Georgia and Alabama are set to meet in the SEC Championship game on Saturday. Alabama has won six straight meetings between the two teams, but the Bulldogs have been the dominant team this season and sit at No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Will their strength be enough to win it all, or will the Crimson Tide’s winning streak finally fluster the Bulldogs?
Let’s break down the first question. Georgia and Alabama have faced off, and won, against four common opponents this season: Florida, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee.
The difference, however, is that Georgia has blown out those four teams while Alabama has struggled, including the 24-22 overtime thriller against Auburn last week.
Georgia has outscored those four common opponents 146-24 while Alabama has outscored them 149-110, or an average score of 37-6 and 37-28, respectively.
But the question becomes whether Georgia has been tested enough for a close game down the stretch.
Head coach Kirby Smart said he tells his team to play like there is no scoreboard, and to focus on playing at an elite level every game.
“If you play like there’s no scoreboard, what does it matter if you’ve been in one of those situations or not?,” Smart said. “The biggest thing is preparation and understanding that you don’t want the moment to be too big for you. You do what you’re asked and let our guys go play. That’s our goal.”
Smart added, “Our guys in the second half haven’t had to strain as hard because they haven’t had to play. It’s one of those things, it’s just however you want to look at it.”
The other narrative has been whether Georgia can move past their most recent losses to Alabama. From the overtime heartbreaker in the 2017 National Championship, to the 2018 SEC Championship in which Alabama once again roared from behind to win, and even last year when the Tide trailed at halftime before taking over in the second half.
In each of the last three matchups, Georgia has held a lead going into the second half. And each time, Alabama has walked away with the win — a fact that is likely on the minds of every Georgia fan leading up to the game and will likely stay there until the clock reaches zero on Saturday.
Smart said he isn’t worried about what has happened in the last six meetings with Alabama, but is instead focused on getting the most of his team in this matchup.
“This year is this year, and every year is independent of the previous. I don’t think there’s any overlap between the two. I know people want to make it that, make it some kind of overlap,” Smart said. “Every year is independent of the previous. ... We haven’t played our best yet, and we think our best is still out there.”
THREE ALABAMA PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Quarterback Bryce Young: This game will likely come down to how many points the Alabama offense is able to put up against the best scoring defense in the country. Georgia has held its opponents to under 7 points per game.
The most points the Bulldogs have given up this season is 17 to Tennessee, a team that ranks in the top 10 in scoring offense with nearly 40 points per game.
Alabama’s offense will be the highest-ranked offense Georgia has faced this season. The Tide score 42 points per game and a big reason why is quarterback Bryce Young.
Young is ranked in the top 10 in nearly every meaningful passing category, and is one of the favorites to take home the Heisman trophy.
A win over Georgia and an impressive stat line would go a long way with voters. But more importantly, Alabama will likely need Young’s best game in order to topple the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said Young is like an elite point guard in basketball.
“It’s like he’s composed at all times and has great presence in the pocket, great distributor of the ball,” Smart said. “This is just one of the best I’ve seen as far as a quick release and getting the ball out, distributing the ball really good.”
2. Right side of the offensive line: Against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, the right side of the Tide’s offensive line looked suspect at best. The Tigers were in the backfield and in Young’s face all day.
Young was sacked seven times and there were 11 tackles for a loss in the game. Auburn ranks in top 30 in the nation in sacks with 35, including the seven in the Iron Bowl.
While Auburn’s pass rush is slightly above average, the Georgia pass rush ranks in top five in the nation with 41 sacks.
This could be the single biggest factor in the game. If Young doesn’t have a chance to let the play develop and is running away from pressure all game, it could lead to mistakes that Georgia can capitalize on.
Alabama ranks in the bottom of the country in sacks allowed with 36. Only LSU and Tennessee has given up more sacks in the SEC.
The right side of the Alabama offensive line will need to be much improved on Saturday in order to keep its quarterback standing upright and give him time to make plays against this defense.
3. Linebacker Will Anderson: Georgia has a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball and there has been a lot of talk heading into the title game about Jordan Davis.
But Alabama’s defense is no slouch and at the center of it all is star linebacker Will Anderson, a Georgia native.
Anderson and Davis may not match up on the field, but their individual impacts could be a deciding factor Saturday.
Davis shared his thought on Anderson ahead of the game and was complimentary of the Tide’s defensive stalwart.
“He’s a game wrecker,” Davis said. “He’s definitely one of those guys you have to make sure to keep contained. It’s great to see him play, but we just have to make sure that we game plan for him and that we protect well upfront on the offensive side and give Stetson (Bennett) some time to throw.”
When these two teams met in Tuscaloosa last season, the defense harassed Bennett with tons of pressure and batted balls. It eventually led to three interceptions as the Tide held Georgia scoreless in the second half.
If Anderson and the Alabama defense can force some turnovers and set up the offense with good field position, this could lead the Crimson Tide to a win.
HOW TO WATCH
Who: Georgia Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0 SEC) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (4-3, 2-3 SEC)
Where: Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Betting line: Georgia is favored by 6.5 over Alabama. Georgia has lost six straight games against Alabama including a 41-24 last season.