It's finally hear. The game that's been billed by some as the "Game of the Year," circled in red ink for months. If a college football season was to happen, this is what the fans wanted delivered. No. 3 vs. No. 2. On a Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it's time for some SEC football.
This game is already going to be different than usual, as earlier in the week, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban tested positive for COVID-19. He is now isolating at home, but a series of negative tests could possibly see the long-time head coach return to the headset on Saturday night. If Saban is not cleared to return, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will lead the Tide on the field. Although it's a limited-spectator event, with about 20,000 fans expected to enter Bryant-Denny Stadium, they could play an impact in making life difficult for the opponent. Never underestimate an SEC football crowd.
In this column, I'll give you three reasons why each team will walk out of Bryant-Denny with a win. A high-powered offense against one of the best defensive units in the country. Oh boy. Get the pre-game snacks, dinner and dessert(s) ready.
Why Alabama will win:
1. Najee Harris
Alabama's offense has been crimson-hot-approaching-white-hot level and it take a defensive unit like Georgia to slow it down. Senior running back Najee Harris is going to make an NFL team happy in the near future. He has what I would call the three B's: bruise, bounce and burn. He can bruise, capable of getting yards after first contact. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he's difficult to tackle. Harris can bounce off of tackle and pick up additional yards, turning a possible negative or net-zero play into a positive. And he has the speed to burn into (and through) the secondary. I see parallels between Harris and one of his fore bearers, Derrick Henry. They have a great step, they shed tackles and they both excel at picking up an addition 2-3 yards, which really comes into play when teams are trying to close out close games. So far, Harris has 10 rushing touchdowns, most in FBS. Along with 347 yards, he's going to be a tough back to stop. Harris could be the difference between a win and a loss.
2. Mac Jones and receiving weapons
The Mac truck brings his talents to the main stage as he faces his toughest test of the season. There may have been some doubts in the offseason whether Jones could step into the center position and succeed like Jalen Hurts and especially Tua Tagovailoa, but ever since his start at Auburn late last season, he has continued to prove doubters otherwise. Now, he has the chance to do that on the biggest stage yet. This season, Jones has thrown for 1,101 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. He's also completed 66 of 83 passes, or 79.5%, which points to his efficiency. He's not likely to make an errant throw to his receivers. And speaking of those receivers...
3. DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle
The Tide's dynamic duo have entered the chat. Smith, a senior, has 27 receptions with 316 yards and two touchdowns while Waddle has caught 19 passes for 396 yards and three scores. Doing the averages, that's 11.7 yards for Smith and 20.8 yards for Waddle. They are both athletic and versatile in space, so the Georgia secondary will have its hands full.
Why Georgia will win:
1. Georgia defense
Every football fan knows championships are won with defense. Just ask the Big 12 how that's going. The Dawgs currently have the top-ranked rush defense in the nation, allowing just 115 yards of 77 carries. That averages out to 1.49 yards per carry, so Najee Harris and co. have their work cut out for them. Georgia checks in at second in total defense (which should be first but Houston, currently No. 1, has played two fewer games), conceding an average of 236.7 yards per contest. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the nation in third-down defense. Opposing offenses are converting just 28.3% of through three games.
2. Alabama defense
Normally you don't see another team's unit show up on why they will win, but Bama's defense has been that bad. The unit checks in at 66th of 76th active FBS teams, allowing an average of 6.01 yards per play and 473 yards per game. Alabama defeated Ole Miss 63-48 last Saturday, but keep in mind the Rebels' D ranks dead last, conceding an average of 641.3 yards per game. Alabama's opponents are also converting 54% on third down, 69th overall. Plus, the Crimson Tide are down one of their top defensive backs, Jordan Battle, for the first half. Woof.
3. Establishing the run game
If you watch Georgia religiously under Kirby Smart, you know what they desire: establishing the run game. The Bulldogs have multiple backs they want to get involved, from Zamir White to Kenny McIntosh and freshman Kendall Milton. While White features as the primary back, Georgia likes to mix in McIntosh and Milton to the operation. Alabama's run defense checks in at No. 36 in the country, giving up 3.74 yards on average per rush attempt and 150.7 average yards per game. If the Bulldogs can establish the run game, that opens up the rest of their playbook as third-and-5 or less presents multiple options for UGA's offense.