SEC Championship Preview and Prediction: Alabama vs. Georgia

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Previewing the SEC Championship between the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs

<p>  </p> <p> These teams are quite similar. Georgia’s a bit more explosive on offense, but Alabama’s more formidable on defense and has the edge on special teams. You also have to give the advantage to Alabama in coaching. The bottom line: Georgia is very good. Alabama is great.</p>

These two traditional powers—Alabama and Georgia—will play for the first time in the SEC Championship Game and for only the fifth time overall since 1995. The stakes couldn’t be higher: The winner will play Notre Dame for the BCS National Championship and the loser likely will be squeezed out of the BCS mix.

Much has been made about Georgia’s relatively soft SEC schedule, but it’s important to note that both Georgia and Alabama only played two of the other four SEC teams ranked in the top 10 of the latest BCS standings. Georgia beat No. 4 Florida and lost to No. 10 South Carolina, while Alabama beat No. 7 LSU and lost to No. 9 Texas A&M. Alabama did play Michigan out of conference, but the strength of these two teams’ schedules is about the same.

It’s dangerous to compare results, but just for fun: Alabama and Georgia had four common opponents (Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Auburn); Alabama won all four games by a total score of 168–37, while Georgia won all four by a total score of 167–74.

So who wins on Saturday? Good question.

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When the Alabama Crimson Tide have the ball:
Alabama has built a reputation under Nick Saban as a smashmouth team that relies on its defense and running game. While that is true to a large degree, this team is still adept at throwing the ball down the field. In fact, Alabama as a team ranks No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency thanks to the work of quarterback A.J. McCarron. The junior averages 9.46 yards per attempt (second-best in the nation) and has thrown 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

The Tide, however, will be without one of their primary targets for the remainder of the season. Junior Kenny Bell, second on the team with 431 receiving yards, was sidelined with a broken leg in the win over Auburn on Saturday. McCarron still has quality targets at his disposal, most notably Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood, but Bell, who averaged 25.4 yards per reception, was Alabama’s top deep threat.

The running game is powered by true freshman T.J. Yeldon and junior Eddie Lacy, who both rank among the top five in the league (min. 100 carries) in yards per attempt. Lacy leads the team with 1,001 yards and 14 touchdowns; Yeldon is second with 847 yards and 10 TDs. And it’s on the ground where Alabama figures to have the most success attacking the Georgia defense. The Bulldogs rank 67th nationally in rushing defense (164.4 ypg) and have given up 190 yards or more in six of their 12 games.

Alabama is versatile enough to beat Georgia on the ground or through the air, but it would be a surprise if Lacy and Yeldon each don’t get at least 12-to-15 carries.

When the Georgia Bulldogs have the ball:
The Bulldogs are one of the most balanced offensive teams in college football, ranking 39th nationally (and fourth in the SEC) in rushing and 35th (and fourth) in passing. The Dawgs feature one of the top quarterbacks in the country in junior Aaron Murray, who has thrown for 3,201 yards and hasn’t thrown an interception in the past four games. Georgia, like Alabama, is dealing with some injuries at wide receiver. Michael Bennett was off to a strong start to his sophomore season (24 catches for 345 yards in five games) before tearing the ACL in right knee against Tennessee. And senior Marlon Brown, who has 27 receptions for 469 yards, was lost with an ACL tear in his left knee against Ole Miss. With Bennett and Brown out of the lineup, Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell, who began the year playing cornerback, have been the primary weapons down the field. The Dawgs also have two tight ends (Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome) with at least 10 catches.

Georgia’s running game appeared to take a hit when Isaiah Crowell, who rushed for 850 yards as a freshman in 2011, was kicked off the team over the summer. No worries. Georgia plugged in two highly touted true freshmen, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who combined to rush for 1,858 yards and 222 touchdowns. Both had their moments, but Gurley emerged as the primary ball-carrier and finished the regular season as the SEC’s leading rusher in league play by averaging 95.3 yards per game. Gurley averaged 5.8 yards per carry vs. SEC competition, second only to Alabama’s Lacy for players with over 100 carries.

Statistically, Alabama features the nation’s No. 1 defense, but Georgia is good enough on offense to make the Crimson Tide sweat. Remember, Alabama gave up 435 yards and 418 yards to LSU and Texas A&M, respectively, in consecutive games earlier this month. This is still a great defensive team, but unlike last season, it’s a defense that will give up an occasional first down or two.

Final Analysis
These teams are quite similar. Georgia’s a bit more explosive on offense, but Alabama’s more formidable on defense and has the edge on special teams. You also have to give the advantage to Alabama in coaching. The bottom line: Georgia is very good. Alabama is great.
Alabama 27–21

  David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light
Alabama vs. Georgia Alabama 35-21 Alabama 24-23 Alabama 27-20 Alabama 27-21
Last week 7-2 7-2 6-3 7-2
Season 90-22 95-17 95-17 94-18

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