With a long awaited chance to go to the big show to find out about this Discovery BCS thing, we're down to what really matters: Winning the SEC Championship. All the rest of the talk is irrelevant, because we got a much bigger elephant in the room, and he's a pretty feisty one. Here's some pregame takes as we inch ever so closer to Sat afternoon and our actual work continues to get more and more undone.
I think at this point we all have familiarized ourselves with the stats. What we see is an Alabama defense that likes to give teams a shutout, and often pairs that with scoring a good many points on their own. Make no mistake, this is a good Alabama team. However, there's another team that has a stout defense, and likes to score a lot themselves with our own Georgia Bulldogs. So rather than get into this stat or that, I want to give you my hopes and fears and what I think we may see happen.
To begin, the biggest unknown for me is which Aaron Murray shows up. We've talked about it all over the blog, and our rivals and enemies have tried to use the "can't win the big game" mantra to get under our skins. The truth is, Murray has had the yips that have led to bad starts and put our team in a hole that's hard to climb out of. But, it's not always just him, sometimes it's poor blocking, sometimes it's lack luster play calling. What I do know is the Aaron Murray of the Vandy game, with the pistol formation, was lights out. What I saw against Auburn was methodical, precise, and at times NFL level pitch and catch with great play action pass and run. Give him some time, and I think he can get it done. What will be critical is for Coach Mike Bobo is to continue to do what has brought our offense much success in the last month: Keep opening up the playbook, stay creative, get play makers in space, use the FB and the TE. Stay on the gas! We are running offenses with 3 or 4 wide outs and releasing a back out of the play action, we occasional use the pistol, we are running play action out of the power I. This has all brought success, it is a diversity and complexity that I don't think Alabama has seen, and with the speed of our backs and receivers while Murray can now more quickly check through his reads, that's a lot on the plate for Bama to defend against. Because of that, I think we can expect Kirby Smart to try and mix looks to mix blitzes and keep Murray's tempo off and cause confusion in his audibles. One other thing, the Red and Black used the hurry up very effectively against GT, and I hope we can do that again. Bottom line: Play our game, and when it goes poorly, get up, and stay on target, keep working what works, and working the play action.
When I look at Bama as compared to Georgia, what I see from Bama is a very disciplined team that executes very well. A very sound, balanced team that has very good players across the board. I expect Bama to get their points, and to fight for 60 minutes. Nick Saban has a large strength in that he expects and works for every inch of the field and every second of the clock. It's another extra wrinkle to their benefit that they don't make the "stupid mistakes" or give up on plays and have high expectations to perform well for the entire game. Although we all know they have an effective defense (kind of the best one), and I described already how I think our creative play action can break that defense down, they also have a formidable offensive line. One thing that impressed me in the Tide vs LSU Tigers game was a line of scrimmage camera shot that showed Bama exploding off the snap in incredibly perfect timing, railing the LOS back in a blink. Add that in with my biggest fear - Crimson RB Eddie Lacy, and you have a tough team to stop. Lacy lowers his shoulders, squares up, and becomes a battering ram. We don't want him head on man to man where we can help it. I don't think we can completely stop their run, but I think we can, and will need to, slow it down. We can do this the Grantham way, using a variety of looks and hybrid positions to keep Bama off tempo. And breaking their rhythm I think is hugely critical. It's brought us to the dance, and I hope we keep dancing with her. One way to do that is to continue our very physical play, and make AJ McCarron never feel comfortable. The old "make them one dimensional" bit. Contain, collapse any pocket, and then watch the Alec Ogletree vs Eddie Lacy show. If we can pressure their pass and sneak up our DBs a little more, that's going to help a whole lot. I think we can make AJ McCarron much more uncomfortable than he has been this year by confusing his reads, and I think that is his weakness, just not one exploited hardly at all to Bama's credit.
The last bit is getting down to what's in our heads. Can Georgia fight back from a two TD deficit? We may need to. Can UGA also play with superb execution and all our strengths for 60 minutes without getting stupid? They better; we have the playmakers and we have the play-callers, but we are going to need some good football IQ for this one. What I see is a focused, solid, well-oiled but perhaps a touch vanilla Alabama team (and vanilla is ok when you kill most everyone, it bites you in the close games) facing a motivated, physical Georgia team that uses a wide variety of looks on both sides of the ball. What that means is we get down to parity: Does our creativity overcome their execution? I think it can. And thanks to the media and Bama's own success, Georgia can let it all hang out, go for broke, and leave nothing on the table. We can get emotional and use that edge as the underdog. It should be a great game, and other teams have shown us it can be a winnable one. My hope is on the physical, determined, mean, hungry Dawgs coming out this Saturday with poised calm leadership from Aaron Murray, because player versus player and playbook vs playbook, I think we have an edge. Alabama, however, is used to the big stage and doing what needs to be done on it. Just need them Dawgs to hunker down one more time. Thank you Georgia Bulldogs for fighting out hard the rest of the year and giving us this amazing SEC Championship Game. It's been a special year with a special team. In the meantime...