Game-day preview: Alabama vs. Georgia

Game-day preview: Alabama vs. Georgia

November 30th, 2018 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia senior cornerback Deandre Baker, shown during the team's Sept. 29 home game against Tennessee, and the rest of a talented Bulldogs secondary will take on its biggest challenge yet in Saturday's SEC championship game against Alabama.

Georgia senior cornerback Deandre Baker, shown during the...

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

NO. 1 ALABAMA (12-0) vs. NO. 4 GEORGIA (11-1)

4 p.m. Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

VIDEO & RADIO

CBS & 97.3/99.3/102.3 FM

THE MATCHUP

Alabama has five receivers, including junior tight end Irv Smith, who have averaged at least 17 yards per catch this season, while Georgia has a secondary that has yielded an average of just 9.51 yards per completion, which ranks second nationally. Alabama has averaged 332.1 passing yards per game behind the nation's most efficient quarterback and will look for further success against a defense that has yielded 175.1 passing yards per contest. "You've got to try to make them one-dimensional, but sometimes they're OK with one-dimensional, because they want to be able to attack you down the field and attack you vertically," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "Look, I don't think there is anybody out there who is just going to go out there and stone-cold these guys. When you watch them play, you see them score points, so you've got to do a great job of creating turnovers and creating lost-yardage plays, and you've got to make plays on the ball when you're not looking at it."

ONE TO WATCH

The birth of Alabama sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's Heisman Trophy candidacy occurred at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in January, when he replaced Jalen Hurts and rallied his team from a 13-0 halftime deficit against Georgia to a 26-23 overtime triumph that clinched a fifth national championship in coach Nick Saban's Crimson Tide tenure, which is now in its 12th season. Tagovailoa is on pace to post the highest single-season efficiency rating in NCAA history, having completed 189 of 269 passes (70.3 percent) for 3,189 yards with 36 touchdowns and two interceptions, and he also has rushed 45 times for 211 yards (4.7 per carry) and five scores. "He's a lot to take in," Smart said, "and I think you see that by their scores and what they've been able to do. The challenges are to be able to cover people, affect the quarterback, tackle people in open space and take advantage of mistakes. He's certainly very talented, and I don't look at him as just dual-threat. I look at him as a talented pocket passer, because that's where he does a lot of his damage."

IN THE END

If comparative scores against LSU were this game's lone determining factor, then Alabama would win by 49 points. That's not going to happen, and if Georgia can control the clock and limit the Tide's big-play strikes, a close contest could bring the special teams of the Bulldogs into play. Georgia clearly had a solid kicking advantage in January's game, when Tide kicker Andy Pappanastos, who was a senior, badly missed two field-goal attempts and Bulldogs counterpart Rodrigo Blankenship drilled a 51-yarder. Georgia's Mecole Hardman had punt returns of 19 and 15 yards in that game, and Alabama had a punt blocked in last week's game against Auburn. "They have really good specialists, and their special teams are really strong," Saban said. "When I say this is a complete team, I mean in all phases of the game." Alabama's explosive plays should be the difference, but one unknown is whether today has another road-game feeling for the Tide, which could tighten things as well.

PREDICTION

Alabama 31, Georgia 24


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