In almost every pregame preview in TideFans.com’s history, we’ve provided an analysis of the opponent and saved the result for the summary section, and it’s rare that we come up with a result that disappoints the Alabama fan base.
You can thank Nick Saban for that one, because the Alabama program is on a pedestal and has been for most of the previous 14 seasons. It’s good to be the king.
This week, though, is different. Rather than force you to skip to the end to see what’s coming, we’ll get it out of the way up front: Alabama is going to enter this game as an underdog, and primarily (but not completely) due to the Crimson Tide’s horrid injury luck in 2021, it’s going to take a monumental effort to beat Georgia and advance to the College Football Playoff, although Alabama might accomplish the latter feat regardless.
In fact, it’s been many, many years since we’ve seen Alabama lose this many head-to-head category battles. Georgia has been a statistical steamroller in 2021, controlling even the best teams on its schedule while mauling the bad ones. To make the point, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett has been sacked 6 times on the year. Alabama’s Bryce Young? Try 33.
However, the one thing Georgia doesn’t have a lot of is experience in close situations. Alabama has been taken to the brink four times; it won three of those games, and had multiple chances to defeat Texas A&M but didn’t execute. The question this week is, does this mean Georgia is unprepared to face a dynamic offensive team like Alabama – or is Georgia too good for it to matter?
The Bulldogs run a conservative, pro-style attack that is only a few steps removed from Alabama’s offense early in Nick Saban’s career, or even the offenses of coaches like Vince Dooley and Ray Perkins. Georgia doesn’t throw the ball much – the Bulldogs are ranked 60th – and don’t run it as well (25th) as one might think given the won-loss records. Still, it’s good enough for an overall ranking of 27th, and the Bulldogs are 24th in red zone offense. Alabama is a much more dynamic team, ranking 7th in total offense and also passing offense, and 77th in rushing offense. The Tide makes more mistakes, but has greater scoring potential.
This category is actually razor-close because there isn’t much difference between Georgia’s starter, Stetson Bennett IV, and backup J.T. Daniels. Even third-teamer Carson Beck has good raw talent and fits well inside the offensive scheme. Bennett, though, is the emotional leader of the team, a former walk-on who has risen to become exactly the player the Georgia scheme demands, as well as surprisingly good in two-minute situations when throwing the ball is a requirement, and not a changeup. Daniels has battled injury and isn’t as consistent as Bennett, but if called upon, he has immense physical tools.
The question is whether all that depth overcomes the force known as Bryce Young, who enters the week probably leading the Heisman Trophy race. Whereas Bennett’s career-high game is 288 yards passing, any week Young fails to eclipse 300 yards is considered a disappointment. Bennett has thrown for 1,985 yards on the year, 21 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Young’s numbers: 3,901 yards, 40 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and better accuracy, although Bennett rarely suffers from wildness.
If Young had to leave the game for Alabama, though, it’s unlikely that either Paul Tyson or Jalen Milroe is currently capable of running the full offensive scheme against a top opponent like Georgia. In a comparison of the starters alone, Alabama has a big edge, although Bennett is not a bad quarterback. Georgia’s superior depth tightens things up considerably but can’t overcome Young’s ability to make plays all over the field. Advantage: Alabama
One would probably expect the Bulldogs to have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers and maul opponents into the ground, especially given Bennett’s pedestrian passing stats. But that’s not the case. In fact, the only 1,000-yard rusher in this game is Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr., but he injured a hamstring in the second half of the Auburn game and is not expected to play much, if even at all. If that holds true, Alabama will enter this game with just one true running back, Trey Sanders, who isn’t even Alabama’s second-leading rusher on the year and who isn’t 100-percent recovered yet from injuries sustained in a car accident last fall.
Sanders got more work against Auburn and appears to be ready to take the reins of Alabama’s running game, but he isn’t Robinson, who used his size and power to force his way through run blocking that hasn’t been the best this year for the Crimson Tide. Sanders is more of a glider and a make-a-man-miss type of back, rather than the steamroller Robinson is.
The backups for this game are converted wide receiver Christian Leary, who is quite small for a featured back, and converted linebacker Demouy Kennedy, who lacks a running back’s moves and feel, but at least has the size. Wide receiver Slade Bolden and potentially walk-on scatback Jonathan Bennett are also in the conversation. Georgia’s running back tandem of Zamir White, James Cook and Kenny McIntosh have combined for 20 touchdowns on the year, but White hasn’t even cracked the 700-yard mark yet on the season.
Still, Georgia will be able to rotate running backs to its heart’s content, and can easily absorb the potential loss of another runner with good stats, Kendall Milton, who is listed as questionable with a knee injury. If Robinson were fully available for this game, we’d have a real discussion here, but as it stands, this is a huge edge to the Bulldogs. Advantage: Georgia
If Georgia has a team weakness, it’s here, where the top target is a tight end (Brock Bowers) and no outside receiver really ever stepped up during the regular season. Ladd McConkey has the most receiving yardage of the receiver group, and even then it’s just 26 catches for 395 yards. He’ll start in the slot, with Adonai Mitchell and Jermaine Burton the outside receivers. All have similar stats on the year. Kearis Jackson and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint are the primary backups. Bowers at tight end is a huge weapon, however – 37 catches for 652 yards (17.6 avg.) and 10 touchdowns. Given Alabama’s Saban-era troubles with covering the tight end, that’s cause to pass the Rolaids.
For Alabama, the Tide will start a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, Jameson Williams and John Metchie III, with Slade Bolden starting in the slot. Williams is the most dynamic receiver in the SEC, and Metchie’s performance against Auburn showed how physical he can be when he’s playing at his peak. The only issue for Alabama is depth, but Ja’Corey Brooks emerged against Auburn as a potential future star, and Traeshon Holden will also see time. It remains to be seen whether JoJo Earle can return for this game in any capacity, but his primary value prior to suffering a leg injury was as a punt returner, and it’s unlikely Alabama will go away from Bolden in a game of this magnitude.
Alabama’s tight ends, Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley, have the potential to be weapons, but consistency has been an issue. Regardless, Georgia doesn’t match up well at all in a comparison of outside receivers, and while Bowers isn’t nullified by Latu, a fully-functional Latu-Billingsley platoon does draw things closer somewhat at that spot. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama hasn’t seen a mismatch like this all year. Georgia has hands-down the best offensive line in the country. It leads the nation in fewest sacks allowed and is 2nd in tackles for loss allowed. This may be the most dominant college football offensive line we’ve ever seen, and certainly the best in the SEC since probably Alabama’s 2012 unit. It’s not even worth getting into a spot-by-spot breakdown, but we’ll mention that Alabama may not even know what its starting lineup is yet. Seth McLaughlin looks like the odds-on favorite to start at center ahead of an injured Darrian Dalcourt, which would make the third different starting center Alabama has used this year.
Chris Owens displaced Damieon George Jr. at right tackle midway through the Auburn game and will probably hold onto that job this week, as Alabama will likely be throwing the ball more than running it and George’s weakness is in going against quick pass rushers. The rest of the line will be the usual group of guards Javion Cohen and Emil Ekiyor Jr., and LT Evan Neal.
For Georgia, LT Jamaree Salyer is listed as questionable with a foot injury, which would be a significant loss for sure, as it would send a freshman, Broderick Jones, into the starting lineup with the mission of defending against Alabama’s defensive ends. Still, just chalk this one up as a Georgia edge and move on. Advantage: Georgia
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