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There is just something about those crimson helmets. You can hate them. You can love them blindly. But there is just something about that rich, deep shade of red. It makes opponents fumble at the worst times. Or not stay inbounds when they should.
That will be perhaps the greatest obstacle that No. 1 Georgia (12-0) must overcome Saturday in order to beat No. 3 Alabama (11-1) in the SEC Championship Game (3 p.m. central, CBS) in Atlanta – the Alabama/Saban mystique. Georgia is a touchdown favorite, but look out for those red helmets Alabama just tosses out there.
Georgia wears red, too, but it’s just not the same. It’s not as bold as Bama’s, and it’s just a little too shiny. Georgia has historically been pretty good in football, but not great. The Bulldogs have not won a national championship since 1980 and won only one other in 1942. Alabama has won 18, including six since 2009 under coach Nick Saban, who won it last year.
Saban’s first year at Alabama in 2007, he lost, 26-23, to Georgia in overtime. Of course, he also lost to Louisiana-Monroe, 14-7, that season and finished 6-6, thanks to a win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Since then, Saban and Alabama are 6-0 against Georgia, and have never been close to Shreveport in the postseason, unless you count flyovers.
Alabama is 2-0 against Georgia in SEC title games – 32-28 in 2012 and 35-28 in 2018. After each one, Alabama advanced to the national championship, winning one and losing one, and Georgia went back to Athens. Alabama has won 28 SEC titles in football, including six of the last nine. Georgia has won 13 with the last one in 2017. Alabama leads the all-time series, 41-25-4.
Georgia’s only significant win over Alabama ever as far as national championship implications go was on Oct. 31, 1942, when the No. 2 and 6-0 Bulldogs beat the No. 3 and 5-0 Tide, 21-10, at Grant Field on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. Georgia went on to beat No. 2 Georgia Tech to finish the regular season 11-1 before beating No. 13 UCLA in the Rose Bowl for a share of the national championship. Ohio State (9-1) won the Associated Press national title without playing in a bowl, while Georgia was crowned by rating systems such as Billingsley, Berryman, Sagarin and others – the BCS of its time.
Georgia and second-year coach Kirby Smart, who was Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-15, played Alabama for the national championship in Atlanta on Jan. 8, 2018, and led 13-0 at halftime. But Alabama came back and won, 26-23, in overtime.
So, this is it for Georgia. Georgia is better than Alabama this season on paper and on film. It should win.
For Georgia, it’s now, or never will stretch to 80 years from 1942 to 2022. That’s a long time to be slapped around by your big brother.
“Until you cut the dragon’s head off, the dragon is always going to be the dragon,” Atlanta native and comedian Jeff Foxworthy said Friday on The Paul Finebaum Show.
The dragon has been stomping around downtown Atlanta since Thursday, knocking down buildings and setting fire to everything Scarlett O’Hara treasured.
Here are five reasons why the Crimson Dragon will burn Georgia again.
5. NO PRESSURE ON BAMA – Alabama is not supposed to win. Even its fire-breathing fan base knows it has a great chance of losing, though it tries to keep that buried inside like a family secret. Alabama will play loose, and Saban will take chances if he needs to. What has he got to lose? Seasons without national titles at Alabama are blips. They’ll just win a couple more in the next few years if they miss a spot. Saban tends to do well in those rare instances where he is not expected to win. He has been savoring this underdog role. Makes him feel young again like when he was at Michigan State or at LSU or in his early years – or year – at Alabama.
Alabama is also immune to in-game pressure. It should have lost to average teams like Auburn, LSU and Florida this season. But Alabama stared defeat right in the face all three times and survived under pressure. That helps a team when that happens again, and it will against Georgia.
4. PRESSURE COLLAR AROUND DOGS – Georgia has lost six straight to Alabama. That weighs on players, even if they were in none of the six. It particularly weighs on coaches. When you’re trying not to think about something, you already are thinking about it. Georgia is also not used to performing under pressure as it has blown away every opponent since a 10-3 win over Clemson on Sept. 4. Unlike Bama, Georgia doesn’t know what a test is unless it’s for COVID.
And Alabama has won so much in recent years that it is virtually immune to being tight and thinking about it. Most of the time, things just work out, and the players and coaches feel like it eventually will. Alabama knows how big this game is for Georgia’s mostly empty history, and it will be just waiting for the Bulldogs to choke on it.
3. WILL ANDERSON JR. – No one has figured how to stop this Alabama outside linebacker/edge rusher, who leads the nation with 30.5 tackles for loss and is second in the nation in sacks with 14.
“One-on-one with the tackle on him for the entirety of the game just doesn’t make any sense, and they move him,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said.
“He plays the game like a grown man,” Arkansas senior offensive tackle Dalton Wagner said. “He does a tremendous job bending edges, using his hands, and powering through blocks. It’s really important to get hands on him. He’s an elite pass rusher.”
2. BRYCE YOUNG WILL OUTPLAY STETSON BENNETT – In microcosm, the Alabama-Georgia game boils down to the two quarterbacks’ experience under pressure. Alabama’s Bryce Young is used to performing under the pressure of a pass rush and while behind. Georgia’s Stetson Bennett has rarely been pressured and has rarely not had a lead.
Alabama is 112th out of 130 FBS schools in sacks allowed with 36. Georgia is No. 2 with eight sacks allowed. Correction: Stetson has rarely broken a sweat. Young was sacked seven times at Auburn, but kept playing like a Heisman winner. He has been sacked four or more times in his last four SEC games. Bennett is No. 1 in the nation in efficiency at 188.5 on 119-of-183 passing for 1,985 yards and 21 touchdowns with five interceptions. Young is No. 5 in efficiency at 177 but under a much heavier rush. He has completed 288 of 418 passes for 3,901 yards and 40 touchdowns with four interceptions.
If it comes down to a final drive and Alabama has the ball, Young will deliver under pressure and maybe around a sack or two.
1. NICK SABAN – He’s going to come up with something. And Smart knows it. There will be new blitz protections. There will be some new blitzes. Saban, like many, has known this game was coming from early in the season. So, you know, he will be more prepared. He’ll find something to exploit in Georgia’s offense. And throughout the game, Smart will be wondering and worrying much more about what Saban will do than vice versa.
Remember the Alabama onside kick that helped beat Clemson, 45-40, in the national championship game on Jan. 11, 2016? Saban knew Clemson was better than his team or close to it, so he had to do something. He knows Georgia is clearly better than his team this season. He’s going to try something, and Smart will spend a lot of the game wondering when that might happen.
PREDICTION: Alabama 38, Georgia 35
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