While it would be a ton of fun to revel in the spanking our Bulldogs gave Georgia Tech in Sanford Stadium this past Saturday, there’s simply not time to look back as Saturday’s SEC Championship beckons, including a spot in the College Football Playoff for the winner.
As our cover says … we meet again.
Yes, there’s a ton riding on this showdown as Kirby Smart and company get another crack at Nick Saban and his Alabama team that rallied in the second half (and overtime) of last season’s National Championship game to take another title back to Tuscaloosa. That January evening was certainly a bitter pill for anyone who loves the Red and Black, however rather than wallowing in the “what ifs” and “maybes,” I think it’s prudent to discuss what dictated the unhappy ending.
In my opinion, last year’s Bulldog team ran out of gas because of a combination of traveling to the west coast and back in less than a week and a lack of depth on both lines of scrimmage. By the fourth quarter, Bama was ripping off big gainers on the ground and then freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made one big play after another.
Does this scenario sound a little familiar to you? It should because our Bulldogs lost in similar fashion to the mighty Crimson Tide the last time the two teams locked up in the SEC Championship (2012). A double-digit Georgia lead dashed in the final quarter to a team that was more physical with a resounding edge in depth at all positions.
So with the gory details of the past all laid out, the million dollar question is what will make this Georgia-Alabama game different, particularly when you are dealing with a Bama offense that has never been as explosion in all its many years of playing football?
The difference this go-around is this Georgia football team not only has ample depth to survive four quarters of whatever Alabama brings, but also possesses a colossal chip on its shoulder from not only last year’s heartbreaking national championship loss, but decades of near miss scenarios for its hungry fan base.
The fact of the matter is that the time has come for Georgia to take down Alabama for themselves and the Bulldog Nation.
The oddsmakers opened the line for Saturday’s game with Alabama as a 10 point favorite, which is probably about right. After all, the Crimson Tide made mincemeat out of the same LSU Tigers team that beat the Bulldogs by 20 points. However, that young Georgia team, who never recovered from a poorly called first quarter, fake field goal in Baton Rouge is a distant memory. Instead, through nagging injuries on the offensive line and the need to try different combinations on the defensive front to stop the run, Georgia finds itself with a ton of talent who have gone through a Baphometic Baptism down the stretch of the 2018 regular season.
Trial by fire has been what this season has been all about for this Georgia team. Kirby has constantly called this year’s team “a work in progress.” Well ask Florida, Kentucky, UMass and finally Tech whether they would have the same sentiments as the Bulldog headman.
And while the SEC Championship will ultimately be decided by what team wears down the other, the skill positions in today’s style of football also are huge factors. Again the improvement by Georgia in this area over the course of this season is beyond impressive. Sure the big names at tight-end and receiver like Nauta, Woerner, Hardman and Ridley have been rock solid, but over the last month names like Jason Stanley and Tyler Simmons have become beasts for defense’s to deal with. And the rise of Elijah Holyfield this season is a thing of beauty as he is the perfect compliment to D’Andre Swift. The dynamic duo has certainly proved to be worthy suitors of the awesome Chubb, Michel combo of last year.
At quarterback, Jake Fromm continues to show great prowess in always getting the Georgia offense in the correct play, even if sometimes that means minimizing a loss of yard situation. And personally, I think the Georgia coaching staff has done a good job of working freshman Justin Fields into situations that use his skills and talents to help the team.
And the Georgia defensive backfield will most certainly have to come up big versus the Bama offense with studs everywhere. Hopefully D’Andre Baker will shut down his side of the field opening the door for big time plays by the likes of Campbell, LeCounte, Reed and Stokes, just to name a few.
Finally, the Georgia special teams unit is where I see the biggest opportunity to take the control of the championship game. Mecole Hardman needs to set the pace with multiple big-gaining returns and Rodrigo Blankenship must continue his lethalness with his leg.
I hope you enjoy this SEC Championship Extra issue of Bulldawg Illustrated. And at some point this week, I encourage you to take a moment to rejoice in the awesome progress of Georgia football under Kirby Smart and his diligent staff. As Mark Schlabach says on page 18, Georgia is a year or two ahead of schedule and will continue to get better as the last two recruiting classes develop and mature.
The stage is set for another epic Georgia-Alabama game. We meet again. I look forward to seeing the Bulldog Nation in full force on Saturday afternoon in Mercedes Stadium. Go Dawgs!!