly Todd Monken. Mike Bobo runs a gorgeous, balanced offense. And that works out 10-11 games out of the year. It’s the 1 or 2 where you have to have scheming over talent. And he just doesn’t employ the same creativity that Monken did. So glad that dude is in the NFL.


2. One of the flaws for the Crimson Tide in 2023 has been the defense vs. the rush. Especially after the Auburn game, the ground defense has to give you pause. How does Alabama contain the UGA ‘backs and force Carson Beck to throw?

BT: Alabama’s defensive struggles vs the run is an interesting one. Take out LSU’s Jaylen Daniels, and Alabama is only giving up 3.4 yards per carry, and has only allowed over 4.4 yards per carry in a game once this entire season: against Auburn. In fact, almost a full 3rd of the yards rushed against Alabama’s defense has been from QB runs, not running backs. Alabama absolutely shut down Jalen Wright and Ray Davis with Tennessee and Kentucky as well as Quinshon Judkins with Ole Miss - and that’s probably 3 of the top 5 running backs in the SEC.

We know that Carson Beck isn’t going to be running, so the question becomes: what did Auburn do that Georgia can replicate?

That’s going to be interesting, because most of Auburn’s success came on off-tackle runs, while Georgia prefers running between the guard and tackle. Kendall Milton is a powerful straight line runner, but Alabama’s bigger weakness so far has been those outside runs and getting outrun on pursuit angles.

If the Tide gets overpowered by Georgia’s OL, so be it. But I don’t think Georgia’s rushing attack is actually set up to attack a weakness here.

CB: I don’t know if there is anything TO do. Alabama may just have to take their lumps on that front - bend don’t break. The big issue is containing Brock Bowers. I don’t know if Nick Saban is planning to have Caleb Downs cover that guy so close that they are sharing a jockstrap, but I don’t think the Tide can afford to have extra men stacking the box to stop the run.

EE: I think that the Tide needs the game of its life from the men in the middle, and no matter how much they protest, Jaheim Oatis and Tim Keenan are going to have to play three downs.


3. Speaking of Carson Beck, do you even want to put the ball in his hands? He’s completing nearly 73% of his passes for 9.4 YPA, and has thrown just six interceptions all season. He’s been a highly efficient starter replacing Stetson Bennett. What do we really know about him?

BT: Well, we know he gets rid of the ball fast. And we know he knows to throw it to Brock Bowers at any sign of trouble. Beck may not be the guy that’s going to win a game for them or have the moxie to throw sideline bombs in high stakes situations (as much as I hated on Stetson Bennett, he definitely had that aspect to his game when it came his time), but Alabama’s not going to get to just tee off on him and get huge negative plays. He’s going to get the ball out, and it’ll be on Alabama’s secondary to make the plays.

CB: Honestly, I think the guy is a very good game manager. Can you recall any big moment he has had this year? That is because he is very skilled at getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers and let them stack up those YAC. I’d like to see some blitzes in certain packages as well as the cheetah to put pressure on Beck and force some mistakes. Kool-Aid and Terrion Arnold have earned the trust of Saban and Kevin Steele to go one-on-one on the outside. It’s the middle of the field I am worried about.

EE: Beck has a quick release, but he is far more like 2018 Bennett under pressure — completing just 51% of his passes. That speed may bail him out a bit vs. the ‘Bama pass rush, but it also poses a risk when your reads are going against the best corner tandem in college football. He can — and I suspect will — have some big-time throws...and some big-time screw-ups.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

4. If Georgia were to have any one identifiable weakness, like Alabama, it has been iffy vs. concerted rushing attacks. In fact, it’s the “worst” one they’ve had since 2018. For the year, the Bulldogs are allowing 4 yards per carry to all opponents and have surrendered more yards, yards per carry, and rushing touchdowns than the Crimson Tide. How can ‘Bama best take advantage of this deficit for the Dawgs?

BT: Just like Alabama, Georgia’s worst rushing defense game of the year came against Auburn, and again, it was QB Payton Thorne getting a lot of those backside yards. Georgia did give up a lot of yards to Cody Schraeder, Quinshon Judkins, Jaylen Wright, so I think overall, Alabama’s defense has the better record against similar rushers.

At this point, though, I’m not sure Alabama’s run game is ever going to be able to truly take over a game. Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams just don’t have that it factor, and we don’t know if Jam Miller or Justice Haynes might. The Tide will probably do ok with the running backs, but ultimately it will fall to Jalen Milroe’s legs to really do the damage. If there’s anything we learned from Kirby Smart while he was at Alabama, it was that 3rd and Kirby vs scrambling QBs was a thing.

