The Georgia Bulldogs responded to critics by decisively beating the Michigan Wolverines 34-11 in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve. As the Georgia fans celebrated inside Hard Rock Stadium, they began turning their attention to the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Earlier in the day, Alabama cruised to a 27-6 victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Cotton Bowl. The celebrations turned into microscopic breakdowns of the upcoming matchups within the College Football Playoff National Championship game:
How would the Georgia receivers fare against the Alabama defensive backs? How will Georgia neutralize Alabama linebacker Will Anderson? Can Butkus award winner Nakobe Dean and the Georgia defense handle the Alabama running backs? How can the Georgia secondary stop Alabama wide receivers Slade Bolden, Ja’Corey Brooks and Jameson Williams?
As the questions swirled, there was one universal truth emanating from the cheap seats to the luxury suites in Miami Gardens: Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett cannot afford to make mistakes if the Bulldogs are going to win their first National Championship since 1980. During his press conference, Bennett understands he cannot shoulder that responsibility by himself.
“Maybe I’m not capable of holding that weight on my shoulders, but, no, I’m just treating it as a football game,” Bennett said Monday. “Do I know that means a lot to a lot of people? Yes. Am I trying to play some kind of savior by winning a national championship for millions of people? No. I don’t think that’s my job. My job is to go out there and throw completions to very talented people we have on this team. And I think it’s as simple as that.”
In the Orange Bowl, Bennett completed 20-of-30 passes for 313 yards and one touchdown. Georgia also doubled Michigan’s rushing output, 190 to 91. However, in the SEC Championship game, Bennett went 29-of-48, for 340 yards. He threw three touchdowns and two interceptions. After being up 10-0 in the first quarter, Alabama outscored Georgia 41-14 the rest of the way.
If the past serves as a prologue, the pressure Bennett should feel heading into Indianapolis would be intense. However, the 5’11”, 190 pound walk-on from Blackshear is focused on performing well Monday night.
“So, yes, I know it means a lot to a lot of people,” Bennett said of the importance of the National Championship game. “Is it just another game? No, I’m not silly. But I don’t think for 20-year-old kids you can put that kind of pressure on yourself because you might go crazy.”
Former Nick Saban assistant, current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, is 0-4 against Saban, with three of those losses coming in huge games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
During the 2017 season, Alabama beat the Bulldogs in overtime in the national championship game. The next year, the Tide prevailed in another classic to capture the SEC championship.
As the cliches go, it was Kirby Smart who arrived in Athens with the self-proclaimed mandate to end the 1980 jokes once and for all. Monday night, Smart has the chance to become the fifth active head coach to win a National Championship, joining Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Dabo Swinney and Mack Brown.
During Monday’s press conference, Smart admitted Georgia’s defense must put pressure on Alabama’s quarterback, Bryce Young. In the SEC Championship, Young threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns and was not sacked.
“They did a good job — number one, he did a good job of moving around in the pocket, of creating time,” Smart said Monday. “He’s really way more elusive than people give him credit for.”
Kickoff between Alabama and Georgia from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is scheduled for 8:00 PM.