Like many, I expect a pretty even matchup Monday night between Georgia and Alabama. Two complete teams with elite talent going head to head should make for an exciting game.
Not exciting like the Rose Bowl was, where dudes were scoring every time you managed a breath. But exciting as in close, and hard fought. Every yard inch will matter. So could this one come down to special teams play?
The teams are pretty even in punting and place kicking, although Rodrigo puts it in the endzone more proficiently. But there is a decided Georgia advantage in both kickoff and punt return. (via cfbstats.com)
Mecole Hardman, who has been so, so close to breaking a return all season, averages 11 yards per punt return and 27 yards per kick return. Alabama's top punt returner is Trevon Diggs who averages nearly nine yards a return and their top kick returner is Henry Ruggs who averages 18 yards.
If this evolves into a plodding game of field position, there are two things that can turn things - turnovers and punt returns. I glad we have 4 on our side. Even if he doesn't break one - and good God is Mecole overdue for that one last block!! - a nice return from inside the 20 to their side of the 50 can be a HUGE play for us.
Two more days! Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing...Go Dawgs!
If you haven't already I think you'd really enjoy this National Championship preview podcast from Solid Verbal. Dan chats with Chris Brown of Smart Football, who always has a certain depth to his analysis. He has some interesting thoughts on how Chaney specifically could impact the game. And I particularly appreciated how he breaks down the relationship between Kirby and Saban and the role it could play in terms of each others' understanding and game planning going into Monday night.
Suffice it to say, Brown isn't just giving the the relationship cute lip service like many national analysts. Add it to your podcast feed...soon!
One thing is clear, whichever team has the ball Monday night will be trying to establish the run. The Dawgs and the Tide, respectively, are one and two in the conference in rushing the football.
But how they go about achieving that goal are two vastly different animals.
Georgia uses a variety of sets and looks to get Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, college football's most prolific backfield tandem, into space. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney wants to have the opponent's defense sufficiently worn down in the fourth quarter when he can even insert D'Andre Swift into the huddle with fresh legs.
For a great reference to that point, make sure you've thoroughly vetted this post by The Senator where he specifically points out how Oklahoma's secondary grew tired of being blocked the deeper into the game they got.
By contrast, Alabama uses multiple looks as well, but they rely heavily on the legs of Jalen Hurts, not to mention his ability to make the correct reads in the read-option and run-pass-option.
So when someone tries to tell you that this is just the same ol' Bama, take that with a grain of salt. Because they don't have that heavy bruiser of a tailback that they use to tote the rock 20-25 times a game.
Damien Harris is a strong runner and likes to get downhill. He's also athletic, something usually attributed more to his colleague Bo Scarbrough. But together they really handle most of the handoffs, albeit to the tune of just 19 carries/game combined (via cfbstats.com)
And that's because this is Jalen Hurts' show. He doesn't have as many yards as Harris, but he has the most carries. For the most part he does a good job of reading the defense and determining which run option is best.
However, he ain't perfect. This video of Sugar Bowl highlights gives you an idea of how they utilize the running backs mentioned, but also shows you that Hurts can get flustered. For instance, pay particular attention to the moderate pressure (at best) up the middle Clemson throws at him at about the 2:30 mark when they are able to force a fumble off a bad read and exchange.
That's something, as we discussed yesterday, that could play into Coach Tucker's hands. The Tiger linebacker is really just making a read and playing off of Hurts' eyes. I wouldn't even call it a blitz. Plug Roquan in there on a favorable down and distance and it could definitely lead to a positive result.
That's all well and good. But no matter what anyone (myself included) writes or what any expert on the television tells you this week, we all know from past meetings that this game will come down to which team controls the line of scrimmage best.
In the 2012 SECCG it was practically a draw at the line of scrimmage until late when we had used pretty much the same defensive front the entire game. John Jenkins was gassed and we couldn't stop Eddie Lacy or TJ Yeldon.
Tucker's defense is much more versatile than Grantham's 2012 version. And the point of this post is to highlight the possibility that Alabama's offense is less versatile today than it was then. In other words, stop Hurts and you stop the Tide. They just don't have that one running back that can wear on you from down to down.
Well, to be honest, I think Harris especially fits the bill. It's just that they don't use him that way. Perhaps I just haven't watched enough of them to know that they just don't need him or Scarbrough as much as Hurts. In Harris' best game against Vandy he had 12 carries for 151 yards. In the close game against Mississippi State thogh he was averaging over 11 yards a carry but only touched it eight times. Meanwhile Hurts had 19 carries for two yards a clip (sack yardage included).
Have they been saving 34 and 9's legs just for this game Monday?
