The Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m generally aware of them despite having never, ever watched them play the Georgia Bulldogs. Pretty sure this is the teams’ first meeting. Still, I just respect the heck out of them.
Respect and incite are entirely different things though. So to educate us about all things Tide I’ve brought in a ringer. Brent Taylor is an Executive Editor at Roll Bama Roll, one of the longest running SB Nation sites, and also the one with the largest percentage of readers who have unironically sung along to a Gary Glitter song. Brent is an expert on the migratory birds of Mauritius*, an above-average hibachi chef**, and has seen Forrest Gump 7,468 times***.
He’s also a connoisseur of Crimson. A zen master of all things Yellowhammer. And he agreed to answer some of our most burning questions ahead of this afternoon’s SEC Championship Game.
MD: The Tide offensive line has gotten a lot of unwelcome attention this season, including after Auburn racked up seven sacks in the Iron Bowl. What’s going on with that unit? Injury? Inexperience? Unfair criticism?
BT: Oh the criticism is very fair, it just took the national media about a month to catch up with how much flak they’ve taken from Alabama fans. Part of the issue is the simple fact that losing an Outland trophy winner, a Remington trophy winner, and 3-year starter from the 2020 line tends to be... not great. Part of the issue was that Alabama signed two five-star offensive tackles in 2021, and apparently neither one came in ready to take over the right tackle job. Instead we put a 6th year perennial back-up in because he “understands the offense,” and that’s gone about as well as you could predict... But nobody else has been able to take his job.
The other main issue has been at center. Darrian Dalcourt has been the back-up there the last couple of years and has been one of those guys that draws a lot of praise from media and coaches every offseason. And now that he finally got his shot, his snaps have been about as accurate as a 10-year old with a shotgun. Plus he’s taken his lumps as a blocker. That said, Dalcourt went out with an injury in the second half of the Auburn game, and a dude not even listed on the depth chart (Seth McLaughlin) came in and the offense actually started moving. Maybe just a coincidence?
Anyway, most of the pass blocking issues have really just been speed rushes on the right tackle over and over and over. Aside from that, the rest of the group has generally been good enough. Bryce Young just naturally takes more sacks than most QBs.
The run blocking, though? Gross across the board. Alabama is like 80th in the country in short-yardage success rate.
If there’s any one thing about this Alabama team that dooms them in the post season, it’s going to be the blocking.
MD: Alabama has been about as snake-bitten at tailback as anyone in the country, most recently with Brian Robinson’s apparent leg injury. What’s the latest on his availability? If Robinson can’t go who do the Tide have to tote the rock besides Trey Sanders?
BT: Well, Saban won’t say specifically, but it looked like Brian Robinson solidly pulled his hamstring. And that’s not something that fixes itself in 7 days.
Jase McClellan, an explosive sophomore with a lot of chops in the passing game, was supposed to be splitting time close to 50-50 with Robinson until an ACL finished him early this season. Then 3rd string guy Roydell Williams started showing some promise, and he tore his ACL too. 5-star freshman Camar Wheaton messed up his meniscus right before the season started.
All of that leaves Trey Sanders, who missed his first season with a broken foot and then missed most of year two when a car crash basically shattered his pelvis. His carries at the end of the game against Auburn were basically the first non-blowout carries of his career.
Sooo..... yeah. Freshman wide receiver Christian Leary is kind-of running back shaped and operated some as a 3rd down back with some speed, even if he’s got no clue how to pass block. And linebacker Demouy Kennedy did play some wildcat QB in high school, so he’s now the primary backup RB.
Everything is fine. Just fine. Nothing to see here.
MD: Georgia hasn’t given up more than 17 points all season. Can Alabama eclipse that? If so, what’s the blueprint?
BT: Oh I suspect so. Alabama had a dud game against Auburn because of cow voodoo in West Georgia (which, if anyone understands our pain there, it’s you UGA fans), but other than that, they’ve scored points, and a lot of them. Even if he’s rattled and things are going poorly, Bryce Young is going to make some huge explosives on busted plays. And unless he gets ejected for targeting again, Jameson Williams is good for outrunning everyone on the field for a TD at least once per game.
Don’t get me wrong... The Tide can’t run the ball with a 4th string RB with a pelvis held together by glue, and the OL is going to ruin some drives.But the Tide will hit some big plays, even if they can’t find any consistent success. I think somewhere around 30 points seems most likely.
MD: I tend to think that the way to beat this Bulldog team isn’t so much to score points as it is to limit the Bulldogs offensively the way Clemson did in the opener. How is noted defensive mastermind Peter Nedabiah Golding going to do that? (FYI, Wikipedia doesn’t list Petey Ice’s middle name so I decided to improvise one, hope that’s okay).
BT: Very, very quietly, Mr. Peter Golding the Hobbit has put together a front 7 that’s arguably the best in the nation. Before the UGA fans come at me with pitchforks, hear me out: The Tide’s defensive line is 2nd in stuff rates, 2nd in line yards, 12th in power success rates, and 2nd in rushing success rates, all of which outrank the Bulldogs’ much more ballyhooed defense. Of course, with that is an inherent schematic difference - Alabama is much, much more aggressive up front, and are more susceptible to bigger passes and busted plays than Georgia (who obliterate the Tide in most other advanced defensive stats).
What I’m getting at here is that if UGA comes into this game expecting to “establish their will” or something archaic like that, it could lead to disaster. Or honestly, even if Kirby Smart doesn’t trust Stetson Bennett to push the ball down the field and wants to keep it short and conservative, it will play into Alabama’s defensive strengths: the safeties and corners are all powerful tacklers.
There are going to be plays to be had against this defense, but Alabama is going to bet on Bennett not being able to make those downfield throws as consistently as Bryce Young does.
MD: Fill in the blank: Alabama wins this game if ________.
BT: You’re going to hate me for this answer (Editor’s note: That horse has been out of the barn since 2008, Brent.)
But Alabama wins if Kirby Smart chokes in big moments again. Georgia is the better team, and Alabama is the underdog. The Tide has defense that doesn’t bend, but also is prone to occasional breaks. The offensive line is a patchwork quilt, there are no running backs left, the WRs are prone to weird drops, and the QB will sometimes decide that taking an 18 yard sack is a viable strategy.
With all of that, you have a team that is built for a whole lot of variance on both sides of the ball, and they’ve been playing on the razor’s edge that way all season. If Alabama can drag UGA into a high-variance battle of big plays and magnified importance on any snap... Do you trust Kirby Smart to maintain the discipline and let his team’s talent win out in the biggest moment?
Alternatively, we could just put in a backup QB and it’s a sure win against Georgia... Right? :)
MD: Because we must: what is your score prediction, and how do we get there?
BT: Ehhh.... I’m not confident in this at all, but I’m going to go with a 34-28 UGA win. The Dogs come out hot and race to a 24-3 lead at halftime with a couple of huge busted touchdown catches from Bowers and Cook, but Alabama gets their act together and makes a valiant comeback that strikes fear in the hearts of everyone that’s followed any version of Georgia/Atlanta sports the last few years. But even with all the momentum on their side, the clock eventually takes Alabama out, and UGA moves on to the playoffs.
Thanks again to Brent for educating us on the Crimson Tide. Be sure to check out Roll Bama Roll for all the best in Alabama sports coverage.
*This seems unlikely, but I guess it’s possible.
**Apparently this is more an aspiration than a current skill set. But you gotta have goals, man.
***Just the scenes with Sonny Shroyer as Bear Bryant. And the one where Forrest runs across the country to “Running on Empty” because, let’s face it, that song holds up.