What to expect in Alabama-Georgia matchup
Two top-10 teams in our PFF top 25 face off in Athens, Georgia, this weekend as the SEC schedule gets into full swing. The conference has big-time matchups week after week, but this one is especially meaningful for Alabama. Already behind the eight-ball in the SEC West, the Crimson Tide can’t afford to drop two games and a tie-breaker behind Ole Miss, and still have any chance at the SEC title game.
For Georgia, it’s a chance to stamp their name as a legitimate playoff contender in the minds of the committee. They look like the class of the SEC East, but limping into the title game won’t do them any favors in the postseason.
The last time these two teams met was the 2012 SEC title game, and a national championship berth was on the line. Alabama won that one 32-28; Georgia finally gets a chance to enact revenge on Saturday.
With so much on the line for an early season contest, let’s look at the crucial matchups to watch:
When Georgia has the ball
Alabama absolutely dominated the lines from Wisconsin and Ole Miss when they tried to run the ball, holding both under 4 yards per carry. Georgia is no slouch up front, with sophomore Isaiah Wynn at No. 13 in our center rankings, and every lineman grading positively, but they have already collectively been overpowered before. Against Vanderbilt, only left guard Brandon Kublanow was able to escape with a positive run blocking grade, albeit barely.
In that game, much like their upcoming one, the onus was all on sophomore running back Nick Chubb to move the ground. And move the ball he did, with a +3.2 grade and 189 yards on 19 carries. Relying solely on Chubb may not be sustainable against an Alabama front that currently has the eighth-best run defense grade in the country. Alabama’s defensive line and linebackers have combined to miss six tackles all season long.
That means quarterback Greyson Lambert is the key for this Georgia offense. Against Wisconsin and Ole Miss, Alabama’s secondary had a +0.1 overall grade. That’s not close to the dominant production they’ve hung their hat on in the past. Lambert’s +4.2 pass grade trails only Chad Kelly in the SEC, and senior wideout Malcolm Mitchell’s +8.3 overall grade paces all SEC receivers, and is eighth-best in the country. The biggest question is whether Lambert can take the top off the defense. Alabama allowed four-of-six passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns on passes targeted over 20 yards downfield against Ole Miss. For the whole season, Lambert has only attempted five passes 20 yards or more downfield; he’s three-for-five for 74 yards and a touchdown on those attempts.
When Alabama has the ball
If Alabama is going to move the ball consistently, it will be on the legs of Derrick Henry. By now, we know what the Tide have at quarterback, and that is a liability. Jake Coker currently has the fourth-worst passing grade of any SEC quarterback at -8.0, and Cooper Bateman’s -2.2 grade doesn’t inspire much hope either. Alabama has to go run heavy and can’t afford to have their quarterback throwing the game away. The only problem is the run blocking hasn’t been close to Alabama’s usual dominant standard. Their -7.7 overall run blocking grade pales in comparison to their +17.6 grade from a year ago. That won’t bode well against Georgia’s run defense, ranked as the 10th best in the country by PFF.
One thing that the Georgia defense has that Alabama’s doesn’t is fearsome edge rushers. OLBs Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins are both amongst the most active outside linebackers in all of college football. They drop into coverage a good amount on early downs—79 times for Floyd and 18 times for Jenkins, so far—but on third down, you better believe they are coming after the quarterback. Jenkins is currently ranked first (and Floyd, third) among all 3-4 outside linebackers in the FBS. They’ll be lined up against LT Cam Robinson and RT Dominick Jackson, who have overall grades of -3.0 and +6.0, respectively.