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SEC Championship Game Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Who would have thought it would be Alabama vs. Georgia on the first Saturday of December? Oh, right. Everyone.

Yay, media.

For the first time since 2009, the SEC media contingent correctly predicted the SEC Championship Game matchup at the conference’s media days event in July. Who would have thought it would be Alabama vs. Georgia on the first Saturday of December?

Oh, right. Everyone.

OK, so Saturday’s showdown between the top-ranked Crimson Tide and the fourth-ranked Bulldogs isn’t exactly a surprise, but it is probably the most attractive matchup in this annual event since these two teams last duked it out for the conference crown six years ago, when Alabama won a 32-28 classic. Alabama is headed to the College Football Playoff regardless of outcome, but the Georgia could join it there for the second straight year with a win, or a close loss coupled with some upsets elsewhere.

The Crimson Tide got their first legitimate test of the season last week. Despite the final score of their 52-21 Iron Bowl win over Auburn appearing one-sided, it was only a three-point game in the second half. Georgia’s season has also been largely void of drama. The ‘Dawgs’ lone defeat was a 36-16 mauling at LSU, and their smallest margin of victory was 14 points at Missouri in September.

Does this add up to these two juggernauts delivering a third all-time great game in Atlanta in seven years? We all hope so, but let’s break this game down further to see if and how Georgia can threaten Goliath on Saturday afternoon.

The Vitals

(1) Alabama (12-0, 8-0 SEC) vs. (4) Georgia (11-1, 7-1 SEC)

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta, Georgia)

TV: CBS (Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson)

Line: Alabama -13.5

Most Recent SEC title: Georgia– 2017 (def. Auburn); Alabama– 2016 (def. Florida)

Last Meeting: Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT) (Jan. 8, 2018 in Atlanta)

5 Things I Want To Know

1. Can Georgia get deep?

Alabama has faced a dearth of capable quarterbacks last season. Drew Lock was held in check, Jordan Ta’amu did nothing after a first-play touchdown, and Jarrett Stidham had some success in last week’s Iron Bowl before hitting a wall late. Georgia’s Jake Fromm might be the best of that bunch, trailing only Tua Tagovailoa in passer rating and yards per attempt. The Bulldogs running game is intimidating, but relying on a ground attack against Alabama never bodes well. The ‘Dawgs have some field-stretching wideouts, including Mecole Hardman, who caught an 80-yard touchdown against the Tide in January.

2. Is there a mismatch for Alabama in the short passing game?

My biggest fear for Georgia when Alabama has the ball is intermediate throws turning into big gains. The Crimson Tide have so much speed at wide receiver and tight end, that mismatches are inevitable, even if the Bulldogs are playing with five or six defensive backs. Georgia’s linebacking corps has been banged up and is the weakest position group on the team. That group playing coverage against this passing attack seems like a losing proposition, as it is for most every team.

3. Will the kicking game be a factor?

Yes, Alabama still isn’t reliable when it comes to placekicking. The Crimson Tide have missed five of 18 field goal attempts and eight of 79 extra point attempts. Joseph Bulovas has somewhat steadied the position, as four of the five missed field goals came in September, although four of the eight missed PATs came in November. Georgia has no such kicking issues, as third-year placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship has converted 19 of 22 field goal attempts and is perfect on 58 PAT attempts. Alabama had to overcome a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in 2012 against Georgia and a missed game-winning field goal attempt in last year’s national championship game. Will the Crimson Tide have to bail the special teams out against the Bulldogs yet again?

4. Can Georgia finish drives?

Despite the final scores showing fairly comfortable wins against Florida and Auburn, Georgia had chances to bury their two main rivals, but failed to score touchdowns on six of nine trips into the red zone. Going back to the loss to LSU in mid-October, the Bulldogs’ glaring weakness on offense has been their inability to get seven points rather than three. Field goals aren’t beating Alabama, especially this Crimson Tide team.

5. Does Georgia’s lack of fear of Alabama matter?

Georgia has two important things going for it. First, it is one of the few teams in the nation whose talent gap with Alabama is minimal. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t fear Alabama after having the Tide on the brink of defeat 11 months ago. Some teams, even good teams, truly don’t believe they can beat Alabama. Georgia does, because Georgia almost did. It might not be enough because Alabama still has the better roster, but the Bulldogs aren’t going to be in awe of anyone in crimson.

Trivia Time (answers below)

1. Who is only conference championship game loser to play for the national title?
2. Who is the last unbeaten team to lose in the SEC Championship Game?
3. What three head coaches have won back-to-back SEC Championship Games?

Prediction

It’s going to be another Alabama-Georgia classic. We’ve seen LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn absorb some blows and land a couple of jabs of their own against Alabama, but Georgia can actually fire back with some real haymakers.

The Bulldogs will make the Crimson Tide uncomfortable. They did it last year, and they’ll do it again. Alabama’s defense hasn’t seen this type of offensive skill talent except in practice. Despite not always being a fan favorite, when offensive coordinator Jim Chaney gets in a rhythm, he’s a fantastic play-caller.

Georgia may be the second-best team in the nation, but it’s still only the second-best team in the SEC, and that probably won’t be good enough to get back to the College Football Playoff. While this game will require quite a bit of patience from Alabama, there are too many cracks in this Bulldogs defense to keep the Crimson Tide offense down for 60 minutes.

Slice a point each off of their scores from the 2012 thriller, and we’ll have another game to talk about for a long time to come.

Pick: Alabama 31, Georgia 27

Non-SEC Predictions

ACC Championship Game (at Charlotte): Clemson (-27.5) 38, Pittsburgh 7
American Championship Game (at Orlando): UCF (-3) 36, Memphis 35
Big 12 Championship Game (at Arlington): Oklahoma (-8) 45, Texas 34
Big Ten Championship Game (at Indianapolis): Ohio State (-14.5) 49, Northwestern 24

Conference USA Championship Game (at Murfreesboro): UAB (+1) 20, Middle Tennessee 17
MAC Championship Game (at Detroit): Buffalo (-3.5) 38, Northern Illinois 31
Mountain West Championship Game (at Boise): Boise State (-2.5) 27, Fresno State 24
Pac-12 Championship Game (at Santa Clara): Washington (-5.5) 24, Utah 14
Sun Belt Championship Game (at Boone): Appalachian State (-16.5) 42, Louisiana-Lafayette 14


Trivia Answers:

1. Oklahoma (2003)
2. 2009 Florida (lost to Alabama)
3. Steve Spurrier (Florida, 1993-96), Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee, 1997-98) and Nick Saban (Alabama, 2014-16)

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.