This is it. This is the game in which Kirby Smart has to beat Nick Saban. We have been sitting here for the past two months watching Alabama fluctuate wildly in its level of performance, all while Georgia has steadily been the best team in college football.
By Matt Zemek
Alabama rushed for only six yards against LSU. Alabama gave up 35 points to Arkansas, a team which scored only 13 points against LSU in regulation time. Alabama was extraordinarily lucky to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Auburn isn’t a very good team. Auburn played that game with a backup quarterback who couldn’t succeed at LSU, T. J. Finley.
LSU doesn’t have a good offense. Max Johnson has been a bust at quarterback. Finley could be a Bengal Tiger, but instead, he is at Auburn. He couldn’t beat out Bo Nix for the starting job.
Alabama frankly should have lost to Finley, but Tank Bigsby decided to run out of bounds in the final minutes, costing the Tigers the 40 seconds which almost certainly would have made a difference in the game. Alabama scored its tying touchdown in the final half-minute. An unforced error by Auburn made it possible.
Alabama could easily be 9-3 right now. The Tide have no business being 11-1, but they have found their way to Atlanta with a chance to make the College Football Playoff. Is Georgia going to let Alabama find itself and rise above the Dawgs in this center-stage moment? Kirby Smart will never hear the end of it if he fails. Moreover, even though Georgia will still make the playoff in the event of a loss, the Dawgs will not get their preferred seeding or placement.
They also know Alabama will have a mental edge if – just like the 2017 season – there’s a rematch in the national championship game.
Here’s what Georgia needs to do.
1 – Physical domination
It’s the Kirby Way. It’s the Georgia Way. Pound the daylights out of the opposition. Grind the opponent into submission. Georgia has been doing it all year. The Dawgs are the biggest, baddest boys on the block. They win physical battles on the line of scrimmage. If they do this all game, they win. If they cast aside the pressure and focus on their jobs, they win. Don’t overthink. Just roll up the sleeves and get to work.
2 – Avoid huge turnovers
Stetson Bennett doesn’t have to win this game. He has to avoid losing it. Alabama can get a foot in the door if Bennett – who is not very tall and had a problem last season with passes getting tipped at the line of scrimmage – throws a tipped-ball interception in the first quarter. Don’t be a hero. It really is true for Bennett that he has to avoid mistakes and play this game the way Smart (and Vince Dooley in the 1980s) would want him to play. Yes, football has evolved a lot in the past 40 years. It’s no longer a Vince Dooley-Pat Dye world in the SEC. In this game, however, knowing how physically superior Georgia is, Bennett needs to play this game the old-fashioned way and just avoid mistakes. Alabama needs turnovers. Bennett can’t provide any.
3 – Shut off the deep ball
Alabama and Bryce Young have to find home-run pass plays. They are not going to go 13 plays and 80 yards against the Georgia defense – at least not often. Georgia’s corners and safeties need to be on top of their game. Alabama torched this secondary a year ago in Tuscaloosa. That can’t recur here