Can the Alabama Crimson Tide, who have struggled throughout the month of November and have not improved over the course of the season, unexpectedly deliver the goods on Saturday against Georgia? It’s weird to say this, but it squares with the reality of the situation: It’s hard to be confident in Nick Saban’s team.
By Matt Zemek
It is not playing winning football, even though it has avoided losses over the past month and a half since it stubbed its toe against Texas A&M.
Alabama did not play well against LSU, but still won.
Alabama did not play well against Arkansas, but still won.
Alabama did not play well against Auburn, but still won.
Trust me when I say that Alabama cannot beat Georgia if it doesn’t play well. The Dawgs are too physically strong, too tough, too well-schooled and talented on defense, to give this game away if Alabama remains an ordinary team playing ordinary football.
Alabama should have eaten a 10-3 loss to Auburn, but Tank Bigsby ran out of bounds and gave the Tide a life raft. The Crimson Tide have frankly defied the odds by winning a bunch of games in which they have played well below their expected standard. If they are going to beat Georgia, they have to put the pieces together and find a way to perform at their very best, something we haven’t seen much of this year. The Tide’s best games have been against the two Mississippi schools, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. None of their other six SEC games – Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn – have been impressive. No one would call any of those six performances above-average.
Alabama has to dramatically raise the bar against Georgia. Let’s offer three central ways for this team to turn the Tide.
1 – Physical prowess
Alabama’s offensive line was physically dominated by Auburn’s defensive front. Bryce Young was running for his life. Alabama did not score a touchdown in 59 and a half minutes of regulation because of this physical inferiority against Auburn’s pass rush. Someway, somehow, this O-line has to grow up in a hurry against an elite Georgia front which has been pulverizing opponents with regularity all season long. No one expects Bama to win physical battles against Georgia. The Tide need to fight the Dawgs to a draw and do so especially in key situations such as third and fourth downs plus red-zone snaps. Maybe Bama would have a chance to win if this unlikely scenario unfolds.
2 – Bill O’Brien needs to find answers
Bill O’Brien has been a big disappointment as offensive coordinator for Nick Saban. He hasn’t pushed the right buttons. He hasn’t found repeatedly reliable plays which put Alabama’s skill players in position to succeed. Yes, Steve Sarkisian had a much better offensive line to work with last year. Yes, he had DeVonta Smith, a Heisman Trophy winner, on the field. Yes, Mac Jones is pretty darn good. Nevertheless, last year’s Alabama offense involved a lot of “ball out quick” pass attempts which did not require offensive linemen to hold their blocks. Skill players caught passes in open space and were given a chance to make defenders miss. The O’Brien offense has not featured that line of attack as much as Sark’s offense did. Given the struggles of this offensive line, why is that the case? O’Brien has not found a formula which fits the needs of this offense. If we see a noticeably different plan against Georgia, something Kirby Smart can’t find on film, Alabama can pull a surprise … but is O’Brien ready and willing to do something that daring? Can Bama make a big change at the 11th hour? Have O’Brien and Saban tried to remain “vanilla” on offense through 12 games and then spring a huge change on Georgia? From an Alabama perspective, let’s hope so.
3 – Bryce Young
If you really are a Heisman finalist, if you really are a special player worthy of the moment and of the Alabama uniform you’re wearing, you have to step on the field and own this game. You have to make special plays in big moments. You have to be the player everyone hoped you would be – and which has occasionally emerged – this season. Young and Alabama have been great in very short bursts, but rarely in full games and certainly not on a regular, weekly basis. Greatness is required this Saturday if Alabama is going to get this thing done.