In the end I'm going to give Georgia the edge in the rushing game, all while hoping I'm not just seeing what I want to see. Because admittedly, I've watched a lot more of Georgia than Alabama. I just see our rushing attack as much more versatile.
The halftime adjustments by Tucker and Smart were what we've seen all season, just on a grander stage. My initial reflection was that Tucker got away from trying to contain Mayfield and squeeze the pocket, and used more stunts and blitzes, especially up the middle.
Well, I was partially right, as this video will show best. It's the back to back sacks on Mayfield in the third quarter that really started prove that the Sooners were going to have a tougher row to hoe in the second half.
The first sack is a coverage sack in my opinion. Tucker again uses four rushers to squeeze the pocket and by the time Mayfield tries to use his legs because there's no where to throw, Ledbetter is in his face with an easy sack.
And then...well, Tucker lets the boys loose!
Those two plays prove that, even though it may not have played out that way in the first half, Georgia had the defense to go up against this high-powered offense.
Okay, but aren't we supposed to be talking about Alabama? Yes, and that's my next point.
Jalen Hurts has a high of 16 completions in one game this season. And that was in the Sugar Bowl. We know he can hurt you with his arm, but only if you don't manage to stop the run.
Both of these defenses Monday night are going to be trying to do the same thing - stop each other's run game. And I think both are built just for that.
But I think Tucker will use similar schemes in containing Hurts that he did in the Rose Bowl's second half. He wants to contain Hurts as much as he can and force him to throw when he's uncomfortable. Stopping Harris and Scarbrough is a topic for later, because that is surely Tucker's biggest headache this week. Alabama has gained nearly a thousand more yards rushing this season than they have passing.
But games like this tend to come down to quarterback play. Hurts is a true winner, for sure. I like his style and leadership. Plus he comes up big in big moments.
But I like our guy. I think Fromm complements his offense in ways Hurts can only dream of. I just hope Tucker and those Savages can minimize Hurts' impact on the game.
It's taken a while to digest exactly what happened. It's so much more than the game itself. It's the experience and the sheer joy you feel when you see your team come out on top on that kind of stage. After a day of thinking and reflecting I still can't come up with the words. But I highly recommend you read this Tommy Tomlinson piece on his experience and why moments like what happened Monday night are so important.
As for the game itself, it was truly an instant classic. Reminiscent of game like the 2006 Rose Bowl which served as the National Championship game between Texas and USC. But this one was our own Georgia Bulldogs! Two amazing teams with amazing talent, both who clearly wanted to be there and wanted to win.
It was a game full of huge swings in momentum from sideline to sideline, as each big play seemed to be one that would finally turn the tide for good. But then there was another, and then another. And then there was another!
I had wondered a few weeks ago if time of possession would be the key factor in stopping the Oklahoma offense and giving us our best shot. I was right about being able to run the ball effectively, I just didn't take into account how effectively we would run it. Something like three drives that took less than a minute. It was the game we knew Sony and Chubb could and should have. So glad Sony got the chance to atone for that fumble and seal the deal himself. And more on that in a minute...
But there were a couple of smaller things that also became the Main Thing. I'll leave the argument of whether the decision to squib kick it to end the first half up to the Sooner fans. But the heads up play by a former reserve running back turned reserve linebacker in Tae Crowder to instinctively snag that kick and lay on it, was amazing.
Think about how easy it would be to just go out there as a kick return specialist and simply go through the motions. Special Teams coordinator Shane Beamer mostly gives credit where it is due, to Crowder, but I'm sure they had been warned to watch for an "nontraditional" kick off. Still, to be ready to go back to your days as a Harris County HS shortstop and snag that ball ended up being a game changer. It was. We had to have it!
Because with just a few ticks on the clock (and with our offensive coordinator in an elevator on the way to the locker room), we were able to call a quick out to Godwin and grab another nine yards and stop the clock with just a second left.
At this point I'm thinking, "Well, that makes Fromm's heave to the endzone a little shorter." But the coaches had another bold idea and Rodrigo took it from there. And there was never a doubt.
Another small thing I noticed that was huge was not just the blocking on that Sony Michel 27 yard touchdown trot, but actually who was blocking - reserve wide receivers and Nauta. Of course, Fromm gave his man on the outside all he could handle to give Sony the room to run. But to send out guys like Crumpton and Simmons and Blount, all with fresh legs and bodies in the second over time to lay some wood was a great call, and refreshing to see.
And now it's on to Alabama in the biggest game our Dawgs have been in since 1982. We've had games where we were playing for this chance. It just wasn't until Kirby preached to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing that we actually succeeded in getting it done.