The Alabama offensive line has undoubtedly been a weak link of the team this season. Many Alabama football fans have gone as far as to say it is the worst offensive line of the Nick Saban era, and it’s difficult to disagree.
The Georgia Bulldogs have the nation’s top defense by a wide margin, led by an aggressive front seven and a fierce pass rush. On paper, the matchup doesn’t look good for the Alabama offense.
Alabama Football: Poor pass protection becoming a theme
Alabama has given up 36 sacks, which is 3 sacks per game and ranks 112th out of 130 teams in terms of fewest sacks allowed. Keep in mind, Alabama has arguably the most elusive quarterback in the country and has still given up more sacks than every SEC team except LSU and Tennessee.
The inability to keep pressure off of Bryce Young has been one of the only things that has tripped up the Bama offense this year, contributing to numerous close games and a loss at Texas A&M. The loss, in addition to other poor performances, caused Alabama football fans to call for changes to be made up front. Some even called for offensive line coach Doug Marrone’s job.
Alabama Football: Can the Tide establish the run?
The run blocking has been better than the pass protection, but not by much. Senior running back Brian Robinson Jr. has been effective, but the room has been hit hard by injuries and lacks quality depth. As a whole, the running game has been fairly inconsistent, and ranks 10th in the SEC in yards per game. It will have to improve to make headway on the ground against the nation’s #3 rushing defense.
Junior left tackle Evan Neal is one of the best in the country at his position, but has been the bright spot on an otherwise lackluster offensive line. Left guard Javion Cohen is only a true sophomore but emerged in the offseason and laid claim to the left guard position, while Emil Ekiyor was the incumbent at right guard.
Center and right tackle have been the sore spots. Chris Owens was the returning starter at center from Alabama’s 2020 playoff run, but he started at right tackle for much of this season. He has had his share of struggles and was eventually usurped at both positions. Darrian Dalcourt has started at center for the majority of the year, and has had issues of his own, whether it be blocking or snapping the ball.
Damieon George recently took Owens’ starting spot at right tackle. George didn’t play much better than Owens, but he is still a very young player in his second year in the program. George is a more natural fit at the right tackle position and, therefore, has a much higher ceiling. Saban said last week that he doesn’t believe any more changes need to be made, as reported by Touchdown Alabama’s Stephen M. Smith.
However, he continued to make changes during the Iron Bowl. He plugged Owens back in at right tackle and replaced a hobbled Dalcourt with Seth McLaughlin at center.
Alabama Football: Davis & Bulldogs defense present a tall task
Jordan Davis is the face of the Georgia defense. He is massive in the middle of the UGA defensive line, rivaling Evan Neal in sheer size, and has quicker feet than a man his size should. This combination makes him one of the more disruptive interior defensive linemen in the nation.
The scary part is, I’m not even sure Davis is Georgia’s best defensive lineman. Devonte Wyatt, Travon Walker, and Jalen Carter aren’t quite as big, but are all incredibly athletic. Additionally, they benefit from Davis’ absorption of double teams, and each has at least 5 tackles for loss on the season. Collectively, this defensive line likely eclipses Texas A&M’s as the best front Alabama has faced this year.
Channing Tindall, Quay Walker and Nakobe Dean are elite at linebacker, and pass rusher Nolan Smith mans the edge. While Georgia has plenty of talent and hasn’t seemed to miss a beat, it’s worth noting that edge rusher Adam Anderson is likely out for the season with legal issues. Anderson leads UGA with 5.5 sacks.
The biggest advantage the Alabama offense has is Bryce Young, the receivers, and the spread offense. As good as the Georgia defense is, it has yet to face a passing offense as volatile as Alabama’s. Quite frankly, I don’t think Georgia’s secondary can keep up with the likes of John Metchie and Jameson Williams.
Georgia will depend on its pass rush to get to Young and get Alabama behind the chains, or, at the very least, generate enough pressure to throw off the rhythm and timing of the passing game. The offensive line will have an extremely tough task in keeping the Bulldogs at bay, but if they can give Bryce Young ample time to throw for once, the passing game should flourish.