Last month's Southeastern Conference championship game might have been a rough few hours for the Georgia Bulldogs, but it wasn't for freshman tight end Brock Bowers.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder from Napa, California, racked up 10 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown during the 41-24 loss to Alabama inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, extending a season that has been stellar to the point of being unprecedented.
As the two teams prepare for Monday night's rematch for the national championship, Bowers appears to be at the top of Alabama's talents-to-stop list.
"I think this guy is one of the premier players in college football," Alabama coach Nick Saban said this week. "I know he's just a freshman, but this guy has great size and is a good blocker. He's physical and he's tough, and he's got wide receiver skills in every way, shape and form, which makes it difficult for bigger guys to cover him.
"It also makes it difficult for smaller guys to cover him."
Bowers had an 18-yard touchdown reception with 9:42 remaining to pull Georgia within 38-24, but Alabama would eventually embark on a 12-play, 62-yard drive that culminated with Will Reichard's 41-yard field goal. The No. 3 tight end nationally in the 2021 signing class and the No. 105 prospect overall will enter Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis having compiled six touchdowns in his last four games.
The most dazzling of those scores occurred from 77 yards out at Georgia Tech early in the second quarter, when he outraced the Yellow Jackets secondary from midfield during the 45-0 cruising.
"As far as what we experienced last game from him and coming into this game, we know he's a tremendous athlete who can make plays," Crimson Tide sophomore outside linebacker Will Anderson said. "He's really long and athletic, and I think the key will be paying attention to his playing style and making sure we do a great job of covering him and making sure he doesn't get too loose."
Bowers leads the Bulldogs with 52 receptions for 846 yards (16.3 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns, having already broken the program's single-season mark for receiving scores set by Terrence Edwards in 2002. His 52 catches nearly double Ladd McConkey's next-highest 30, and his 846 yards nearly double Jermaine Burton's 469.
The John Mackey Award semifinalist and All-SEC first-team selection is coming off last Friday night's Orange Bowl performance in which he helped zap the juice out of Michigan with a 35-yard reception on the game's third play from scrimmage and capped the opening drive with a 9-yard touchdown.
"This guy is just a phenomenal football player all the way around, and they do a really good job of featuring his talents as well," Saban said. "He's been extremely productive in a lot of ways. Everybody knows about the passes that he catches, but he's also a really good blocker and does a good part in his executing whatever he needs to do to help his teammates have success as well."
Alabama thrived last month with the underdog role in whipping the Bulldogs, and the Crimson Tide have been saddled with that status again.
The Bulldogs were 6.5-point favorites for the SEC championship and were 3-point favorites as of Tuesday afternoon.
"Being an underdog is being an underdog," Saban said. "They have a really good team that's very well-respected, and I know that we have a tremendous amount of respect for them. It's important for our players to know what they need to do to continue to have success in this next game regardless of what happened in the last game and regardless of who was favored and who were the underdogs and all that kind stuff."
Said Tide fifth-year senior running back Brian Robinson: "Sometimes we feel like the underdog even when we're expected to win a game. It's just a mindset that our team has and a mindset that our team lives with. We'll be motivated, and we'll come out with the underdog mentality and be ready to play."
Georgia had its heralded defense humbled in Atlanta, yielding 536 yards and never sacking Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young. The inability to get to Young resulted in the Heisman Trophy winner throwing for 421 yards and rushing for 40.
Young's total offense set an SEC title game record.
"He did a good job of moving around in the pocket and creating time," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "He's way more elusive than people give him credit for. He's an extremely good athlete with elite spacial awareness. He knows where his people are, where he's protected and where he's going with the ball, and it wasn't for a lack of trying.
"We brought a lot of different pressures, and they did a good job of picking those pressures up."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.