Alabama will meet Georgia in Atlanta after a dominating Iron Bowl win which saw the Crimson Tide complete yet another perfect season. The SEC Championship is the least that Alabama fans would have expected coming into the season given the ridiculously high standards Nick Saban has set over the last decade. After 60 minutes of football on Saturday we will see if the Crimson Tide is to be crowned the kings of the SEC once more.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Get to the quarterback
In the National Title game last season the Alabama defensive line was a huge reason that the Crimson Tide were still in the game at halftime despite limited quarterback play. With 12 tackles for a loss and four sacks of Jake Fromm, it was a dominant performance the likes of which we have come to expect from Saban led defenses in big games.
This one is a big game.
The Georgia offensive line is still more banged up than Kirby Smart would like, with the result being that Fromm is once again vulnerable to being hit and sacked. Alabama ranks 5th in the nation with 3.33 sacks per game, which good for a total of 40 on the year. This is a matchup which sits squarely in the favor of the Alabama pass rush.
Protect Tua Tagovailoa
The Alabama defensive line getting to Fromm is half of the pass rush equation that will factor into the determining who wins on Saturday. The other half is the ability of that Alabama offensive line to keep quarterback Tagovailoa clean, allowing him to progress through his reads and make the kind of touch passes that he has been winging to his receivers all season long.
Tagovailoa’s numbers are outstanding. He has almost 3,200 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. Those numbers are despite the fact that he has barely played in the fourth quarter all season long. Tagovailoa has been able to pass to that standard because he has only been sacked 11 times all season. The ‘Bama line gives up less than one sack per game, making it a rare occurrence when the quarterback is having to pick himself off of the turf.
Adding to the Alabama advantage here is that the Georgia defense, while good at many things, just doesn’t get after the quarterback to any kind of level. The Bulldogs have exactly half as many sacks as Alabama on the season, with their 20 total (or 1.67 per game) good for just 99th in the nation.
If Alabama can stifle the Georgia havoc plays on Saturday then the Crimson Tide will win.
Stop the running game
It is no coincidence that Georgia has played its best football over the back half of the season as the running game has improved. The Bulldogs have sent back after back to the NFL over the last decade and a now healthy D’Andre Swift is looking to end the season with a bang and prove he is the next great Georgia runner.
Swift has been beset by injuries all season, but he has exploded over the last month in five touchdowns and 674 yards of total offense in the last five games. Throw in another 400+ yards on the ground for Elijah Holyfield and you have a two pronged rushing attack that has been heating up down the stretch.
A grind it out rushing attack isn’t an issue for an Alabama defensive front that features one of the best run stuffing defensive tackles you will ever see in Quinnen Williams. It is a defense though that is sometimes to aggressive against the run, taking bad angles to the ball and allowing explosive run plays that go for long touchdowns.
Alabama has to negate that side of the Georgia running attack because a couple of long touchdown runs will keep the Bulldogs in this game.