ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer (69) and Warren Ericson block during the SEC title game on Dec. 4 in Atlanta. The Bulldogs must again prepare to face Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr., who leads the country in sacks and tackles for loss this season.

The last time No. 1 Alabama (13-1) faced No. 3 Georgia (13-1), things could not have gone much better for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama dropped 41 points on the Bulldogs — more than double the next-highest total they have allowed this season — in the Southeastern Conference title game on Dec. 4. Bryce Young shredded Georgia's otherwise dominant defense for 421 passing yards that day in Atlanta, essentially locking up the Heisman Trophy.

So it's back to the drawing board for Georgia, but just run it back for Bama, right?

"I don't think you do everything the same, but I also don't think you can make a lot of changes that the players are not going to go out and be able to play and execute with confidence," Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this week.

Both teams are expecting a few new wrinkles — within reason — when they meet Monday night in Indianapolis with a national championship on the line.

"They're not going to change up and go all Arkansas on us," Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said. "They're not going to do that. They're going to be Alabama. And we're going to be Georgia. And we're going to see who executes better."

Arkansas was one of four SEC teams that lost to both Alabama and Georgia this season, with the Bulldogs shutting the Razorbacks out while scoring 37 points on Oct. 2 in Athens and the Tide never trailing during a 42-35 home victory on Nov 20.

Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman joined ESPN analysts Greg McElroy (a former Alabama quarterback) and Cole Cubelic (a former Auburn offensive lineman) to help break down the matchups that could determine a higher-stakes rematch between the SEC rivals.

some text
AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, left, and Alabama counterpart Nick Saban talk before the SEC title game on Dec. 4 in Atlanta. Smart is 0-4 against his former boss since taking over at Georgia before the 2016 season, but he gets another shot at victory against Saban in Monday's College Football Playoff national championship in Indianapolis.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT WILL?

Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. is the best defensive player in the country. The sophomore has 17.5 sacks among his 33.5 tackles for loss, and both totals lead major college football.

Georgia should feel good about its offensive tackles, especially left tackle Jamaree Salyer, who was key in shutting down Michigan star pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson in the semifinals. Anderson presents a different kind of challenge, though.

"The thing I like about Alabama is all the different things they do with him," Pittman said.

Defensive coordinator Pete Golding likes to use Anderson on stunts and slants to get him attacking different parts of the line of scrimmage.

"I think he's best when he's on the move," Cubelic said.

Anderson is a game wrecker for an Alabama defense that's a little underrated, and it will take a team effort by Georgia to neutralize him.

 

ATTACKING BAMA'S CORNERS

The Tide have shown some vulnerabilities in their secondary all season, and then senior cornerback Josh Jobe was lost for the College Football Playoff with a foot injury. Jalyn Armour-Davis, who had been dealing with a hip problem, returned to start against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl semifinal last Friday but was in and out of the game.

Without them, Khyree Jackson and freshman Kool-Aid McKinstry are Alabama's main cornerbacks.

If Georgia can hold off Anderson and the Alabama rush, it should find some holes in pass coverage, but can Bennett and his receivers take advantage? The former walk-on has demonstrated over and over that while he is no Heisman Trophy winner, he usually can get the job done at quarterback.

The Bulldogs have talent out wide, but their best weapons are freshman tight end Brock Bowers, who had 10 catches for 139 yards in the SEC title game, and running back James Cook, who had four catches for 128 yards in the Orange Bowl.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bowers often lines up in receiver spots.

"That guy is a problem," McElroy said. "And there's not really anybody that you can put on him that is going to disrupt what he can contribute to the game."

It might not be a matter of whether Georgia has the players to attack Alabama's secondary, but it's in the Bulldogs' DNA to play that way. Pittman was Georgia's offensive line coach for four seasons under coach Kirby Smart before taking over at Arkansas in 2020.

"Kirby likes to play physical football and get big with people and bully them," Pittman said, "and it's hard to bully Alabama."

 

TIDE O-LINE'S HEALTH

The story of the first Alabama-Georgia matchup this season was the Tide's offensive line, which Pittman said "played better in that game than they had possibly all year."

The Bulldogs' defense has 45 sacks this season, and the SEC title game was the only one in which it was shut out in that category. Cubelic said it seemed as if Georgia didn't have a good plan for pressuring Young the way Auburn and LSU did.

Smart was Saban's defensive coordinator before returning to his alma mater as head coach, and Pittman said their defensive schemes still have a lot in common. The Bulldogs and Tide mostly play straight up on first and second downs, with lots of pressures and more exotic looks on third — especially those twists and blitzes that attack the middle of an offensive line.

The Tide tinkered with their line this season and found a combination they liked late but could be forced to make more changes in the title game. Right guard Emil Ekyior (shoulder) and right tackle Chris Owens (ankle) both left the Cotton Bowl with injuries.

Meanwhile, All-America nose tackle Jordan Davis and the Georgia defensive front reverted back to regular-season form against Michigan.

 

NO METCHIE

Maybe the biggest difference between the first and second meeting when Alabama has the ball is that the Tide will be without second-leading receiver John Metchie to complement All-America deep threat Jameson Williams.

Metchie was lost for the season against Georgia with a knee injury, but not before he had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Alabama always has another receiver, but nobody else is as much as of a threat as Metchie when it comes to gaining yards after a catch.

"Now Slade Bolden can kind of be that a little bit in the slot," McElroy said. "The young guys are great, but they're still going to miss that presence."

 

RUSSO'S CALL

Picking against Saban and Alabama twice in the same season is never wise, but the prediction here is: Georgia, 28-24.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT