By: Ethan Smith, News Editor
Well, how many of us saw this coming? As much expected, Georgia and Alabama will meet in the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2012. To no one’s surprise either, this matchup will feature two top-five teams in the College Football Playoff rankings, meaning the stakes of the game are high once again. The two met in last year’s CFP National Championship Game with Alabama coming out on top in a thriller in overtime, but here is a preview on how the game could look this Saturday in Atlanta.
Let’s start with Tua Tagovailoa and the top-ranked Crimson Tide. The Tide are 12-0, but impressively so. The closest margin of victory that Alabama has dealt with this season came on September 22 against Texas A&M in a 45-23 victory, winning by 22 points. The Tide have struggled in the first half the past few weeks, being tied at halftime with FCS Citadel and being up by a mere field goal against bitter rival Auburn. Alabama would win both games smoothly, posting 50 points in each, something they’ve done in eight of their 12 games this season.
It all starts on the offensive side of the football with Alabama, with the likes of Damien Harris, Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Joshua Jacobs adding to Tua’s impeccable Heisman candidate campaign. The Tide rank fourth in total offense, but never forget about Nick Saban’s defense, which ranks seventh in the country this year. Playmakers such as Dylan Moses and Deionte Thompson will likely have some impact on the game, while other players will keep the defense at its top level.
Now to the Georgia Bulldogs, who will be ranked in the top-five ahead of this matchup. Georgia are the defending SEC Champions after beating Auburn in last season’s game 28-7 after an impressive all-around performance which led to a College Football Playoff berth.
Georgia enters this match-up with an impressive 11-1 record, the exact record they had last year entering this game. The lone loss came to LSU on October 13, as the Dawgs were rolled over 36-16 in their worst performance of the season by far. After the loss, Georgia dismantled the likes of Florida, Kentucky and rival Georgia Tech, all of which were impressive performances that made them look like a top-five team again.
For Georgia, it all starts with yet another dynamic duo of running backs in the form of Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift, both having over 850 yards rushing and over five touchdowns between them. Quarterback Justin Fields also gets in on the run game at times and could play a major factor in how Georgia decides to run their offense against Alabama. Quarterback Jake Fromm will enter the matchup as the starter, but it is unclear how head coach Kirby Smart plans to play against Alabama’s defense. The Dawgs do have plays set up for both quarterbacks, but if the offense is clicking under one of them, Kirby Smart won’t hesitate to leave them out there.
As for Georgia’s defense, it all starts with defensive-back and likely NFL draftee Deandre Baker. Baker is a projected top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft and a thorn in a quarterback’s side when the ball is thrown in his direction. Baker has two interceptions on the season, but opposing quarterbacks usually look away from the star defensive back as he rarely allows catches when he is involved. Baker will be lined up against the likes of Jeudy and Smith, so the challenge is set for him this Saturday.
For both teams, stopping the opposing run game will be an ideal part in each team’s success. For Georgia, stopping Harris and Jacobs will help, but containing Tua will be the Dawgs main concern. For Alabama, if they can fluster Fromm and jump out to an early lead, the likelihood of a Georgia win goes drastically down. This game could very well come down who jumps out to a lead first, but both coaches are masterminds at making the adjustments they need to. This battle doesn’t quite have the implications of a National Championship, but it is pretty close. The game airs on CBS at 4pm this Saturday at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.