The Alabama Crimson Tide dismantled rival Auburn 49-0 on Saturday to clinch the Western Division crown and set up an SEC Championship Game with the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
This will be the third time the Alabama Crimson Tide have played in the SEC Championship Game under Nick Saban, and for the third time, it will serve as a play-in game for the National Championship.
In 2008, the undefeated Crimson Tide faced off with one-loss Florida with a spot in the National Championship Game on the line. Alabama came up short, but got their revenge the next season in Atlanta against the Gators, when both teams entered the game sporting perfect 12-0 records.
Now, it is 11-1 Alabama against 11-1 Georgia, with the winner advancing to Miami to take on undefeated Notre Dame for the National Championship.
Alabama’s lone loss this season came in a 29-24 stunning defeat in Bryant-Denny Stadium against Texas A&M. Georgia’s lone loss came against South Carolina on the road, where the Gamecocks thoroughly beat the Bulldogs 35-7.
The majority of Alabama fans are worried about facing Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, given how Alabama’s secondary has played in November. The Tide secondary allowed Zach Mettenberger and Johnny Manziel to have big games against them, and had some busted coverages last week against Auburn, but the Tigers just didn’t have the quarterback to make them pay for it.
Georgia is a different story, with junior quarterback Aaron Murray having the ability to make every throw on the football field. Murray has been the most efficient passer in the nation this year with a 177.1 rating. He’s thrown for 3201 yards with 30 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, and has completed 67 percent of his passes.
As good as Murray has been, he hasn’t exactly performed well against the top defenses in the conference. Murray played two Top-15 defenses this year — Florida and South Carolina — and completed 42 percent of his passes for an average of 129.5 yards per game with 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions.
The Bulldogs rank 35th in the country in passing offense, averaging 273 yards per game through the air. Despite Alabama’s struggles against the better quarterbacks they have faced, the Crimson Tide rank 3rd in the country in pass defense and 5th in the country in pass efficiency defense.
Alabama’s secondary will be tested by two very talented Georgia receivers in Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell. King is the Bulldogs’ leading receiver with 34 receptions for 704 yards and 8 touchdowns. Mitchell is second on the team with 532 yards on 36 receptions and 4 touchdowns. Mitchell is nursing a shoulder injury, and as of Wednesday he had not participated in contact drills at practice this week.
Just like Alabama, the Bulldogs have been hampered with injuries at receiver. Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett were both lost earlier in the season with torn ACLs. Alabama, of course, lost DeAndrew White to a torn ACL and then Kenny Bell broke his leg in the Iron Bowl last week.
Junior Rantavious Wooten and sophomore Chris Conley have both seen their roles expand with the injuries to Brown and Bennett.
On the ground, Georgia ranks 39th in the country at 190 yards per game. Their freshman running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have been superb this season for the Bulldogs.
Gurley is the Bulldogs leading rusher with 1138 yards and 14 touchdowns on a 6.5 yards per carry clip. Marshall is second on the team with 720 yards and 8 touchdowns on a 6.7 yards per carry clip. As Nick Saban pointed out this week, what makes the duo particularly effective, is their difference in running style.
Gurley is more of the powerful, in-between the tackles runner, although he does have the speed to break off long runs. Marshall is more of the speedster, but both guys are very capable of hitting home runs. Gurley and Marshall have ripped off 18 runs of 20 yards or more this season, which includes 10 runs of 30 or more yards, and 8 that have gone for more than 40.
Alabama will make the going tough for the Bulldogs on the ground, where the Crimson Tide have been dominant defensively. They give up 77 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 2nd in the country behind only Stanford.
The only team to have much success running between the tackles against Alabama this season was LSU, but I don’t think Georgia is quite as physical up front as the Bayou Bengals. Texas A&M gained their fair share of yards on the ground, but those were mainly scrambles by Johnny Manziel.
Like it usually does in the SEC, this game will likely come down to play in the trenches. Whoever is able to win the battle up front will likely come out on top and advance to the BCS Championship Game.
Alabama will need to stop the run, and force the Bulldogs into being a one-dimensional offense, and then hopefully get some pressure on Aaron Murray. Alabama hasn’t put much pressure on the quarterback in recent weeks, something they did a lot of early in the season. The Bulldogs have given up 22 sacks this season, so the Crimson Tide will hopefully be able to put some pressure on Murray and force him to make some mistakes.
Along with who wins the battle in the trenches, the game will also come down to which team is able to avoid making the critical mistake. Here’s hoping that Aaron Murray and Georgia are the ones to make that mistake on Saturday.
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