Game time is fast upon us. Previews have been offered all over the place. "College GameDay" is coming to Tuscaloosa, a fact about which the Gamecock faithful are none too happy . . . and, honestly, South Carolina fans have a point.
Based upon the latest accepted poll, this weekend's S.E.C. action features No. 14 South Carolina at No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 22 Georgia at No. 15 Alabama. On paper, the bigger game unquestionably is in Baton Rouge, especially since the Palmetto State Poultry beat the Classic City Canines in Athens.
If there is a valid explanation for this decision based upon editorial judgment rather than profit motive, it is that the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide are expected to play a closer game than are the Gamecocks and the Bayou Bengals. While the reality may differ, the numbers certainly bear out that perception.
Among S.E.C. squads, Alabama and Georgia rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in scoring offense; Georgia and Alabama rank third and fourth, respectively, in scoring defense; Alabama and Georgia rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in pass defense; Georgia and Alabama rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in kickoff return average; Alabama and Georgia rank third and fourth, respectively, in punt return average; Georgia and Alabama rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in penalty yards; Alabama and Georgia rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in opponents' penalty yards; Georgia and Alabama rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in red zone offense; Alabama and Georgia rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in kickoff coverage; Georgia and Alabama rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in time of possession; and the two teams are tied in red zone defense. That sounds like a pretty evenly matched game of football, if you ask me.
Three weeks into the season is about the earliest that statistics even arguably could be anything other than completely skewed by unrepresentative sample sizes, so take what follows with a grain of salt, but also understand that, when it comes to breaking down Georgia's upcoming opponent, I don't just give you a little bit of information; I don't even give you a whole lot of information; rather, I give you . . . Too Much Information.
We begin with the passing game:
Among Southeastern Conference squads, Tennessee is the only team to have put more passes into the air than Alabama. The Crimson Tide's 107 aerial attempts exceed even Kentucky's 101, which helps account for the fact that 'Bama averages almost a quarter of a football field better than Georgia in passing yardage per game (246.3 to the Bulldogs' 223.0).
While the 'Dawgs have aired it out less often than the Red Elephants, both teams are about equally effective by way of the forward pass. Each of tomorrow night's combatants has thrown five touchdown passes and the Classic City Canines hold a narrow edge in yards per pass (7.0 to Alabama's 6.9). Matthew Stafford is completing passes at a slightly better clip (58.0%) than John Parker Wilson (56.1%).
Because of the Crimson Tide's greater reliance on the passing game, 'Bama has tallied a league-leading 39 first downs through the air, but Wilson has thrown three interceptions in his first three games, the highest total by any of the top ten passers in the Southeastern Conference other than Brandon Cox, in whose misfortunes both the Georgia and Alabama faithful take delight. (I hate Auburn.)
As a team, the Tide has compiled a cumulative quarterback efficiency rating that ranks tenth in the conference, which may prove to be a good sign for a Georgia defense that, despite conceding the S.E.C.'s second-highest opponents' completion percentage (61.6%), surrenders just 169.3 passing yards per contest and has given up just one touchdown through the air.
Alabama, by contrast, is particularly stingy defensively, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 47.3 per cent of their throws, yet the Red Elephants have permitted four touchdowns through the air, equal to the number of catches in the end zone conceded by both Kentucky and Mississippi State.
Coming soon: A look at the running game. . . .