Let’s face it — Ian Boyd asks the question we’re going to have to grapple with at some point.
The question may be obvious, but Boyd breaks the answer into two parts, the right way and the wrong way to beat the Tide.
Here’s what he says you need to do it wrongly:
Urban Meyer perfected the “wrong way” to beat Alabama, Gus Malzahn utilized it as well, this path is basically to beat them at their own game. The Alabama strategy for winning is to be superior in the trenches on both sides of the ball, play elite defense, and run the air out of the football.
The downside of this strategy is that it requires turning the OL and DL into revolving doors of 300+ pound athletes, the most scarce resource in the game, but Alabama’s recruiting machine has regularly pulled it off. The upside of their approach is that if you are consistently great in the trenches then you aren’t dependent on particular skill players.
Alabama nearly just won a title with a true freshman QB at the helm who’s far from a master of their passing attack. When he’s better in that regard, they’ll of course be even more dangerous on offense, but they don’t need great QB play for their formula of elite D and crushing run game to put them in title contention.
That sounds like Kirby Smart’s current blueprint, if we’re honest, and, indeed, Boyd agrees with that: “We can probably expect Saban’s pupil Kirby Smart to at least initially fall into the trap of trying to out-Saban Alabama.” And therein lies the rub. Is it reasonable to expect the pupil to surpass the master, especially when the master is notorious for not resting on his laurels?
The right way, as you can probably guess, was blazed by Clemson, and that is to combine a good defense with a dynamic passing game.
Other than 2013 Auburn, who had a first round LT, All-American FB, and phenomenal runners at QB and RB, or 2015 Ohio State who opened up their run game with a few vertical passes, not even these teams could run the ball particularly well on Bama. The Tide are going to stop the run and look to out-rush you if it kills them. You need to make sure that it does kill them, via the passing game.
No matter how many future NFL DBs or pass-rushers they stockpile in Tuscaloosa, the perfect pass can still beat them and it’s now evident that such a passing attack can be built at the collegiate level.
The hangups with this strategy is that waiting until your QB and passing game are in tip-top shape makes it harder to be in annual contention then the run game+defense strategy which is much more “plug and play.” However, the ceiling is also higher, particularly since it allows you a lane to the title that isn’t already occupied by Alabama.
Note that Boyd doesn’t say a word there about having a quarterback who’s also a running threat. It’s all about having a passing game that can carry the offense, since it’s a given that a Saban defense will shut down the run. (By the way, can we all agree that it was fairly impressive for Todd Gurley to rush for 122 yards in the 2012 SECCG?)
With a Jacob Eason still learning the offense and a receiving corps in the midst of a rebuild, it’s hard to see Georgia having that kind of aerial attack this season. The question, then, is what Georgia will field in that regard come 2018.