CFP NATIONAL TITLE GAME
No. 3 GEORGIA (13-1) vs. No. 4 ALABAMA (12-1)
8 p.m. » Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
ESPN & 97.3/99.3/102.3/105.1 FM
While Georgia's running game against Alabama's rushing defense is an obvious choice given how the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide performed last week in those areas, the pairing of Alabama's offense and Georgia's defense is every bit as important. Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts was good but certainly not great against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, while the Bulldogs surrendered more than 300 yards in the first half against Oklahoma before limiting the Sooners to 29 yards in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl. "They've got really good players at all three levels," first-year Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said of the Bulldogs. "They are really strong down the middle when you talk about (nose tackle John) Atkins and (inside linebacker Roquan) Smith, with all of his ability and instincts. They're strong down the middle at safety with (J.R.) Reed and (Dominick) Sanders, who do a really good job of diagnosing routes and reading the quarterback. They have good man corners. There is a reason why they're top five in defense. They've held five teams to seven points or less, and four of them are in the SEC." Hurts was decent in September but far from dynamic in the opening 24-7 win over Florida State in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but Daboll believes he has a much-improved attack since then. "From where we were in August to where we are now, it's night and day," he said. "It's why you put all the hours in."
ONES TO WATCH
Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has to play well, and it could be that the outcome is determined by the better showing between Hurts and Fromm, but the Bulldogs will enter tonight trying to establish the tailback tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The two seniors massacred Oklahoma last week, combining for 326 rushing yards and five touchdowns, but Alabama's defense is obviously a different beast. Auburn was the only team to stop the Chubb-Michel duo, with the Bulldogs managing just 46 ground yards Nov. 11 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but Georgia ran over the Tigers in the rematch last month at the Southeastern Conference championship. "These guys are very talented, and as talented as they are, they're even better people," Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. "They are great competitors, and when you say, 'This is what I want a football player to be,' these guys are that way. These guys are going to get after it, and we're going to have to gang-tackle them. One guy doesn't tackle them." The Bulldogs will be at full strength tonight as far as their running game, while Alabama will be without inside linebackers Shaun Dion Hamilton and Dylan Moses, outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings and safety Hootie Jones. Then there is the matter of how versatile defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick recovers from the bruised kidney he sustained in New Orleans.
IN THE END
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked Saturday whether he was the next Nick Saban. "I'm just trying to be me," Smart responded. "I'm not trying to be Nick Saban. Nick's incredible at what he does, but I'm a different person than Nick, and I'm OK with that. I'm comfortable in who I am. I'm not trying to be him or emulate him." There will be more comparisons should Smart's Bulldogs win tonight, and the pick here is that they will. Fromm has been performing better than Hurts, as have Chubb and Michel compared to Tide counterparts Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. The loss of Alabama right guard Lester Cotton could even things up a bit up front offensively, and Georgia's Terry Godwin and Javon Wims have the potential to counter the Tide's dynamic Calvin Ridley. Alabama has been better up front and in the secondary compared to Georgia, but there have been no equals nationally to the Bulldogs' linebackers. Both teams have stout special teams, so when in doubt, give the edge to the home team, and it will feel like a home game for Georgia tonight.
PREDICTION: Georgia 24, Alabama 17
— David Paschall