This Saturday, the University of Georgia Bulldogs will take on the University of Alabama Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to compete for the Southeastern Conference Championship. This game is a rematch of last year’s College Football Playoff Championship, won by Alabama in overtime, 26-23.
The unanticipated success of Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm had many Bulldog fans visualizing a championship last year. It would have been Georgia’s first since 1980, when another true freshman, Herschel Walker, catapulted the Bulldogs to a national championship with a 17-10 victory over Notre Dame.
After leading last year’s national championship game by 13 points midway through the third quarter, the Bulldogs appeared to be on their way to their first College Football Playoff championship. However, they were not quite prepared for who they would encounter for the rest of the second half and the subsequent overtime period.
Alabama’s freshman reserve quarterback replaced Jalen Hurts in the second half and threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime.
This year, Tagovailoa is the frontrunner for the Heisman and the facilitator of an undefeated Alabama team that averages 49 points a game and a margin of defeat of 35 points per game.
In order for the Bulldogs to avenge last year’s loss, they will have to play a complete, turnover-free game on Saturday. Alabama has offensive weapons all over the field and has demonstrated an ability to score points on every team they’ve faced this year. Georgia’s offense must use their running game to take time off of the clock. Most importantly, the Bulldogs must protect the football. Georgia cannot give Bama’s explosive offense additional opportunities to score points.
Georgia has two of the premier running backs in the SEC in Elijah Holyfield (son of former world boxing champion Evander Holyfield) and D’Andre Swift. Both backs average more than six yards a carry, and if used properly, could routinely create third-and-short situations for Fromm and the rest of the Bulldog offense. Due to the quick-strike capability of the Crimson Tide offense, Georgia will want to shorten the number of times ‘Bama has the ball. The best way to accomplish this is to execute scoring drives that utilize the Dawgs’ heavy running attack.
The Bulldogs’ offensive line has a huge responsibility in slowing down Alabama’s dominant defensive front seven. Defensive linemen Quinnen Williams and Raekwon Davis are big, strong and fast; they are extremely adept at neutralizing opposing teams’ rushing attacks. Linebackers Isaiah Buggs and Christian Miller are two of the nation’s best pass rushers. Also returning from injury is Terrell Lewis, who tore his ACL in July and was not expected to play at all this year. If the Dawgs’ o-line cannot block Bama’s linebackers and defensive linemen, Georgia’s offense cannot be productive.
Alabama’s offense will not be stopped. Tagovailoa has a strong arm and is extremely accurate, and his receiving corps of Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle is the nation’s best. Along with boasting one of nation’s best passing games, Bama supplements its offense with a superior running game. Najee Harris and Damien Harris are fast and aggressive backs who do not shy away from contact; Tagovailoa also has the speed and maneuverability to break long runs. The only way Georgia will slow down this offense down is by keeping the ball out of its hands.
Oddsmakers have Georgia listed as 10-point underdogs to the Crimson Tide. In order for the Dawgs to get the upset, they must significantly shorten the game by running the ball and winning the turnover battle.
Kickoff for the SEC Championship is at 4 p.m.