On paper, Georgia and Alabama are remarkably similar and match up pretty well coming into Saturday’s SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome.
Both teams utilize pro-style offenses that are led by experienced quarterbacks. Aaron Murray leads the nation in pass efficiency with a rating of 177.15. while Alabama’s A.J. McCarron is second at 176.26. Both offenses feature productive tailback tandems. Both teams have lost a couple of top receivers to injury this season (though the Dogs’ receiving corps looks a bit less depleted than the Tide’s). The teams average scoring about the same number of points per game. They both run 3-4 defenses. Alabama’s ranks higher nationally, though Georgia’s has come on strong in the past month and has more NFL-caliber personnel.
But while Nick Saban’s team is no longer looking invincible after a close call against LSU and a loss to Johnny Football, the Tide is rightfully favored by 7 points. As Mark Richt noted earlier this week, amid all the similarities between the two teams, there’s one key difference: “The one thing they’ve done is they’ve been national champions and we’ve not. They’ve been SEC champions and we’ve not during the time frame of these kids careers.”
So when my wife asked me the other night for an honest appraisal of Georgia’s chances of winning the game, I told her a bit less than 50/50 odds. About 45 percent.
That was based on Munsonesque anything-that-can-go-wrong-probably-will skepticism that the Dogs will be able to put together the nearly perfect game that will be needed to beat Bama.
However, if I were betting man (which I’m not), I think I’d put my money down on Georgia. Not just taking the points, but to win.
Because I get the feeling that nearly perfect game might not be all that far from this team’s reach.
What will it take? Blawg readers discussed that here Thursday, and my thinking runs much along the same lines: The play of the offensive line and the QB will be key for Georgia.
But there are other factors that need to fall into place. The Dogs need to establish some semblance of a running game to keep the pass rush off Murray. If they do that, I think Alabama’s pass defense is suspect. Murray is no Johnny Football, but he is a better QB than LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, who had quite a bit of success against the Tide (although it should be noted LSU has a better OL than Georgia’s).
If it’s a shootout, McCarron is a fine quarterback, but I don’t think he equals Murray at his best.
As we saw in the Texas A&M game, Bama doesn’t do as well when it’s playing from behind, so the Dogs need to hit the Tide hard and fast in this game and hopefully get out ahead. That will force Bama to throw the ball more than they like and make their big backs less of a factor.
That Bama running game is formidable, but overall I think Georgia’s defense matches up well with Alabama’s offense if the Dogs continue to play up to their potential like the past five weeks.
However, Georgia absolutely can’t afford any turnovers or giving up any big plays in special teams, which is what killed them against LSU last year. Rather, the Dogs need to be the ones with the take-aways. That’s where Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo figure into the picture.
As my son noted the other day, in so many games this year the Georgia defense has been able to turn the momentum back by forcing key turnovers. It happened against Florida (obviously, with six) but also Tennessee, Ole Miss and even Tech. The Jackets were driving on their first possession and about to score when Rambo stripped the ball away.
Without forcing timely turnovers, this team probably wouldn’t be playing in the Dome.
Also, the Dogs need to sustain all the incremental gains they’ve made in special teams this season. In last year’s SEC Championship it was giving up big returns that killed them. The margin for error will be extremely tight in this game, so momentary lapses due to “poor communication” and mistakes like missed kicks could be killers.
Ultimately, though, it comes back to the quarterbacks. Murray hasn’t performed at his best on the big stage in the past, but he did step up late in the Florida game and has built on that momentum since. He needs to keep it up. Unlike in Jacksonville, Georgia stands no chance of winning this one if he throws three picks.
If it’s a close game that goes down to the wire, the coaching advantage is probably Alabama’s, but Georgia has the more quick-strike capability.
Let’s go with Georgia in an upset.
Now, let’s get to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail …
Brad Crown writes: I know the plan is for Hutson Mason to redshirt this season, but what happens if Aaron Murray goes down with an injury against Alabama? Or if the Dawgs get to the BCS game and Murray gets hurt? Would Mark Richt pull the redshirt off Mason and burn a season with a major game on the line?
He would. Richt said this week on his “Bulldog Hotline” radio show that if the outcome of the game was on the line and Murray got hurt and was “out for the rest of the game or the rest of the season” then he wouldn’t hesitate to play Mason. And, he added, he thought Mason would be “willing to jump in and help us win that game because it does mean so much.”
