There’s really no good way to approach this, but we will keep going under the assumption that Georgia and Alabama will play football Saturday night.
The red elephant in the room is that Coach Nick Saban of Alabama has tested positive for COVID-19. At time of writing, there were no other football program players or personnel announced, so I am presuming this is limited to Coach Saban. No matter what, we all wish the best for Coach Saban with a speedy recovery. It goes without saying, but well, I’ll say it anyway:
The unknown is the X factor, that this virus has proven unpredictable thus far. Because of little time and resources, thrown more at prevention and a cure than analyzing the data, we really just know these young men and all the support personnel are putting themselves at risk to contract the virus as they participate in college football. Who contracts it, who suffers symptoms, who will be hospitalized, and what (if any) long-term health repercussions result are more of the unknown. We are all hopeful for the best possible outcome - that everyone remains healthy, and safe. And with that, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Here is what I’m NOT worried about for Saturday’s tilt against the Crimson Tide:
1) Short yardage. It’s just not likely it will happen again so soon. What are the chances we have a fourth and 1 in our own territory early in the game? Or a ball on the goal line where we can punch it in and turn the momentum of the game in our favor? It’s not like Coach Smart in his young career has had to deal with recurring scenarios; like celebrations for a touchdown against Tennessee drawing a penalty, having to switch quarterbacks in the first half of the season’s first game, or even facing the backup Alabama quarterback once you’ve seemingly got the game in control. Amirite?
2) Bush league. Georgia wideout George Pickens did a thing Saturday, and everyone saw it. He is not shy and seems to lean on the talkative side to the opposing team. Unfortunately, it should be limited to just when he’s on the field. And even then, I’d rather see him break an arm tackle on the sideline, one-hand a 50-50 ball at the high point, or tippy toe the back of the endzone a little more before he gets up in someone else’s face and talks smack. I know he’s getting lots of defensive attention, but you have to put team first. Coach Smart will have this straightened out, but I imagine he’s heard an earful from Cortez Hankton. I don’t want to think about what Scott Cochran is like.
3) Shotgun snaps. Trey Hill’s thighs are… not slim. To steal a line, the UGA equipment manager stocks thigh pads in S, M, L, Earl Campbell, and then Trey Hill. Yet Hill has been more than serviceable, and if Sam Pittman trusted him under center, and Kirby hasn’t taken him out, I’m totally fine with it. He was just a little amped, and needs to compartmentalize – blocking assignment (1), then go to snap a perfect pigskin (2). First, execute (2), then go execute (1).
Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch on AM radio, so here’s what I AM worried about:
1) Balance. And yes, Alabama is fairly balanced. They’ve rushed 103 times and scored 12 touchdowns, and passed 91 times, into the endzone 8 times. Sure the yardage is skewed to the passing game, but they are by no means one-dimensional. But the balance I’m speaking of belongs to one man, Najee Harris. At 6’2” and 230 lbs, he demonstrates extremely good balance. Being tall, he takes hits high and low. Yet he retains his footing, keeping his pad level right seemingly all the time, shredding a tackler here, running through an arm tackle there, even hurdling on occasion. He’s just hard to bring down, and it has brought him over 115 yards per game.
2) Underneath. You know of Tide wideout Jaylen Waddle. He of the 20 yards per catch and 130 yards per game. And you know even as a sophomore on a team loaded with NFL talent in 2019, he still caught 3 balls a game, still scored a touchdown every other game, and still had an average yards per catch north of 16. And yes, that 2019 receiving corps included Henry Ruggs (picked #12 by the Raiders) and Jerry Jeudy (#15 to the Broncos). So Waddle was the 4th option last season… do you know who was actually the most productive receiver in that group? Devonta Smith. And he’s still here.
Smith caught 68 balls last year and 14 of them went the distance. He easily had the most receiving yards in 2019 and was inches behind Ruggs for most yards per catch. And he’s leading Alabama this season with 9 catches a game – very Kearis Jackson territory. Waddle is getting in the highlights more, but Smith is getting the ball, with a lot of them thrown on medium or short crossing routes. Many times pick plays, or using the middle ref to screen the defense and let Smith catch it on the run. And when our safeties come up for a out and up route, and the other goes to help the deep sideline, Smith is catching the ball in stride and a head of steam. It’s like the Bill Walsh 49ers – I just don’t know how you can stop them.
3) Stayin’ Alive! A lot has been made of Alabama’s #1 offense in every meaningful category going up against the likewise #1 defense. And that is what I’m worried about (see above). They’re running it for 175 yards a game. They’ve got at least 2 more 2020 NFL Draft early rounders on the outside. And they’ve got a quarterback completing over 79% of his passes! And who knows how to keep plays alive.
Junior QB Mac Jones got just enough playing time last year (when Tua went down with a season-ending injury) to get comfortable with both SEC defenses and Offensive Coordinator After-dark Sark. He faced both Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Michigan in the (insert New Years B1G/SEC non-CFP game here), both of which were stout defenses with NFL talent, and threw for 300+ yards and 3+ touchdowns in each. Has he faced a defense like the 2020 version of Georgia? No, but he has also shown few weaknesses.
He’s of the just athletic enough to surprise you caliber athlete. He won’t run, but he can move in the pocket and I’ve seen a couple of roll-outs that looked scripted. A prototypical pocket passer, if you don’t harass him he will pick you apart. Make no mistake, he can make plays out of the pocket. Is he that good? Well, he’s good enough to find his incredibly speedy and elusive wide-outs, who are probably even more dangerous when they have to break off their routes due to QB pressure. We have to either blindside him, or keep the pocket collapsing up the middle, and HAVE to keep contain so he can’t get good looks at #6 or #17, or #22 out of the backfield.
Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comments below what worries you about our between the Bulldogs of Georgia and the Crimson Tide of Alabama.
And as always…