Defensive matchups among key storylines for No. 1 Georgia-No. 3 Alabama clash
For the past eight weeks, there has been no debate as to who’s the best team in college football.
The No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (12-0) have been a unanimous selection atop the AP Top 25 Poll since Alabama lost to Texas A&M 41-38 on Oct. 9. The Bulldogs are a week away from tying Alabama’s record of nine straight weeks of garnering every first-place vote, which they did in 2017-18 season, when they lost to Clemson in the national title game.
The Bulldogs have been the only team atop the College Football Playoff ranking this season, but that’s doesn’t mean they can’t be knocked off their perch — and Alabama might be the team to do it.
After all, the Crimson Tide (11-1) have beaten Georgia in six straight meetings dating to 2008.
Though Georgia is a 6.5-point favorite entering the teams’ meeting in the SEC Championship game on Saturday in Atlanta, if the Bulldogs struggle in the following three matchups, the Crimson Tide could roll to their second straight conference crown and third in the past four years.
Alabama receiver Jameson Williams vs. Georgia’s secondary
Georgia has given up five passing touchdowns this season and is ranked second nationally in passing yards allowed (151.9 per game). But the Bulldogs’ secondary, which is led by cornerbacks Derion Kendrick, Latavious Brini and Kelee Ringo, and safeties Christopher Smith and Lewis Cine, haven’t faced a receiver who’s as good as Williams, who might be the best in all of college football.
Williams has filled the void left by the departure of Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
The transfer from Ohio State has 61 receptions for 1,261 yards — an average of 20.7 yards a catch — to go along with 13 touchdowns. Williams has shown the ability to single-handily take over games, and if Georgia has busts in coverage, he’ll make the Bulldogs pay.
“He’s elite. He’s really good. The guy comes out and dominates at gunner,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s a weapon out at wideout. He does a tremendous job.”
Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. vs. Georgia’s offensive line
The Crimson Tide’s defense has regressed from last year. Their opponents are averaging 19.92 points per game this season after holding the opposition to 16.8 points per game during the regular season last year en route to winning the national title.
The gap would likely be much wider if not for Anderson, who has emerged as the next great linebacker at a school that served as an NFL pipeline at the position for decades. Anderson leads the team in tackles for loss (30.5), sacks (14.5), quarterback hits (8) and is second on the team in tackles (86), behind Henry To’oTo’o’s 93.
If Anderson can stop Georgia running backs Zamir White (691 yards, 10 TDs) and James Cook (581 yards, seven TDs), not to mention get to quarterback Stetson Bennett, the Bulldogs could struggle moving the ball.
However, Georgia allowed just eight sacks this year, which ranks second in the country behind Army’s six.
“He’s a great player. He’s a game wrecker, watching his film and just seeing him, he’s explosive. He’s definitely one of those guys you have to make sure to keep contained,” Georgia nose guard Jordan Davis said. “We just have to make sure that we game plan for him and that we protect well up front on the offensive side and give (Georgia quarterback) Stetson (Bennett) some time to throw.”
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young vs. Georgia’s defense
Where would the Crimson Tide, who have been inconsistent running the ball all season, be without their Heisman hopeful at quarterback?
Young has thrown for 3,901 yards, 40 touchdowns and just four interceptions on 289-of-419 passing (69.0 percent). He ranks second nationally in passing touchdowns, fifth in passer rating (176.96), sixth in passing yards, seventh in passing yards per game (325.08) and eighth in yards per attempt (9.33).
“It’s going to be a great matchup for both sides,” Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker said. “We have to continue doing what we have been doing all season, and everything will go as planned. That being said, we just got to keep rushing the passer, and it will all fall in place.”
The Bulldogs have made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks this season. Opposing quarterbacks have the lowest passer rating in the nation (94.72) when they face Georgia, which also has 12 interceptions and 41 sacks.
“Georgia’s secondary is an area that pops on defense when you watch the film,” Young said. “They’ve made a lot of plays. They’ve done a really good job on the back end. With corner safeties, everyone, it’s a really good unit. So we understand that. We see that on film, and we know what it is going to the game.”
–Field Level Media