We have just over 24 hours to fill before toe meets leather inside the Georgia Dome. Those hours may pass too slowly, but they'll pass better here. Welcome to your virtual tailgate.
How about a little music for all the Bulldog fans who are tired of waiting:
We'll get to the big game shortly, but for now let's take a moment to talk about the big news of this morning, Tennessee's glorious faceplant while chasing Jon Gruden. First, a cautionary word about coaching rumors, gleaned from covering a coaching search or two: even reliable information from good sources can be flat ass wrong. I know that sounds strange, but there are a lot of agendas at work in any given coaching search. The people who can give you the right info often don't. They float trial balloons, they dispense misinformation, the information changes. Nothing's for sure until the ink dries.
That being said, I think the Vols dodged a bullet in not getting Gruden. The guy trotted out to third base to pinch run for Tony Dungy, scored on a passed ball, and for some reason everyone pretends he hit a home run. Gruden's record as an NFL coach was not good, he has no experience running a college program, and his schtick got old fast in Oakland. And like a lot of NFL guys, I have a feeling he was going to have difficulty following the 20 hour rule, and a lot of other rules.
Now Tennessee can move along to deciding whether they want to try to back up the truck for Charlie Strong or deciding whether they want to take their chances on another Saban assistant in the person of Kirby Smart.
Now, let's talk about teams still playing football this season. I spent this past Sunday rewatching Alabama's games against Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. I was trying to figure out what Coach Richt and company could do to defeat a team the entire national media keeps telling me is unbeatable now that they've been beaten once (let that sink in for a moment). Here's what I've come up with.
First, if you did a Pepsi Challenge test and didn't know who was wearing which uniforms, you couldn't tell them apart. Both offensively and defensively, their schemes are very similar. The offensive philosophies and formations are similar. The defenses favor right down to the blitz packages. Nobody's going to be very surprised very often by what they see. How they execute in response will make the difference.
Saban's defense does not like the hurry up. Yeah, he's bitched about it repeatedly at press conferences for the past two seasons. He says it's because it fatigues players and leads to injury. Whatever. Saban doesn't like the hurry up because it makes it harder for him to sub in his army of 5 star 3rd stringers and set up his myriad blitz packages. It will be important for Mike Bobo to use the hurry up judiciously, to keep the defense fresh and also push the tempo while on offense. The only way to do that it to get first downs. If Georgia is above 40% in 3rd down conversions, we'll be in this game. If we're above 60%, we win.
Some teams seem to think the solution to beating Bama's stellar offensive line is to stand toe to toe with them. Texas A&M took an entirely different approach, using smaller, faster defensive linemen and lots of stunts. That created some gaps, but it also allowed them to get pressure on A.J. McCarron. If Barrett Jones and Cyrus Kouandjio have a weakness it's that they're both very strong, but a little slow afoot. There's no way Kouandjio can block Jarvis Jones 1 on 1, so it'll be up to Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier to keep him from having to do so over and over again. That means getting yards up the middle in the running game against a Georgia front that's been pretty good against pro-style running attacks this season. Just ask the Florida Gators, who provide a much better picture of what you can expect matchup-wise in this game than any other school on the Bulldogs' schedule.
Alabama's secondary is vulnerable, much more so than in the past. They have phenomenal athletes in the back four, but those guys have sometimes been just a hair out of position at times. That's the kind of thing that justifiably chaps Nick Saban's hindquarters. Georgia, with Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell, may be the team best positioned to exploit that. I don't know that 'Bama's safeties can cover those guys deep if the corners don't get back to help. Saban loves to play man coverage, which may open up the "back shoulder" routes which Mike Bobo has come to love against athletic secondaries. All of that working is predicated on the Bulldog offensive line holding up, which I think may be the key matchup of the afternoon. If they get help from our freshman tailbacks, and we can get the tight ends out in the pattern, I think we'll be able to move the ball.
Finally, there's a good chance the quarterback who gets knocked down the least and can pass a concussion test tomorrow evening will be the one whose team wins. Neither Murray or McCarron can stand in and take blows from the guys on these defenses. I don't see a lot of points being scored. It will be, like most SEC Championship Games, a slugfest decided by mistakes and opportunities. The team that makes the fewest of the former and the most of the latter will punch the golden ticket to Miami. I don't know who it will be, but I'm tired of waiting to find out. Until tomorrow . . .