The folks at Dawgbone.net have the quotes for you. Suffice it to say that there are not a lot of people outside Athens who think that the 'Dawgs will pull off a road win in Tuscaloosa this weekend. I'm not so sure. For starters, Lee Corso will certainly park his hindquarters squarely on the Saban bandwagon, which is akin to getting a political endorsement from O.J. Simpson, or at least having Britney Spears serve as a character witness at your child custody hearing. I just have a good feeling about this game. I feel the wheels are starting to finally gain some traction, and things may be moving in the right direction. And while your directions to the game this week won't go through Five Points, there are five things you need to know you'll see on Saturday:
1) A critical first 15 minutes. You can't win a road game in the SEC in the first quarter, but you can come darn close to losing one. Just ask Nick Saban. With Corso, Herbie and the gang on site, and Bammers from Mobile to Huntsville under the impression that they'll be 8-0 before playing LSU in November, Bryant-Denny is going to be a stadium on the edge of pandemonium at the outset. We have to grab momentum early, or the Crimson Tide could be rolling downhill from the get go. Speaking of momentum, I think the kicking game will be a huge key, and that worries me. We've been abyssmal covering kicks all year, and Alabama has looked really good in the return game. Just one more thing for you to worry about. . .
2) Rhythm is a passer, not a dancer. With apologies to synthpoppers Snap!, I think the quarterback who leads his team to victory on Saturday will be the one who finds a rhythm early (see #1, above) and avoids the happy feet which both Matt Stafford and John Parker Wilson have displayed at times this season. While he led his team back against Arkansas, make no mistake, Wilson's final numbers in that game were not great (53% completion percentage), and Matt Stafford actually has a higher QB Rating, completion percentage, and TD/Int. ratio this season against similar competition. Both signal callers have a tendency to throw off the back foot and sail balls into coverage when they get rattled. The one who does the least of that this weekend will walk off the field the victor.
Happy Feet. Good for penguins. Great for Steve Martin. Very bad for quarterbacks.
3) A downfield chess match. The last time Georgia played a Nick Saban coached team (2004 in Athens) we flamed the Bayou Bengal secondary for several big downfield plays. The reason these were open was that Saban's defenses have traditionally played a lot of man coverage and blitzed off the edge. This means that several times a game you can put the ball up in the air and see whether it's the receiver or the cornerback that comes down with it. If the receivers win the battles, you could beat Little Nicky handily.
But that's not entirely the case any more. In watching Bama against Vanderbilt and Arkansas, I don't get the impression that they're playing as much man coverage. And when they are, they're rolling safeties over and dropping backers. I wonder if this is because Saban doesn't feel truly comfortable with the secondary he inherited from Mike Shula. Really, I have no idea. Georgia may have an advantage in that we don't have a "go to" receiver who should be the obvious target of the roll, with the possible exception of Sean Bailey. I think Kirby Smart and Nick Saban will plan to play a lot of cover two to take both Bailey and Demiko Goodman out of the game down the sidelines. When they do, the underneath routes will be open if we can hit them. Look for MoMass and Tripp Chandler to get a lot of chances. If they make the most of them, we'll be in good shape. If we start dropping balls, it could be a long evening.
4) It's the running game, stupid. Just as President George H.W. Bush needed reminding that, when all else fails, Americans vote with their wallets, we football fans sometimes need reminding that all other things being equal the team that lines up and simply asserts its will over the other usually wins the football game. We absolutely have to present a credible running threat to open up the passing game, and even more important we have to be able to run the ball to move it on the road and at night in Tuscaloosa. We have to be able to run the football to keep our defense off the field and out of the way of what's looking like a pretty good Alabama offensive line. We must run the football. Period.
5) Georgia 27, Alabama 24. Sure, the national media and the newly Saban-centric Alabama media say that Georgia doesn't have a chance in this one. Alabama has the momentum, they say. Georgia is too young, they say. Saban is a great big game coach, they say. All those things are true. But you'll rarely go wrong picking a Mark Richt coached Bulldog squad on the road with something to prove. Alabama fans know this as well as anyone. This game is going to be a battle down to the very end. But I think Alabama will be coming from behind at home for the second week in a row, and this time they run out of gas against a much better defense than the one they saw last week.