CB: Two words: Justice Haynes. But Saban is not going to do that for some reason. Other than that, I would say using a constant rotation of several backs. Don’t keep riding one guy. Also, I think it would be okay to sprinkle in some jet sweeps to anyone other than Kendrick Law. You know they will be looking for that.

EE: I’m going to mirror CB here — ‘Bama can run on this team, particularly with option looks that it has largely eschewed this season. But it will need to be a lot more creative in the rotation than it has generally been the last few seasons. I have no idea why Gillespie hates feeding a hot hand, but it seems like everyone is on a pitch count...and it’s trash. If you started a drinking game for every two-yard Roydell run or every time he trips over air in plus-territory, you’d be dead by halftime.


5. Something no one is really talking about is how mistake-prone this UGA offense is, on top of forcing far fewer turnovers than usual. It is just middle of the pack in turnover margin (even) and is -2 against teams with a winning record. Alabama, meanwhile, is T-3rd in the SEC in turnover margin (+7) and is in the Top 20 nationally. It has also gotten better as the year wore on and as Milroe learned the offense better. In November, for instance, ‘Bama was +5. Do you think turnovers will play a larger part than usual in this most recent ‘Bama-Georgia tilt?

BT: The interception numbers for Georgia and Alabama’s offenses and defenses are almost identical. The difference has been the fumbles. The Bulldogs have been good for a fumble every game, and have only lost a 3rd of them (which is still a pretty high total number of fumbles lost). That said, fumbles are notoriously non-predictive, so I’m not going to bank on it

Still, Alabama’s much more likely to force a turnover than the Dogs are, so I think a +1 margin for the Tide is pretty likely.

CB: I don’t anticipate many turnovers for either team. However, one thing you can say about both these teams is that they capitalize on turnovers. It has saved the hides of both on more than one occasion this season.

EE: Look at the secondaries UGA has really played. Fumbles are largely a matter of luck and lucky bounces, but interceptions are a product of your skill, scheme, and execution.. And the simple fact remains that UGA has been blessed with five of the NCAA’s bottom 30 secondaries on its schedule. Alabama can disguise looks, put Beck under pressure, and get some picks. I firmly believe this. That great game Steele in retrospect dialed up vs. LSU? We need some of that. I suspect we get it.


6. Aside from Milroe, what is the one player that Alabama has to get on track for the Tide to win this game. And what Georgia player outside of Carson Beck has to have a big outing for the Bulldogs to prevail?

BT: I think it has to be Jaheim Oatis and Deontae Lawson. If Alabama allows Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards to power through them, it’s game over. Oatis is going to have to stand up the T/G gaps, and Lawson has to be ready to clean up both the runs and those quick screen and slant passes.

For Georgia, I think the corollary is true. Milton has to be able to run through Alabama’s defenders to get those first downs. I don’t see a lot of explosive plays available for Georgia, so they are really going to need to extend drives.

CB: A third pass catcher behind Isaiah Bond and Jermaine Burton needs to step up and make some plays. Be it Kobe Prentice, Kendrick Law, Amari Niblack, Jalen Hale, or whoever, Alabama needs to give UGA more to think/worry about. For Georgia, it’s clearly Bowers. But again, a second threat such as Ladd McHonkey or Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint has that breakout ability that can drive defenses crazy.

EE: I’m going to go with the men in the middle — this is a fundamentally stronger team than the ones Georgia played previously, and where it counts most: Nose tackle, inside linebacker, free safety. If they have a good game, Alabama can win this one.


7. Who is the one ‘Bama player that Nick Saban has to scheme around or hide to try and limit the potential self-inflicted damage he could do?

BT: I worry that it’s Deontae Lawson with a still-partially-bum ankle. I think that was the root cause of the rushing defense meltdown vs Auburn last week. However, if we assume Lawson is fully full speed again, then my answer is Jaylen Key. I worry about him getting isolated with Ladd McConkey, Brock Bowers, or even one of the other speedier receivers and finding himself out-athleted in open space.

CB: I‘m sure that Roydell Williams is a very nice person. But daggumit Saban, he’s the fourth best running back on the team!

EE: Tim Smith: I have seen enough “defense” from him to last me several lifetimes. He better not leave that bench unless it is to get another cup of Gatorade or cheer his teammates on.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

8. How do you cover Brock Bowers? Can you even cover him?

BT: Only one guy has managed that, and even the he only fought to a draw against Bowers: Brian Branch. Can Malachi Moore do it from the slot? Or is it going to come down to true freshman Caleb Downs? Moore has the veteran savvy, but Downs might be the only player on Alabama’s defense with the combination of speed and tackling strength to MAYBE limit the damage. Still, Bowers is the best football player in the NCAA right now... He’s going to get his.

