For the second time in the last half-decade, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide will be facing off for all the marbles in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. The Georgia Bulldogs absolutely demolished Jim Harbaugh‘s Michigan Wolverines in the Orange Bowl, punching their ticket to Lucas Oil Stadium after a 34-11 romp. Alabama had similar success in their semi-final match, taking down Cincinnati by a score of 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl Classic. And now, these two SEC powerhouses will face off one more time.
The Tide Rolls On
Nick Saban is no stranger to the National title game. In his fifteen seasons as Alabama’s head coach, Saban has brought Bama to the big game EIGHT times, entering 2022’s iteration with a 6-2 record. While Alabama appears to be the New York Yankees of College Football, there’s a lot that comes with being the king of the mountain. It’s one thing to be the best team in a conference that is weak in a particular sport, like Gonzaga is for basketball. But Bama has run the most competitive collegiate football conference for the better part of a decade and a half. But it didn’t seem that way early on this season.
Alabama lost a lot of their 2020 stars that helped them win Saban’s sixth National title over the Ohio State Buckeyes a year ago. The loss of Patrick Surtain, Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Jaylen Waddle and Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, left Alabama with some question marks on the field. Off the field, Saban would be working with a new hire in Bill O’Brien, fresh off his dismissal as the head coach of the Houston Texans. If there was ever a year where the Tide seemed vulnerable it was 2021.
Through the first five weeks of the season Bama was cruising, with their highest ranked opponent being #11 Florida in Week 3. But, in a Week 6 meeting with unranked Texas A&M, Bama headed into the locker room at half-time down 24-10. Bama came back with 28 points in the second half, but the Aggies matched Bama’s efforts with 17 points of their own, upsetting the #1 seed and knocking the Tide down to #5 the following week. Bama won out the rest of their season, behind the fantastic play of quarterback and Heisman winner Bryce Young and wideout John Metchie, waltzing into the SEC championship game as the #3 in the country. Their opponent was #1 Georgia.
Across the other sideline from Saban is one of the strongest branches of his coaching tree. Kirby Smart worked under Saban at LSU, then followed him to Miami as the Dolphins’ Safety coach, and then to Alabama where Smart stayed until accepting his current job with Georgia. Since taking the job with the Bulldogs, Smart has only had two seasons where his squad has failed to put up double-digit wins. But then again, it’s easy to win football games with players like Jake Fromm, Justin Fields, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and many other current NFL players.
The Bulldogs offense still boasts that same dynamic as Stetson Bennett and James Cook run the offense that has regularly trounced opponents. Bennett, who was passed over twice last season, finally has the team under his stewardship and he’s made the most out of that opportunity. Cook, who is the younger brother of Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, continues the long-line of rushing excellence that we’ve all come to know from the Dawgs offenses of the past.
This year, while the offense is still top notch, it has been the defense that is putting the adage “Defense Wins Championships” to the test. Prior to the SEC Championship Game, Georgia’s defense only allowed more than 15 points in one game, a blowout loss to Tennessee. Georgia’s defensive front is large, powerful, and quick. They can collapse a pocket in seconds, and pressure opposing quarterbacks into hurried throws and rushed progressions. If Georgia can shutdown Alabama’s offense in the way that they had hoped they would in the SEC Championship, Kirby Smart can claim his first national championship as a head coach.
Old friends, new storylines
The SEC title game is the best indicator we have of what may come to pass in the National title game. In that meeting, Alabama’s gameplan seemed to be “defeat Georgia’s defense by brute force and force them to play from behind.” It worked. After a low scoring first quarter, the Tide scored 24 points in the second, waltzing into the locker room with a resounding lead.
Forcing Georgia to play from behind worked. By controlling the gameflow and the tempo, Bama forced Georgia to abandon their run game and stick to an aerial attack, rendering Cook useless. This felt like an Uno-Reverse in a lot of ways, as Bama’s defense looked more like that of their counterparts.
Georgia’s offense struggled, and Bennett threw two interceptions as Alabama’s defense kept pouring on the pressure. The key for the Dawgs will be controlling Young’s ability to get the ball downfield and to Jameson Williams who burned them big time in the SEC game, as the wideout tallied seven receptions for 184 yards and two scores.
If Georgia’s defense shows up in the way they have all season, and can contain Bama’s offense, they have a shot at winning this. Bennett’s SEC performance was solid, but he got beat when he blinked. This is the moment he’s been waiting for, and in these moments, excellence is the expectation.
All in all, this one feels close. If we had to throw our weight behind a team, we’d be lying if it wasn’t a bit of a coin flip. However, after all is said and done, there doesn’t feel like a ton of reason to doubt a Georgia revenge game. But hey, that’s just our opinion.
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