By Jess Nicholas
Oct. 3, 2015
When you’re a Dawg, you spend a lot of time woofing. That’s what you do.
When you’re the Alabama Crimson Tide, playing in Athens, Ga., you take care of business and rip the heart of the Georgia fan base in the process. That’s what you do.
Besides channeling GEICO commercials, Alabama showed the Georgia fan base once again why Mark Richt is a foil for Nick Saban, but why Georgia can never seem to foil Alabama’s plans: The Bulldogs are too frequently all bark and no bite, while Saban’s businesslike-to-the-point-of-exhaustion personality rubs off on his players, who subsequently become virtual automatons, pounding the opposition mercilessly and without end.
Able to play its base defense and lean on the depth and expertise of its stalwart defensive line, Alabama turned Nick Chubb into a non-factor. Chubb’s statistics will once again reflect a 100-yard performance, but 83 of those yards came on one snap well after the game was in Alabama’s firm control. With both Chubb and his backup, Sony Michel, out of the way, Alabama made this a game about quarterbacks, and whereas the Tide’s Jake Coker played flawlessly, Georgia’s Greyson Lambert clearly looked overwhelmed.
When Mark Richt swapped out Lambert for Brice Ramsey, it got even uglier. Both Lambert and Ramsey have talent, and Ramsey has plenty of potential, but this game could have gone on for twenty quarters and neither Georgia quarterback would have ever looked comfortable.
Alabama got plenty of inside pressure, and its blitz packages and outside rush were also effective in, if not sacking Lambert and Ramsey, at least “affecting” them – a favorite word of both Saban and Kirby Smart. Alabama picked off Georgia quarterbacks three times, recovered a fumble and used a key special teams play to run up a 28-point margin of victory despite being outrushed by Georgia and finishing with only 80 more total yards.
By the time the heaviest of rains came in the third and fourth quarter, relegating this game back to the days of leather helmets and no forward passing, Alabama had made the statement it needed to make: The Crimson Tide is determined to bounce back from the Ole Miss disappointment and get back to Atlanta, avenge its lone loss on the season and compete for a title.
For Alabama to do that, the Crimson Tide would probably have to go back through Georgia. Although Florida is suddenly a contender, the Bulldogs are the least flawed of the SEC East teams. But it’s hard to imagine either Lambert or Ramsey showing up in Atlanta looking like Aaron Murray in 2012. Alabama may have gotten an assist from the nasty weather Saturday, but fundamentally, Alabama’s defense – in particular its suffocating defensive line – isn’t likely to change much going from the green soup of Sanford Stadium to the perfect weather of the Georgia Dome.
The convincing win over Georgia, and especially the way Alabama handled Nick Chubb, portends favorably for Alabama’s future matchup with LSU and Leonard Fournette. Both Georgia and LSU are pro-style teams, and both bring Alabama’s base 3-4 over/under defense into the spotlight. Fournette is a better running back than either Chubb or Michel, but he won’t simply walk over the Alabama front seven the way he has other teams this season.
Alabama may yet see Georgia again, but not unless the Bulldog coaching staff takes care of some fundamental problems in its clubhouse. While Alabama proved itself the better team Saturday, it didn’t hurt that Georgia made mistakes in its emotional preparation and pregame behavior that obviously had a positive effect for the Crimson Tide. Unless Richt can get it cleaned up, the Bulldogs may find themselves on the outside looking in come the first week of December.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Georgia:
1. Georgia bravado was yet again misplaced. The fact Georgia was still talking trash down 28 points in the fourth quarter is telling. This game was, in a way, a microcosm of the Mark Richt era. While Richt portrays himself as a family man and practices humility, he doesn’t seem to look for the same traits in his players, nor does he enforce good behavior. In fact, Richt’s biggest failing as a coach isn’t his ability to recruit or coach quarterbacks – it’s his inability to get rid of stupidity. By now, most have seen the TV highlights of Georgia attempting to disrupt Alabama’s runout onto the field. Bad move, Georgia. Alabama feeds on that kind of thing, and the Crimson Tide’s focus was steeled. Alabama simply waited out the inevitable waning of Georgia’s emotional high (it took it until about the midway point of the second quarter) and then the Crimson Tide pounced. If Mark Richt had any sense whatsoever, he’d put the kibosh on all the chest-thumping and yaw-yawing his players like to do. But he either lacks the sense to do so, or he lacks the respect of his players to force them to do anything at all.
2. Alabama’s DL depth is the story of the year for the Crimson Tide. It isn’t often in these days of scholarship limits and parity that one team can hold a substantial, significant edge over every one of its competitors, but Alabama holds that edge in 2015 in regards to depth on the defensive line. There is more than just one reason Alabama was able to neuter the Bulldog rushing attack, but the biggest of all is that Alabama is always fresh on the defensive line. Alabama has 9 or 10 players capable of starting for any team in the SEC, and most of those players can play multiple positions. Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson, Daron Payne and Dalvin Tomlinson all played one of their best games in crimson and white, and they weren’t alone in excelling. Side note: Alabama has turned batting down passes into an art form, and every member of the front seven can do it. It’s an underrated skill, tough to master, but Alabama is doing it.
3. Special teams show up in a big way. It wasn’t just Minkah Fitzpatrick’s blocked punt for a touchdown, although that was probably the biggest single play of the game. Fitzpatrick certainly was helped by the fact that Georgia’s punt protection unit blew the protection call on his side, but Alabama was right to turn Fitzpatrick loose in that situation. Again, Fitzpatrick got plenty of help from his fellow special-teamers: Adam Griffith not only hit his field goal attempt and every PAT, he consistently pinned the Georgia kick return unit deep despite kicking off through a monsoon. Punter J.K. Scott handled every snap and averaged 41.0 yards per punt, again in the face of terrible weather. Cyrus Jones was solid on punt returns. If Alabama could be this good on a consistent basis, it would close a big hole in the Tide’s game.
4. Lane Kiffin called one of the best games of his life. Although Alabama was statistically awful on third downs (1-for-12, 8.3%), no one noticed, because everything else went so well. Kiffin came up with a perfect gameplan for Jake Coker’s skill set, and the trend of using Coker as a runner is something Alabama might want to do more of going forward. Alabama only collected 379 total yards in offense, but a large part of that was due to both teams more or less stopping the game after the third quarter due to the weather. The three touchdown drives were all Kiffin masterpieces, as Georgia was thoroughly out of sorts defensively on each. Jeremy Pruitt’s star lost a little shine as a result, perhaps, as Kiffin outmaneuvered him time and again. Alabama’s non-points-producing drives almost all shared some common factors, whether it was a turnover or (especially) a penalty. One point of contention: Alabama was late getting the play in several times, and even got called once for delay of game on the first play of a drive. There’s no excuse for that.
5. Offensive line had their best game of 2015. The crowning moment was Derrick Henry’s touchdown run in the second quarter, as all five linemen did their jobs on the play. While Henry ended up going straight up the middle of the field, the blocking flow went from his right to his left, meaning he eventually ran through a hole cleared out by RT Dominick Jackson. Georgia’s front seven was outmatched in this game but they aren’t bad players; Alabama’s line simply kept moving forward on most snaps and taking what was there to take. In the passing game, the results were even better: Jake Coker was never sacked, and the few times he had to move from the pocket, he moved into a manageable situation. This was Alabama football the way Alabama means to play it.