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Friday, November 30, 2012

Preview: Alabama vs. Georgia

Petey Surber
Guest Blogger

For the second straight year, the Georgia Bulldogs will represent the SEC East as underdogs in the SEC Championship Game. Unlike last year, they’re eyeing a spot in the national title game themselves.
Call it a national semi-final game.

Over the years, no conference championship game has grown in popularity, importance, and pageantry the way the SEC championship game has. And this year the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Not only will the winner go on to face undefeated Notre Dame to compete for a national title, but the loser will likely fall out of a BCS Bowl, much to the dismay of Alabama Coach Nick Saban. No surprises here, but everything runs through the SEC once again.

How did they get here?

In very different fashions. Georgia’s title hopes were seemingly gone early in the year when they were blown out at #10 South Carolina, 35-7, in early October. However, Georgia completed one of the most improbable divisional comebacks over the next three weeks as South Carolina dropped it’s next two games against Florida and LSU while Georgia upset Florida in Jacksonville. While Georgia did benefit from avoiding the tougher teams from the West (Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU), they won the games in front of them and have played very good football since the South Carolina loss.

Alabama had a much easier time reaching this point, winning nine of their games by at least 27 points. Even their loss to Texas A&M didn’t endanger their SEC Championship hopes, as they only had to beat Auburn at that point. Lucky for the Tide, a week after their loss, Oregon and Kansas State dropped games to pull the Tide back into the national title picture. However, Bama also faced a favorable schedule, not having to play the likes of South Carolina, Florida, or Georgia from the East. However, due to conceptions that the West is stronger than the East, the Crimson Tide haven’t faced the same criticisms Georgia has regarding scheduling.

How do they win this game?

Georgia has played well since their loss to the Gamecocks minus a near miss at Kentucky, winning their next six by an average of 24 points, including wins over #4 Florida, Ole Miss, and ACC Coastal champion Georgia Tech. Quarterback Aaron Murray has been great for the Bulldogs, throwing for almost 270 yards per game. In the two games in which Alabama did not look invincible, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger passed for 299 yards and a touchdown while Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel threw for 253 yards and 2 TDs. If Georgia is going to win the game, it’s going to be on the arm of record-breaking quarterback Aaron Murray. Georgia’s defensive line needs to step up and stop the run against a talented offensive line of Alabama which may be the best in college football. However, Georgia’s front seven has three likely first round picks who need to deliver a performance great enough to stop the Alabama rush. Since their loss, the UGA defense has allowed only 11 points per game. They’ll need a similar defensive performance to defeat the Tide.

Like Georgia, Alabama fell behind by 3 TDs in the first quarter in their only loss on the season. However, Alabama responded by attempting to come back, losing on an interception at the goalline in the final two minutes. One way Alabama can stroll past Georgia is to jump on them early as South Carolina did, and force a turnover or two by Aaron Murray. In Georgia’s loss to South Carolina, Murray was only able to complete 11 passes for 109 yards. If the Crimson Tide secondary can perform the same way they did all year outside of two games, they should be able to walk to the finish line and set up a date with Notre Dame. The Alabama running game has anchored the Tide offense while the Georgia rushing defense ranks amongst one of the worst in the SEC, giving up 163 yards per game.

Whoop dee do! What does it all mean?

Alabama’s rushing attack is too strong against a rushing defense which gave up 206 rushing yards to Kentucky. The Tide defense has played well against the pass outside of two games, one against Heisman frontrunner Johnny Manziel. Unless the Tide defense has a few breakdowns in coverage, and unless Georgia’s front seven play much better against the run than they have been, look for this game to get ugly in the first half.

My Prediction: Alabama- 31 Georgia-17

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