The Match Up - Bulldawg Illustrated’s sports writers break down Georgia-Alabama
by Jeff Dantzler, Murray Poole, Travis Ragsdale
photo by Rob Saye
When Bama has the ball
JD – Georgia’s defense will have its hands full with the best offense they’ve seen all
year. Alabama is led by the nation’s most dominant offensive line, one of the country’s
most accurate and mistake free quarterbacks, a tremendous pair of elite tailbacks and an
electric wide receiver. Since the narrow escape at Kentucky, despite giving up some yards,
Georgia’s defense has been exceptional. The Bulldogs have allowed 9, 10, 0, 14 and 10
over the past five games – that’s 8.6 per dating back to the victory in Jacksonville. Jarvis
Jones has had two of the all-time great individual defensive performances in program history
for Georgia this season. He was the national player of the week at Missouri and in
Jacksonville. He will be the Bulldogs unquestioned emotional leader and the Dogs need
him to make the big plays. But it comes down to the trenches. If Bama can
dictate with its running game, Georgia is in big trouble. If the Bulldogs can control
Alabama’s powerful rushing attack, Georgia will have a shot.
Murray – The Crimson Tide will be bringing an extremely balanced attack into the
Georgia Dome as, entering the finale against Auburn this past Saturday, Alabama was averaging
right at 210 yards a game on the ground and 219 per contest through the air. So
Todd Grantham’s defense really can’t concentrate on one particular area in trying to slow
down the Tide attack. In junior tailback Eddie Lacy, who had rumbled for 870 yards and 12
touchdowns going into the Auburn game, and freshman T.J. Yeldon, who had rushed for
809 yards and 9 scores, Alabama will throw a two-pronged ground attack at the Dogs, but
stymie this running game is what the Georgia defense must do to win the SEC title. Neutralize
a Bama O-line that includes Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones, slow down Lacy
and Yeldon and make Tide QB AJ McCarron beat you through the air would be the Bulldogs’
best bet. Certainly, however, with McCarron having thrown for 2,291 yards and 21
TDs entering the Auburn game, Jarvis Jones and the UGA pass rushers will need to be in
his face the game long.
Travis – Alabama’s offense is very similar to Georgia’s in that their success
relies heavily on the rushing attack. If Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon get rolling,
Georgia’s defense is going to be in loads of trouble. Georgia has to force quarterback
AJ McCarron to beat them.
JD – This is Georgia’s biggest game since January 1, 1983 when the top-ranked undefeated
Bulldogs fell to No. 2 Penn State 27-23 in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship.
There are enormous stakes in this one, two precious gems on the dream wishlist,
a Southeastern Conference championship and berth in the national title game. The winner
is the champion of the toughest league in the land plays for the big prize. Alabama is seeking
its third BCS crown in the last four years under Nick Saban’s watch. Bama knows how
to win the big game. Georgia had lost 10 straight to teams that wound up ranked in the
final polls but beat Florida. So it’s 1-0 in the last one. And since that victory in Jacksonville,
the Bulldogs margin of victory has been impressive. Georgia sniffed the crystal ball in 2002
and 2007, but now it’s right there for the taking. For the second time this season, I must
quote the Nature Boy Ric Flair – “To be the Man, you gotta beat the Man.” Perhaps it is
Georgia’s time. This much is clear, it will take AT LEAST Georgia’s best performance of the
year to hoist the SEC championship trophy.
Murray – I mean, how much more motivated can either team be for this game,
what with a berth in the BCS national championship game staring both the Bulldogs and
Crimson Tide smack in the face? Yes, indeed, the emotion is going to be soaring to the
roof of the Georgia Dome come Saturday afternoon. Both Georgia and Alabama, with the
upset losses of then No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon, were given new life to make it
to Miami and the Jan. 7 title game so the incentive factor has to be dead even for the
Dogs and Tide. That means the winner of this game will be determined by which team
bests controls those emotions and executes the game plan. Yes indeed, the Dome is going
to be rocking come 4 p.m. kickoff Saturday.
Travis – Shhh don’t tell anyone…It’s been a closely kept secret but Georgia has
been playing better football in the past month than Alabama. Momentum is on the Dawg’s
side. But Alabama has been there before. They know how to win championships, something
that can’t be over looked, especially in a game of this magnitude.
When Georgia has the ball
JD – Georgia’s offensive line wll have its toughest test of the season, and for the
Bulldogs to win, the unit must have its best game. Georgia has game-breaking
stars in Todd Gurley and Malcolm Mitchell, and other weapons that Alabama will
have to account for. But this Crimson Tide defense is tremendous. Four of the top
35 picks in the NFL Draft were Alabama defenders. Rebuild right? Reload. The
Crimson Tide leads the nation in scoring defense and is second in total defense.
They’ll will come after Aaron Murray hard. Georgia MUST get him out moving. This
defense is better than South Carolina’s, which held the Dogs to seven points, and
Florida’s, which allowed only 17 in Georgia’s victory. The Dogs have to avoid the
catastrophic turnover. If Georgia can do that, ride Gurley and give Mitchell a couple
of shots to make plays the Bulldogs will have a chance to produce enough points to
win. But it starts up front.
Murray – If the Bulldogs’ defense does its part Saturday, then it’s going to
put the game in the hands of Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense to score
enough points to chalk up the win. And that means freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley
and Keith Marshall, along with sophomore bulldozer Ken Malcome, are going to
have to pound the Tide defense and thereby open up the passing lanes for Murray
and his capable receiving corps. And for the Bulldogs to run the ball satisfactorily,
the Georgia O-line will have to achieve a stalemate against a Bama defense that
ranks second overall in America and gives up only 75 yards rushing a game. The
Bulldogs simply have to handle an outstanding linebacking corps that features leading
tackler C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson and Adrian Hubbard as well as safeties Robert
Lester (13 picks over last three seasons) and Vinnie Sunseri.
Travis – The Alabama coaching staff is one of the best in the country; particularly
on the defensive side of the ball. They know that Georgia’s success on offense
relies on the success of the running game. Bama will try to fill the box and
stop the run. This means that when Georgia has the ball, Aaron Murray has to be
on the top of his game.
JD – In Georgia’s five wins over Florida, Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia Southern and Tech,
the Bulldogs defense has held its own. The coverage on kickoffs has been excellent and
Collin Barber has emerged as a weapon at punter – along with Adam Erickson. Mitchell is
a big play threat on kickoff returns, though he has brought a couple out of the end zone
that he probably should have downed. It was Mitchell’s long kick return that got the Bulldogs
42-10 pounding of Tech going. Alabama is once again rock solid in the kicking game.
They swarm in coverage and are dangerous on returns. It’s vital for Georgia not to make
the big mistake on special teams. Remember, last year in the Georgia Dome, it was Tyran
Mathieu’s punt return for a touchdown that ignited LSU’s runaway victory.
Murray – This area is downright crucial for the Bulldogs having success in beating
Alabama. There can be no hiccups in Georgia’s kicking games and kick coverage, as was
the case in several games this season. Freshman Marshall Morgan is going to have to be
perfect on his makeable field goals and PATs, freshman Collin Barber is going to have to
keep the Crimson Tide backed up, with poor field position, with his punts, and it goes without
saying Georgia’s coverage teams, on both kickoffs and punts, can’t allow Alabama’s capable
returners to break anything big.
Travis – Finally, it seems like Georgia has some things straightened out on special
teams after years of struggles. There aren’t those huge mistakes anymore. But Alabama
has a stud kicker in Jeremy Shelley. If it comes down to a last second field goal, you can
count on this guy to put it through the uprights. Edge: Alabama.