Although spring football practice is on hold due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the current global pandemic, the Georgia football rosters are still set for the fall. Coming off a 12-2 season, the Bulldogs head into the 2020 season with high expectations. Bulldawg Illustrated is analyzing each opponent in a twelve part series that will continue for the next several weeks.
Yesterday, we previewed the previous week’s matchup as Georgia was set to take on ETSU. Today, we move on to probably one of the most important games of the 2020 season, in regards to the College Football Playoff. Georgia will take on Alabama on Tuscaloosa on Sept. 9 and will more than likely be a top-five matchup. Let’s begin.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Head Coach: Nick Saban
2019 Record: 11-2; Won VRBO Citrus Bowl over Michigan
Key Losses: quarterback Tua Tuagovailoa, wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr., defensive lineman Raekwon Davis, outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis, cornerback Trevon Diggs and safety Xavier McKinney
Key Returnees: quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith, offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, inside linebacker Dylan Moses and cornerback Patrick Surtain II
1) No Tua, No Problem
Now that Tua Tuagovailoa is gone, Alabama has a huge question mark surrounding the quarterback position and who will replace him.
Being one of the most talented players in SEC history, it will be hard to find someone who had the skillset that Tuagovailoa had, but Saban has a few options. The Tide got to see what backup quarterback Mac Jones could do late last season when Tuagovailoa was out due to injury. In late Oct. against Arkansas, Jones completed 18-of-22 passes for 235 yards and three scores in a 48-7 win over the Razorbacks.
Saban was quoted last season as calling Jones a “bright guy” after his first start against Arkansas who “really understands the concepts of what we’re trying to do on offense.”
“We have a lot of confidence in him and we have some good players around him, so hopefully he’ll be able to do his job well enough to continue to allow some of those players to be successful as well,” Saban said.
Jones ended up leading Alabama to a bowl win over Michigan as he threw for 327 yards and three scores. He finished the 2019 season with 12 appearances, four starts, 1,503 yards passing on 97-of-141 attempts, and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions.
While Jones seems like the easy replacement due to his experience, true freshman Bryce Young could give him a run for his money. The five-star out of Santa Ana, California, was the No. 1 ranked dual-threat quarterback and No. 2 player overall by the 247Sports. This past season, Young led his high school to a 12-1 overall record and racked up a plethora of awards. To name a few, Young won won the All-American Bowl Player of the Year, Gatorade Player of the Year in California, High School Quarterback of the Year by the National Quarterback Club, Maxwell Offensive Player of the Year, MaxPreps Players of the Year. Young also enrolled in classes early to get a head start on things.
Tuagovailoa is not the only offensive skill player that the Tide lost after the 2019 season.
2) Loss of Production at the Wide Receiver Position
Alabama lost two of their top receivers in 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. Being two of the most productive receivers in the country at Alabama, both decided to forgo their senior seasons and prepare for the NFL Draft. Jeudy had more than 1,000 yards receiving in each of his last two seasons with 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018, followed by 1,163 yards and 10 scores in 2019. In 2019, Ruggs had 40 catches for 746 yards and seven touchdowns, and the previous two years he scored 17 times for a combined total of 970 yards.
Is bad as it hurts to probably lose these two guys, Saban is lucky enough to still a lot of talent in his arsenal. Devonta Smith returns for his senior season after having a monster 2019 in which he hauled in 68 catches for 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Tide also return the evasive Jaylen Waddle, who will probably play a bigger role in 2020. Beyond those two, Alabama returns John Metchie III, Slade Bolden, Tyrell Shavers and Xavier Williams. There are also several incoming freshman that will challenge these guys for spots in the depth chart.
“We feel good about Smitty and Jaylen Waddle coming back,” Saban said. “We feel like we have a couple young guys that will develop into guys that will play. But we also feel really good about the guys we got. We’ve had other guys play at that position as freshmen. If those guys can develop quick enough, maybe they can contribute next year, as well.”
Alabama loses running back Najee Harris after a strong junior season where he ran for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns. But backups Brian Robinson Jr. and Keilan Robinson both return, as well as former 2019 No. 1 ranked running back Trey Sanders. Sanders returns from a foot injury that he suffered in preseason camp.
3) Depth Question at Linebacker
Another position group that Alabama has some questions marks is at the inside linebacker spot. Last season, Dylan Moses suffered a season-ending injury just one week prior to the season and that left Saban in a bind. True freshman Christian Harris and Shane Lee stepped up in his place on the depth chart. Lee finished the year second on the team in tackles as he racked up 86 total, including 6.5 for loss, while Harris had 63 and 7.5 for loss. The Tide also get another leader in Joshua McMillion, who returns for this sixth season in Tuscaloosa.
“I think we had five guys that were freshmen last year — three of those guys played a significant amount, and we feel like the other guys have an opportunity to develop into being players,” Saban said. “I thought the three players we got at that position this year are certainly good players that will contribute to that. …I feel like in the last two years we’ve added good, young talent at that position.”
Moses was an All-American in 2018 and will probably be the starter in the middle at the MIKE position. Lee will probably be pushing Moses for the top spot in the middle, but that only promotes healthy competition. Harris and McMillion will more than likely be battling for the WILL position.
4) A Whole New Secondary?
The Tide’s secondary will be looking a lot different in 2020 because they lose six starters. Safety Xavier McKinney and cornerback Trevon Diggs are key starters that need to be replaced as well as Jared Mayden and Shyheim Carter. Patrick Surtain II is the only starter that returns in the secondary.
Like Kirby Smart, Saban is known to work well with his defensive backs, so expect he will have his players ready by the start of the season. Either way, there are still some holes that need to filled. Josh Jobe is a viable option as he played in al 12 games last season and started two of them. Redshirt freshman Jalyn Armour-Davis will get some more exposure this year, and 2018 signees Scooby Carter and Marcus Banks will have a shot, too. Meanwhile, incoming freshman Brian Branch will compete for Jordan Battle and Eddie Smith at safety.
“You’d like to be able to say that you solved some of the needs one year in advance,” Saban said. “..So, a year from now that’s going to be really important. I think we got a couple good DBs, couple corners.”
5) Full Steam Ahead
Expect Alabama to come out swinging in this contest to prove a point. Last season, the Tide missed the College Football Playoffs for the first time since its creation in 2014. They are tied with Clemson for the most playoff appearances, most playoff wins, and most championships.
Once more, Alabama will be looking towards the playoffs after 2019’s letdown. Saban will also probably be taking this game personally, too, as Smart hired away longtime Alabama strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Cochran.
Georgia hasn’t been Alabama since 2007, and that was the last time the Bulldogs played in Tuscaloosa.
Early Prediction: Alabama wins 31-27