The Alabama Crimson Tide’s date with the Georgia Bulldogs in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game is just a day away. It is unofficially a National Semifinal, with the winner of the game all but guaranteed a place in the BCS Championship Game alongside undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame.
The storylines this week have been all about how nobody is giving Georgia a chance, but if everyone is saying not to sleep on the Bulldogs, then it is kind of difficult to rationalize that everyone is picking against Georgia.
Another storyline this week has been people saying Georgia is the more talented team in this matchup, especially on defense. I tend to disagree with that assessment, but there is no denying that the Bulldogs have a glut of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
I broke down the Georgia offense earlier this week, and now we move on to defense.
Statistically, Georgia ranks 22nd in the nation in total defense, but they have been much better against the pass than against the run this year. The Dawgs rank 9th in the nation in pass defense, giving up only 174 yards per game. Against the run, however, Georgia ranks 67th and gives up 163 yards per game.
Of course, back-to-back games against triple option teams in Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech skew both of those numbers slightly. Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech both eclipsed 300-yards rushing against the Bulldogs, while Southern only threw for 16 yards on 4 pass attempts, and Tech amassed 120 yards through the air.
So while you can argue that their run defense hasn’t been as bad as the statistics show, you can also argue that their pass defense hasn’t been as good as the stats show. While they rank ninth in the nation in passing yards allowed, they are just 32nd in the country in pass efficiency defense.
Stopping the run has been a key for the Georgia defense this year. In their win over Florida, they held the Gators to 75 yards on 40 carries. In their blowout loss to South Carolina, the Gamecocks racked up 230 yards rushing on 51 attempts.
A key for offensive success on Saturday will be establishing the ground game. If Alabama can win the battle up front on the offensive line and open up running lanes for Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, then the Crimson Tide should find success on offense. If not, then AJ McCarron will be forced to throw the ball more than the Alabama coaching staff wants, and as we have seen in the past, the Crimson Tide struggle to win games when they are forced to pass the ball a lot.
The interior of Alabama’s offensive line figures to have their hands full against Georgia’s large nose tackles — John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Jenkins and Geathers combine to weigh over 700 pounds.
Jenkins is the starter and a projected first round pick come April, but the Bulldogs don’t lose much in their 3-4 defense when they bring Geathers into the game.
Garrison Smith and Cornelius Washington are the bookends in Georgia’s base defense. Neither guy is a great pass rusher, but they don’t have to be when they play in front of arguably the best defensive player in college football.
Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o gets all the media attention for the Heisman trophy, but save for maybe South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, there has been no better defensive player in the country than Georgia’s junior linebacker Jarvis Jones.
Alabama will have to be constantly aware of where Jarvis Jones is at all times, and Alabama tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker figure to have their hands full for sixty minutes when Jones is rushing the passer. Jones ranks 2nd in the nation in tackles for loss with 19.5 and 4th in the country with 10.5 sacks.
Accompanying Jones, a likely Top-five pick in the draft, is junior linebacker Alec Ogletree, who is also projected as a first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Ogletree’s speed at inside linebacker allows him to get sideline-to-sideline as fast as any linebacker in the country. Sophomore Amarlo Herrera and freshman Jordan Jenkins join them to form one of the best linebacking units in the entire country.
The Georgia secondary is one of the most experienced in the nation with four senior starters. All American Bacarri Rambo leads the way at safety alongside fellow senior Shawn Williams. Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are the starters at corner.
AJ McCarron has the ability to make plays against the Bulldogs secondary, much like Tennessee’s Tyler Bray did earlier in the year, but it will all come down to Alabama giving McCarron time to find Amari Cooper and others down the field. Keeping Jarvis Jones out of McCarron’s face will extremely important on Saturday.
If Alabama is able to establish their ground game early on, it will go a long way into opening up the passing game. Alabama’s offensive line is one of the best in the entire country, and they have been playing at an elite level since the LSU game, but this is potentially the biggest challenge for the Crimson Tide to date.
Avoiding key mistakes will be absolutely critical tomorrow if the Crimson Tide is going to get the win in Atlanta and advance to Miami for the BCS Championship Game.
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