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Rematches are rare in college football, but the national championship game Monday night in Indianapolis will be a rerun of the SEC Championship Game. Though Bama was a substantial underdog in the first matchup in Atlanta, they won decisively, 41-24. The Bulldogs were able to surge to a 10-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter, but after that, it was all Crimson Tide.
Georgia is a field goal favorite and the more talented team this time around. Will that be enough to slay their Bama demons? It wasn’t in the first matchup, and with Kirby Smart sporting an 0-4 record against his former boss, there will be significant psychological hurdles for the Bulldogs to overcome.
Both teams have a pathway to victory and must stick closely to their game plan and dictate the game narrative if they want to come out on top. Here is the pathway each team must travel:
Don’t Make It about Stetson
Stetson Bennett is one of the best stories in college football, but stories don’t win championships. Players do. Bennett has held off JT Daniels all season. He has also managed games at an incredibly high level… and that’s not a bad thing. Being a game manager isn’t the four letter word that many make it out to be.
While Bennett doesn’t have the size, arm strength, or measurables, he does possess a unique athleticism and pocket presence that allows him to make plays off script. However, don’t ask him to beat a team like Alabama in a ‘chase’ game. The Bulldogs need to run the ball like they have all season and stay ahead of the chains. Running the football effectively and selectively utilizing play action passing will keep Bennett out of pure drop-back passing situations. The fewer pure drop back passes called for Georgia, the better. Put Bennett in the same situation he faced in the 2nd half of the SEC Championship and expect different results.
Control the Tempo
Statistically, Georgia has had the best defense in the nation all season, but no defense can be great when they are on the field all game. The more plays the defense is on the field, the more fatigued they will become, which will make it more likely that they surrender big plays. The Bulldog offense was 3-12 on 3rd down in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia must protect their defense by sustaining drives and controlling the clock.
Bama ran 42 plays against the Bulldogs in the 1st half of the SEC Championship, and it showed in the 2nd half. The strength of the defense is the defensive line and, given his size, DT Jordan Davis can only hand 45 to 50 plays max.
The Bulldog defense must also find a way to get off the field on 3rd down. Bama was able to convert 7-14 3rd down conversions, and many of those came courtesy of Bryce Young. Georgia needs to get pressure in the face of Young, and the way to do it will be via pressures from linebackers Nakobe Dean and Robert Beal.
Space and Speed
The Crimson Tide have thrived all year on big plays by wide receiver Jameson Williams. He has been the play threat while his cohort John Metchie has been the possession receiver. Metchie’s 96 receptions were missed against Cincinnati, so Bama put Williams more in Metchie’s role. The Crimson Tide will allow Williams to reprise his role as the deep threat against Georgia to provide the big plays and explosive gains. It’s tough to drive the ball for touchdowns against a great defense, and in the first matchup, Bama only had one touchdown drive over six plays. Big plays will be a must.
The best way to eliminate a great defensive line is by putting them on sideline. In the first matchup, Bama used an up-tempo attack with a lateral rushing and passing game. By getting the ball out quickly with limited time between plays and a focus on lateral rushing and passing, the Tide forced the defensive line to run, which fatigued them fast. Tired pass rushers means no rush at all. It’s a game plan that works well, but Bama must convert 1st downs to stay on the field and wear down the Bulldog defense.
Find a Way to Run
The Bulldog defense features the No. 1 rush defense in the country, which yields a paltry 82 yards per game. Running back Brian Robinson is finally healthy and was a monster against Cincinnati, with over 200 yards on the ground. But don’t expect that against Georgia. They limited Robinson to 55 yards in the first matchup, and it was Bryce Young who added 40 yards on a mere three carries.
While Robinson should be able to gain more than 55 yards this time around, Young is still going to have to use his legs. His speed and ability in space make him a massive threat when the play begins to break down. QBs slide in the regular season, but often have a different mentality in the Playoff. The legs of Young are critical to a Bama victory, and both sides know it.