CB: As I mentioned above, I would have someone shadow his every move. I don’t know if Bama can afford to use Caleb Downs in that situation. It might have to be Malachi Moore. But another strategy should be making sure someone hits him at the line every down. Make his life miserable.

EE: I think you trust the corners in man, blitz the absolute hell out of Beck, and man-up Caleb Downs in a spy role. Bowers is a load, but his catch numbers vs. contested passes are remarkably pedestrian. This has the knock-on effect of increasing those risky throws over the middle that can quickly turn into wounded ducks.

Will UGA get some big plays? Of course. But 1. Can they do enough? And, 2. It beats watching Bowers kill you 14-16 yards at a time.


9. What is the X Factor for both teams, and who has the intangible advantage?

BT: Jalen Milroe’s scrambling ability is THE X-factor. No matter what else happens, that kind of rushing speed on passing plays just breaks the usual flow and dance of football games. I think Georgia’s X-Factor will have to be their secondary as a whole. Alabama’s passing game has feasted for much of the year with Burton and Bond roasting people deep, and UGA might have the only backfield in the country with the athletic ability to hang with them. Shut down that, and what is Alabama’s offense left with? Milroe scrambles, and that’s about it.

I think that the intangibles favor Alabama. The Tide has gone to war week in and week out this season, and the team seems to have forged into a much more mentally tough unit than we’ve seen the past couple of seasons. Meanwhile, what do we really know about Georgia still? They very well could still be the same dominant, clutch team that blew through 2022... Or are they a team like 2013 Alabama that’s just coasting on a 3rd national championship season until someone punches them in the mouth? Who really knows... I suppose we’ll find out.

CB: I’d have to say special teams. UGA’s kicker Peyton Woodring is okay but not great. The freshman is 3 for 5 in the 20-29 yard range and hasn’t even attempted a 50+ this season. Alabama on the other hand has a pretty good kicker. James Burnip is one of the best punters in college football. UGA’s Brett Thorson (also an Aussie) is okay but not very experienced.

EE: I hate to say “disrespect,” but Saban is masterful at weaponizing grudges. And, all year, this Tide team has been disrespected: being written off after an early loss to Texas, after bad games vs. Arkansas and USF, by the CFP Committee, by the legacy media — no one believes in Alabama. This is the most mentally resilient bunch we’ve seen since the Joyous Murderball Days. They give a damn, and the Goat will ensure that all 101 of those young men are sick and tired of being disrespected. A win in Atlanta resets the entire playoff landscape. Go get it. #GumpSoHard #BelatedGumpDay


10. What’s our final score and how do we get there?

BT: I went into this Q&A fully intending to pick Georgia to win. I still think they are the better overall team with better balance across the position groups. The more I answered each of your questions, though, the more my heart is yearning to make the homer pick for Alabama.

I think this one is a higher scoring game. Both offenses have ways to attack the opposing defenses. And my pick ultimately comes down to Alabama’s big plays vs Georgia’s ability to extend drives with their OL.

So.... Gun to my head, I’m going with 35-32 Georgia. The Dogs get an early 14 point lead that Alabama takes the lead in the 3rd quarter, but a couple of doomed drives followed by some attempted hero ball leaves Alabama one drive short and UGA killing the final four minutes of clock and Milroe never getting the shot at the last-minute drive.

CB: Has UGA’s secondary even been tested this season? I feel like Jalen Milroe has a big game passing. Bama 27-24.

EE: Georgia has played a schedule on par with Michigan’s...and actually even a bit worse than FSU’s. Even the “hard” games were held in Athens. This team has never gone on the road, no matter how friendly, and been punched in the cock by a peer adversary. This Alabama team is that peer. The Tide can force mistakes, hit you with YOLO shots all day, has the better special teams unit, has the more dynamic and better quarterback, and — yes — has the better defense with the better individual defenders. And the best to ever do it is still on the sidelines. Nick Saban blew up this program in the offseason for this game, against this team. It’s time for the rubber to meet the road with a group of guys who never quit.

Georgia makes one more mistake than the Tide, and that proves the difference.
Alabama 31 — Georgia 27


Thanks for reading our Roundtable. We hope you enjoyed it. Agree? Disagree? Want to give some of these questions a shot?

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Poll

How are you feeling about ‘Bama’s chances after reading the Roundtable?

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  • 9%
    PSYCHED! I CAN RUN THROUGH A BRICK WALL!
    (111 votes)
  • 16%
    Somewhat better, but it’s going to be a battle
    (191 votes)
  • 39%
    My opinion has not really changed.
    (453 votes)
  • 27%
    This made me feel a little worse. I’m now convinced Georgia is probably the better team.
    (314 votes)
  • 6%
    A lot worse. Desultory. Deepest funk. Why even play the game?
    (70 votes)
  • 0%
    Other, below
    (4 votes)
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