With the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs sitting at No. 2 and 3 in the polls, the SEC Championship game is once again a play-in game to the BCS Championship.
At first glance the teams playing on Saturday look very similar. Georgia and Alabama are both quality SEC teams known for their defense. However, when we look closely at what these teams have done this year, real differences in these two defenses start to emerge.
Georgia and Alabama have shared five common opponents this season, and we can learn a lot from this. First, we see that Georgia’s defense allowed 50 more points to the same five teams than did Alabama. Most of this is due to the huge discrepancy in Georgia’s game against Tennessee versus Alabama’s win over the same Tennessee squad.
The Georgia vs. Tennessee game was a shootout. The Bulldogs allowed Tennessee 478 total yards of offense, 26 first downs and 44 points. It was this impressive performance against the vaunted Georgia defense, that led many analysts to say that Tennessee’s high-powered offense would be a real test to the young Alabama secondary. However, when the Third Saturday in October rolled around, the results were not as predicted. Alabama held the Volunteers to 282 yards, 11 first downs, and 13 points.
Wins and losses
Georgia’s worst – and only – loss was to 10-2 South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia lost in a 35-7 blowout, with the only Georgia score coming with six minutes left in the game and outcome already decided.
Alabama’s only loss was at home to 10-2 Texas A&M. The Aggies got out to a 20-point lead, only to have Alabama scratch and claw its way back. The Tide lost by five points in a 29-24 loss.
Georgia’s worst win came over 2-10 Kentucky. The Bulldogs beat the Wildcats by five points and allowed 329 yards of offense. Let me restate this for emphasis, Georgia gave up 329 yards of offense to 2-10 Kentucky. Georgia ended up winning the game in the fourth quarter 29-24.
Alabama’s worst win, statistically speaking, was over 10-2 LSU. The Crimson Tide allowed 435 yards and won by three in a 21-17 victory.
All of these games could be chalked up to being off days by good teams, but the difference in competition, and the score, is important to note.
Level of competition
There is a difference in the level of competition as well. The Congrove Computer Rankings put Alabama at 15 in strength of schedule, while Georgia sits at 27. Alabama’s Division 1 competition has gone 69-62 this year, while Georgia’s has gone 63-68. Put another way, Georgia has done less against less.
The overall statistical rankings of the two defenses show a stark contrast as well. Alabama is ranked first in the nation in points allowed per game, whereas Georgia is ranked 14th. Alabama is also tops in the nation in yards allowed per game, while Georgia is 18th. Alabama is ranked second in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game; Georgia is ranked 46th.
The Georgia defense is good, but they are not great. They have done less against lesser opponents than their Alabama counterparts. Bacarri Rambo and the other Georgia players can talk about how much more talented they are than Alabama all they want. The numbers simply do not support their claims.
Analysts such as Tim Brando and Mark Schlabach, who are picking the Bulldogs to beat Alabama say they are doing so because “UGA is hot right now.” Again the numbers do not support their claims. The Georgia defense gave up 426 yards and 26 first downs to lowly ACC patsy Georgia Tech this past weekend. I don’t care how long Tim Brando has “been in this business,” no amount of wishful thinking among the media talking heads will create a disadvantage for the Crimson Tide. The statistics don’t bear it out.
Statistics and analysis seem to favor the Crimson Tide, so Georgia (and their backers) have to hope that statistics take a back seat to the intangibles once the actual game is kicked off.
Georgia players have certainly talked a good game prior to this meeting, but Mark Richt has been notorious for allowing hype and visuals to overshadow execution in big games. Alabama’s last meeting with the Bulldogs was the so-called Blackout game, which ended in disaster for the Dawgs. If Richt and his Bulldogs are hoping for swag to overcome substance, they should prepare to pack their bags for the Capitol One Bowl.