It’s been nearly 11 months since Nick Saban pulled his starting quarterback for a true freshman in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
And nearly 11 months since that true freshman, Tua Tagovailoa, led the Crimson Tide back from a 13-point halftime deficit to ultimately win it in overtime. Now, back in Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the second time in the calendar year, No. 4 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama are set to square off again, but under entirely different circumstances.
The Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1) need a win Saturday (4 p.m., CBS) to clinch a College Football Playoff berth, while the Crimson Tide (12-0, 8-0) might actually be safe even with a loss. The Bulldogs could still have an outside chance at making the playoff with a loss, but a win would all but guarantee the program’s second consecutive CFP appearance.
UGA is 1-4 against No. 1 teams in its history. The only win came in 1985 vs. Florida, 24-3.
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As of Friday afternoon, the Crimson Tide are favored by 12.5 points, according to betting site Oddsshark.
Here’s what you should know about the 2018 SEC Championship:
Alabama’s offense is playing historically well
It’s no secret the Crimson Tide were one of the best teams in the country throughout the regular season, and that’s due in large part to the play of Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense.
The Crimson Tide’s closest win this season was a 24-0 win over Mississippi State, and they average 49 points per game, the second-highest average in the nation. They’re the second team in college football history to outscore each of their final 12 opponents by 20 or more points (Yale, 1888).
So, the Bulldog defense will most certainly have its hands full.
“(Tagovailoa’s) decision-making, touch and accuracy is off the charts,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. “It was in our game last year, too, but now it’s a more experienced version of it.”
Notable injury updates
Bulldogs linebacker Monty Rice, the team’s second-leading tackler (59 tackles) missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but returned to practice this week. Still, the sophomore likely won’t be 100 percent should he play.
Ben Cleveland, meanwhile, is back practicing, but “not 100 percent,” per Smart. Cleveland was dressed out before the Georgia Tech game. Kendall Baker remains out, while Cade Mays remains questionable. Mays was seen in street clothes before the Georgia Tech game.
Per BamaOnLine (247Sports), Crimson Tide receiver/punt returner Jaylen Waddle will play this week after spending a brief time in the injury tent last week. Defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, who suffered a hyper-extended knee in the Iron Bowl, is listed as probable.
Woerner gets his shot
Bulldogs tight end Charlie Woerner missed last year’s national championship against Alabama after suffering a fractured fibula in the Rose Bowl. He’d played in every game in 2017 up to that point.
“I was kind of in shock the whole time,” Woerner said. “That was the first time I’ve ever had an injury like that. It didn’t really hit me until after the national championship.”
He’ll get his shot Saturday after playing in all 12 games this season, against a Crimson Tide program that recruited him pretty heavily in high school. Woerner, like Smart and every other Bulldogs player who spoke to the media in the days leading up, downplayed the hype surrounding the SEC title game, calling it “just another game.”
Woerner says he’s not a social media guy, but there’s no escaping the hype surrounding the game. TV, radio, the coverage is everywhere. Woerner said he tries to “block it out,” though.
“It goes right away on the first kickoff,” Woerner said. “Really, just right when the game starts, it’s ‘let’s lock in, let’s go execute our plays that we worked on all week.’”