The Big Five: Alabama

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The Big Five: Alabama

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Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban and Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt shake hands at the 2012 SEC Championship Game. (Photo courtesy of the University of Alabama)
Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban and Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt shake hands at the 2012 SEC Championship Game.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Alabama)
[su_spacer size=”20″] It likely would have been better for Georgia if the Alabama Crimson Tide was surging into Sanford Stadium Saturday (3:30, CBS-TV) with an unbeaten season record. But, obviously, that’s not the case as, two weekends ago, Nick Saban’s Tide was stunned by the Ole Miss Rebels for a second consecutive season, by 43-37 in Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
[su_spacer size=”20″] So it’s a stung, and smarting, Crimson Tide bunch that ventures between the hedges this Saturday, determined to make amends for the upset loss to the Rebels while at the same time, avoid going a costly 0-2 in the SEC title race. Of course, as most conference observers are well aware, a Saban-coached team rarely drops back-to-back SEC games.
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After stream rolling little Louisiana-Monroe this past Saturday, Alabama will confront the unbeaten Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) with a 3-1 season record and the league loss to Ole Miss. Prior to going down to the Johnny Rebs, the Crimson Tide belted Wisconsin in the season opener in Dallas, by 35-17, before toppling Middle Tennessee State by 37-10.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Alabama’s strength lies in its veteran defensive unit, which returned eight starters from the SEC’s best run defense of last season. Coordinator Kirby Smart’s unit has continued on that track this season, holding run-oriented Wisconsin to a meager 40 yards net rushing, Middle Tennessee State to 86 yards rushing and also keeping Ole Miss under 100 yards on the ground … 92 to be exact, although the Rebels and QB Chad Kelly did attack the ‘Bama secondary for 341 passing yards. Entering the ULM game, the Tide defense was being led by senior inside linebacker Reggie Ragland (6-2, 252), who had recorded 30 tackles. He was followed by senior defensive end Jarran Reed (6-4, 313), with 15 total stops, and junior safety Eddie Jackson (6-0, 194), with 14 tackles and an interception.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Offensively, Alabama will come at the Bulldogs’ BIG FIVE defense with a power running attack featuring backs Derrick Henry (6-3, 242, Jr.) and Kenyan Drake (6-1, 210, Sr.). In the opening win over Wisconsin, Henry reeled off touchdown jaunts of 37, 56 and 2 yards, displaying outstanding speed to couple with his tackle-breaking ability. He went into the Louisiana-Monroe tune-up this past Saturday with 370 rushing yards and averages of 123 yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry. Drake, the speedster from Powder Springs, Ga., had totaled 150 yards and a 5.6 average per carry. Alabama senior quarterback Jake Coker (6-5, 232), the transfer from FSU, has been a bit up and down thus far, having thrown for 628 yards and five touchdowns prior to the ULM game while completing just 56 percent of his attempts. Sophomore Cooper Bateman (6-3, 220) had relieved Coker and passed for 236 yards while completing a hot 74.4 percent of his passes. The Tide’s top receiver thus far is ArDarius Stewart, a 6-1, 204-pound sophomore.
[su_spacer size=”40″] So, clearly, the Crimson Tide will bring its usual array of weapons to Athens on Saturday and here are the Big Five factors Alabama will have to master to topple Georgia once again … in the two teams’ first meeting since the scintillating 2012 SEC Championship game when the Tide held off the Bulldogs at game’s end by 32-28 in the Georgia Dome.
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1. Smother the Georgia running game

[su_spacer size=”40″] If anyone can shut down Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and the Bulldogs’ potent running game, it’s this ‘Bama defensive unit. Just as you did Wisconsin in the opener, beat Georgia’s talented O-line up front and get into the backfield and drill the Bulldogs’ tailbacks before they get started.
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2. Pressure, pressure on Greyson Lambert

[su_spacer size=”40″] Lambert can’t be allowed to throw the ball with the freedom and ease he did in setting all those passing records against South Carolina. This is by far the toughest defense Lambert’s seen in his collegiate career and by putting the clamps on the Bulldog running attack, it will make the Georgia QB try and beat you. Don’t let him do it.
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3. Press coverage on the UGA receivers

This goes hand-in-hand with the No. 2 factor. Get up on the Bulldog wideouts and disrupt their routes. Don’t let them run free like the South Carolina defense did. If they can’t get open in seconds, the Tide pass rushers are sure to be in Lambert’s face by that time.
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4. Pound the rock on offense

[su_spacer size=”40″] ‘Bama O-line, provide Henry and Drake with the run gaps they need to keep the chains moving and control the ball against the UGA front seven. Quick, inside runs would seem to be the way to go, rather than trying to outrun the Bulldogs’ fast outside linebackers on the edge.
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5. You’re Alabama, show the Bulldogs as much

[su_spacer size=”40″] The atmosphere between the hedges Saturday is going to be frenzied, to say the least. Sock the Bulldogs in the mouth early on, get a good lead and make Georgia play from behind all game long. Let the Georgia fans quickly know this is the Alabama Crimson Tide you’re playing, not a weak South Carolina team.
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[su_spacer size=”40″] Make sure to check out Bulldawg Illustrated’s latest print edition: Saban vs Richt – Only one man will be smiling after this one, digital issue available for free online click HERE.
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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.