So far a lot of the talk about Georgia-Alabama II has been about curses, psychology, and all sorts of other intangible things. There’s good reason for all of that, but at the end of the day it will be the players on the field that determine how this game plays out.
So what position battles and personnel decisions should you have your eye on when toe meets leather on Monday night? We’ve got you covered right here...
Alabama’s WR’s vs UGA’s Slot DB/Star Position - The good news for Georgia? There’s no John Metchie in this matchup. Metchie turned in 6 receptions for 97 yards and a TD in just under a half of play before tearing his ACL in the first game between these two teams. While we hate to see any player get injured, there’s no doubt that not having him on the field changes the calculus in this game quite a bit. Jameson Williams will still be on the field, and with 7 catches for 186 yards and 2 TD’s he too toasted Georgia in the first game.
However dealing with one elite WR is a whole lot easier than trying to guard two. In game one Georgia actually held up pretty well on the boundaries.
Kelee Ringo: 6 TGT/2 REC, 63 YDS, 1 TD, 5 YAC
Derion Kendrick: 5 TGT/3 REC, 27 YDS, 9 YAC
If you told Georgia they were going to go into a game against Alabama and their boundary corners would only give up one big play and 5 receptions they would take it every single time. The problem in matchup one came when UGA had to guard the middle of the field. William Poole III got his first career start in the SEC Championship, and Alabama hunted him all day.
Poole: 11 TGT’s/9 REC’s, 164 YDS, 2 TD’s, 111 YAC allowed
It’s hard to know without having the defensive call, but it at least appeared that Poole was responsible for a couple of crucial coverage busts in Atlanta. Two came on 3rd down situations in the 2nd quarter, and one resulted in Alabama converting a 3rd & 10 when the score was 17-17. The other resulted in a 67 yard Jameson Williams TD.
To his credit, Poole played much better in the Orange Bowl, rewarding the faith of UGA’s coaching staff. Still, it wouldn’t shock me to see Georgia play Latavious Brini or Christopher Smith II at Star some against the Tide. Brini started there for most of the year, and Smith was the man who took his place when he gave up 6 receptions on Tennessee’s first 3 drives in the game in Knoxville. Smith was hobbled going into the first Bama game, but he appeared to be fully healthy last week in Miami. His strong cover skills could be massive for UGA in the slot, but it also might force them to play walk-on Dan Jackson at his usual Safety position. Keep an eye on this spot throughout the game. I think you will see UGA make some changes here early if Bama is able to pick on that position on their opening drives.
Georgia’s Perimeter Blocking vs Alabama’s DB’s & LB’s - In game one UGA was able to contain Alabama Edge Will Anderson Jr pretty well. Despite Georgia falling behind and passing 48 times, he wasn’t very disruptive until the game was well into garbage time.
Against Michigan’s talented pass rushers Georgia took turns pounding the middle of the Wolverines defense and running swing passes and screens to the outside. This mixture kept Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo from pinning their ears back and teeing off. On throws behind the line of scrimmage Stetson Bennett was 11/11 for 84 YDS. Those plays functioned as an extension of the running game, and they kept UGA ahead of the chains all night long.
With Alabama starting corners Josh Jobe and Jaylin Armour-Davis both injured, the Tide will be forced to choose between playing inexperienced DB’s or two corners who are less than 100%. If UGA can block well on those types of plays again then it can help keep UGA out of third-and-long situations. Georgia was just 3/12 on 3rd down conversions in the first matchup, and they don’t want to get into those spots with Will Anderson coming off of the edge.
UGA’s TE’s and WR’s need to have another good showing in the screen game to create easy yards and take some pressure off of a UGA offensive line that was only able to pave the way for 3.0 yards per carry against the Tide in December. James Cook ,Kenny McIntosh, and a few of Georgia’s shifty pass catchers can make a lot happen if you get them one-on-one opportunities with the ball on the boundary. Can Georgia do it?
UGA’s Defensive Gameplan vs Alabama’s Bunch Sets - If you’ve watched Alabama much this year then you know their three receiver bunch sets are where they go when they need a big play.
Against Cincinnati the Tide deployed a more run oriented attack without John Metchie, and it resulted in 200 yards on the ground for Brian Robinson. It would be a shock if UGA gave up much against the run, so what happens when the Dawgs get the Tide into 3rd and long plays?
You can count on Bama OC Bill O’Brien to dial up plenty of calls out of those bunch formations, and you can count on Georgia having a different plan to defend it than last time. Cincy held Alabama to just a 34% success rate through the air in their first game without John Metchie, but Bama was able to call on its bunch sets for big plays in red zone and third down situations.
Georgia did some things differently against similar looks when Michigan tried some bunch sets against the Dawgs, and it is imperative that Georgia knows its assignments when Alabama tries to use them this time around.
UGA’s Front Seven vs Alabama’s Offensive Line - The Georgia defense was dominant all season… And then the SEC Championship Game happened, and the Dawgs didn’t manage to record a sack for the first time all season. Despite Auburn and LSU showing that Alabama’s offense can get bogged down when bringing pressure, Georgia went with a strategy of bringing just three and four rushers throughout the first half. By the time the Dawgs adjusted, Alabama had pulled out of reach.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PRESSURE STATS
Young - 8/20 when blitzed for 104 YDS
Young - 17/23 for 308 and 3 TD’s when not blitzed
Young - 5/16 for 95 YDS when pressured
On Monday night, UGA needs to be able to get pressure in all sorts of ways. It’s important for the Bulldogs to bring some blitzes, but if they do it over and over the Crimson Tide will catch on and eventually they’ll start burning Georgia for big plays.
Cincinnati deployed some successful rush packages where they brought four rushers but didn’t even try to go at Crimson Tide LT Evan O’Neal. O’Neal is a stud, and the rest of this OL has been shaky at times this year. Is that a strategy Georgia can emulate?
It’s worth mentioning that Alabama could be without RG Emil Ekiyor (shoulder) and RT Chris Owens (ankle). Both left the Cotton Bowl with injuries, and they are listed as questionable. Against Michigan the Dawgs looked like their disruptive selves again up front. Who wins this battle could very well determine this football game.
Georgia’s Boundary WR’s vs Alabama’s Boundary Corners - We talked earlier about some of the health questions in the Crimson Tide secondary going into this game. Even at full strength this year, Alabama has struggled to play the ball in the air.
Stetson Bennett on Throws of 20+ YDS vs Michigan: 3/4, 145 YDS, 36.3 YPA, 1 TD
Georgia hit on its downfield shots against the Wolverines, and UGA should have some chances to throw deep balls against Alabama if it has success on early downs. Kool-Aid McKinstry struggled against both UGA and Cincy and is prone to getting a bit lost when in-phase with WR’s.
Georgia has some great 50/50 ball players in George Pickens, Jermaine Burton, AD Mitchell, and Brock Bowers. It would be wise for UGA to push some shots down the field to them in one-on-on matchups and see if they can make a play. If the Bulldogs are able to establish a consistent rushing threat then Alabama’s safeties will start creeping closer to the line of scrimmage. When they do, it should be bombs away down the sidelines.
We’ll have plenty more preview coverage on DawgSports throughout the weekend and Monday. Stick with us as you get ready for the National Championship.
As always, GO DAWGS!!!
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