I’ve looked at stats, read beat writers’ takes, checked game film and after all that, it’s coming down to three things for me.
Bryce Young’s feet. If you haven’t looked at the stats from the Iron Bowl, you might want to, because they’re pretty astonishing. Auburn’s defense did a great job of bottling Young up. His 110.25 passer rating was easily the worst of the season for him and being sacked seven times led to him rushing the ball 11 times for minus-23 yards. He moves around, but prefers to throw the ball rather than take off running with it. I wonder if there will be a greater emphasis on calling RPO plays where he does in fact run more than we’ve seen to take pressure off a shaky o-line and a precarious running back situation. Remember, he did pull the Iron Bowl out when he had to, but if he goes 25/51 Saturday, I like Georgia’s chances a lot.
Take a look at something Bill Connelly ($$) posted yesterday:
One key: Bryce Young’s sack rate. After averaging 42.7 points per game against its first six power conference opponents, Alabama averaged only 24.0 points (in regulation) against LSU, Arkansas and Auburn. Opponents are doing a better job of taking away quarterback Bryce Young’s quickest reads and making him freeze a bit: Young went from taking sacks on 5.6% of his dropbacks and throwing 30.3% of his passes at or behind the line to 9.9% and 18.8%, respectively. He’s completing more downfield passes, but at a price.
Georgia has the best defense in the country. The Dawgs harass quarterbacks without blitzing (ninth in sack rate, 80th in blitzes per dropback) and swallow up short passes. Auburn held Young to 4.9 yards per dropback last week, and Georgia’s pass defense is quite a bit better than Auburn’s. Can the Tide make enough plays to keep up?
If they can’t run the ball with at least some effectiveness, my answer is no.
Georgia’s offense staying out of 3rd downs. In conference play, Georgia hasn’t been bad converting third downs, but they’re nowhere near being in Alabama’s class in that regard. (Over the course of the entire season, ‘Bama is second nationally.) The reason we haven’t noticed is because, under Todd Monken, Georgia has been fabulous staying out of third down situations. The Dawgs, in fact, have taken the fewest third down snaps in the country. Third down has been Stetson’s kryptonite, as reflected by his passer ratings by downs: 188.78 on first; 218.08 on second; and 128.35 on third. If Alabama’s defense proves capable of forcing Georgia to take more third down snaps, I’m afraid we’re gonna notice. For them to succeed in that, though, I think they’re going to have to come up with a way to contain Brock Bowers without compromising their defense in other facets. They’re the second-best defense Georgia faces this season and I think they’ll try to scheme on that side in much the same way that Clemson did.
Intangibles. Each team carries their own set into the game. For Alabama, it’s dealing with the reality that it’s the underdog in a championship game it has to win to make the CFP field. That’s alien territory for that program. Saban and his players may seem calm and businesslike in their public statements, but I find it hard to believe there isn’t at least some level of anxiety, especially after that narrow Iron Bowl escape, as they prepare for Saturday. Still, this is Saban, the GOAT, a man who’s certainly been around the block a few times before. If Alabama goes down, it won’t be due to lack of preparation.
On Georgia’s side, we all know what that is, what Seth Emerson ($$) refers to as the “got to see it to believe it” factor. I was there for the 2012 and 2018 SECCGs and the 2017 national championship game, and the common thread in all three was that the Dawgs couldn’t hold respectable leads in any of them. Kirby may swear up and down that the past isn’t the present, but you can’t convince me that every player and every coach on this team hasn’t thought at least a little bit about the recent postseason history between these two teams. What does give me hope this go ’round — a lot of hope, in fact — is that Smart has done a fabulous job of keeping this team focused and on an even keel from the opening kickoff in Charlotte through victory formation at Georgia Tech. He’s got the weapons. He’s just got to make sure his team finishes what it starts.