Michael Hawkins writes: Do you know if there will be a Dawg Walk Saturday, and if so when?
The UGA Sports Communications folks say there will be no Dawg Walk this week because at the Georgia Dome the buses drop off the team about two hours before kickoff in a secure area where the fans aren’t allowed.
Howard Quinn writes: When we heard this week that Herschel Walker is opening up a pub in downtown Athens this winter, I mentioned to a friend that I thought this would be his second time owning an eatery in the Classic City. Didn’t he have some sort of fast-food restaurant in Athens once before?
He did indeed. Walker was the owner of a location of D’Lites of America at the Beechwood shopping center in Athens back in the mid-1980s. A popular item on the menu was the No. 34 Burger. D’Lites was an Atlanta-based fast-food chain that marketed itself as serving “healthier” food. Unfortunately, America wasn’t quite ready for that concept yet and the chain went out of business in 1987 after four years. In ensuing years, Walker has continued to be involved in the supply side of the food industry. And now he’s part of a group opening Herschel’s Famous 34 Pub & Grill at 320 E. Clayton St. in downtown Athens, probably in late January, the Athens Banner-Herald reports. The paper says the restaurant will feature a half dozen 60-inch TVs, complimentary wireless Internet and table-side tablets featuring messages from Walker and highlights of his football, bobsledding and martial arts experiences. The menu will run the gamut, with steaks, burgers, signature sandwiches, oysters, crab legs, shrimp, healthy selections and salads made fresh with local produce, according to the paper. The food will come from Renaissance Man Food Services, Walker’s Savannah-based company. Among the signature items will be Doritos-crusted barbecue wings and the place will feature 34 craft beers. Sounds like a new Sunday lunch option for the King brothers!
In reference to a blog I wrote earlier this week in which I mentioned Will Muschamp’s declaration that his team is “sexy,” Claire in Milledgeville writes: What exactly makes the Gators “sexy”? I’m clearly not getting something here.
It started as something of a joke during Muschamp’s Nov. 19 news conference. After his Gators’ less than impressive win over Jacksonville State, Muschamp noted that it was still a win, even if it wasn’t a sexy win. Then, he added, “My wife told me I was sexy after the game. She said, ‘We don’t win sexy, but you’re sexy.’ That’s a positive. There’s something good in that, I guess. She was kidding.” Muschamp returned to the theme last week after Florida beat FSU, saying that was a “really sexy win” and that the Gators were a “sexy team.” He added: “I was going to come in with my shirt off, but … the players did not want me to do that.” Thank goodness.
Ben writes: In reference to your recent blog post, why do you think the Bulldogs are so out of favor with the national media, mainly ESPN? Georgia has a good tradition, produces notable NFL players and has often been a top-10 program under Richt. What’s not to like? Is it simply Georgia’s tendency to flop in big games? Or is it something else?
I think it’s mainly getting blown out in hugely hyped games like the one against Alabama in 2008 and this year against South Carolina. But I believe Richt’s low-key good-guy persona and Georgia’s lack of any championships since 2005 also are part of it. One thing’s for sure: A win over Bama will bring lots of folks from the national sports media clambering aboard the Bulldog bandwagon.
Jim P. writes: I’m curious, with the playoffs approaching, might it be better for the SEC to drop its championship game? Could you imagine this year, if there were a playoff, that the SEC winner would still have to play in a semifinal AFTER #2 played #3 in the SEC Championship game? Is there an NCAA rule that mandates a conference championship game for conferences with at least 12 teams? Or can the SEC and others decide for themselves whether to keep a conference championship game? The money and exposure it brings is astronomical, but this can become too much, even for powerful SEC teams, to overcome in future playoffs with similar situations of this year.
My understanding is that NCAA Rule 126.96.36.199 allows conferences that have at least 12 members to field a title game, but it doesn’t mandate that they must. And you’re correct that in the future teams that don’t have to play a championship game might have at least a perceived advantage. Even this year, Notre Dame is in the BCS game without having to survive such a showdown. However, the money is too tempting for any conference with that many members not to stage a championship game. For the 2011-12 fiscal year, the SEC distributed approximately $241.5 million in revenue sharing to the 12 teams that were in the conference at the time, and $15.3 million of that came from the SEC Football Championship. I don’t see them giving that money up, do you?
I’ll answer more Junkyard Mail next week. If there’s something you’d like to discuss or you have a question, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg