If fourth-ranked Georgia is to pull off the upset over top-ranked Alabama, it’ll need to, at least, slow down the Crimson Tide’s high-powered offense.
As the Crimson Tide (12-0, 8-0) have proven time and time again this season, that’s much easier said than done. Alabama is scoring at a historic pace: The Crimson Tide’s closest win this season was a 24-0 win over Mississippi State, and they average 49 points per game. The Crimson Tide are only the second team in college football history to outscore each of their first 12 opponents by 20 or more points.
The last time that was done? Yale, in 1888.
“You’ve got to have all four guys on the front line, making sure those A areas of escape are closed and he can’t escape in the B areas or the C areas,” said Bulldogs defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter. “We’ve just got to have everybody doing their job, knowing where the guy next to him is, and knowing where those gaps are so that somebody is there to fill in.”
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This week, the Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1) will face a much different offense than the one they faced in their home finale in Georgia Tech. While the Yellow Jackets liked to keep things compact in their triple-option approach, it’s something Alabama definitely doesn’t do.
The Crimson Tide doesn’t run a traditional spread offense, but normally deploys three-to-four receiver sets with a running back joining quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the backfield. In the Crimson Tide’s 29-0 win over No. 10 LSU, Tagovailoa completed 25-of-42 passes.
Tagovailoa ranks No. 2 in the country with a 92.2 overall rating, per Pro Football Focus (Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is No. 1 with a 96.3 rating). He also ranks second in yards per attempt, at 11.8. And on third-and-fourth downs, Tagovailoa leads the nation with a 140.5 passer rating.
So, stopping Alabama’s offense might not be a feasible goal. But slowing it down could be one.
“He can sit in the pocket and make every throw,” Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s very confident and he’s got a presence about him in the pocket where, if you rush, and those guys bear down on him, he just sidesteps them and gets the ball out. That’s what makes him really special.”
But it’s not just Tagovailoa that presents a monstrous challenge for Smart, Mel Tucker and Georgia’s secondary.
The Crimson Tide boasts four receivers with over 600 yards through the air, and Jerry Jeudy leads the team with 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Bulldogs held TaQuon Marshall to 69 yards and a (garbage time) touchdown last week, but there’s little carryover.
Still, the Bulldogs did affect Marshall last week, and they’ll need to do it again Saturday to spring the upset.
“On tape, they (the Alabama receivers) are really fast,” Smart said. “But, it’s really not about that, it’s about who can cover who, who can match up and get hands on people, and if you’ve got all day back there, it probably doesn’t matter anyway. We’ve got to affect the quarterback.”