Rashaan Evans and Alabama's top-ranked run defense will be tasked with trying to slow down Georgia's 1-2 punch of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
The College Football Playoff semifinals are in the book and it’s all eyes on the prize for both Alabama and Georgia on Monday night in Atlanta. While some may not be thrilled at the prospect of an all-SEC meeting for the national championship, the games within the game — between players on either side of the ball — is worth tuning in for no matter what.
Whether you’re a college football fan, a coach or an NFL scout, here are 10 of the best position vs. position battles of the bunch between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side:
1. Alabama LBs Rashaan Evans and Mack Wilson vs. Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
It should go without saying that stopping the run will be priority No. 1 for the Crimson Tide defense after the Bulldogs’ prolific backfield combined for 326 yards on just 25 carries in the Rose Bowl. Most of that job will fall to Evans and Wilson, who led the team in tackles during their semifinal and saw the latter seal the game with an athletic pick-six. They’ll be without teammate Anfernee Jennings on Monday, making containing Chubb and Michel (above, right) from ripping off runs just a little bit harder.
2. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts vs. Georgia LBs Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter
Hurts is back in the national title game for the second time in two seasons at Alabama and hoping that a potential game-winning drive in the fourth quarter sticks this time around. The dual-threat quarterback is the player who makes the Tide offense click no matter if he’s tossing bombs down the field or keeping defenses honest with his running ability. Making sure he stays in the pocket will be a huge task for the Bulldogs’ linebackers. The pair was terrific against Baker Mayfield and if there was a big play to be made in the Rose Bowl defensively, it probably came from the nation’s best linebacker in Smith (though Carter was no slouch). Talk about a fun chess match between the hunters and the hunted.
3. Georgia QB Jake Fromm vs. Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
While the Heisman winner and the Georgia tailbacks received all the press in the first semifinal, it shouldn’t be lost that Fromm was fantastic in his own right in making big throws and keeping the offense balanced. Whether he becomes the first true freshman since Jamelle Holieway to lead his team to the national title will depend on whether he can work around one of, if not the, best defensive players in the country. Fromm grew up about 90 minutes from Mercedes-Benz Stadium and will have his task cut out for him against the rangy Fitzpatrick (right) with everything on the line.
4. Georgia OL Isaiah Wynn and Andrew Thomas vs. Alabama DL Da’Shawn Hand, Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis
One of the bigger surprises of the Sugar Bowl was just how well the Tide’s defensive line played against an excellent Clemson offensive line, stifling Clemson’s offense on every snap. Trying to put up a better effort against those linemen off the edge will be Georgia’s pair of tackles, who were great in their own right keeping Jake Fromm in a clean pocket despite some quality pass rushers out in Pasadena. If these two can hold up against their SEC rivals, the Dawgs have a great shot at moving the ball. If they can’t, it could be a long night.
5. Alabama RBs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough vs. Georgia LBs Reggie Carter and Davin Bellamy
Last year in this game, Scarbrough was looking to follow up his amazing Peach Bowl performance until he was injured with a broken leg. Something says he’ll be intent on finishing the game with a vengeance once he gets to Atlanta, along with fellow tailback Harris. If they can establish something on the ground and keep moving the sticks, then Alabama has a pretty good chance of bringing home another title. The Bulldogs’ defense allowed Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson to rip off 201 yards but Carter, Bellamy and company clamped down on the Sooners’ running attack as the game wore on.
6. Georgia RB D’Andre Swift and TE Isaac Nauta vs. Alabama DBs Ronnie Harrison and Tony Brown
Saquon Barkley declared that Swift will be a top-10 NFL draft pick one day and while that might be a bit presumptuous, the freshman has undoubtedly looked like the real deal this season despite limited opportunities based on who he shares the backfield with. Still, he’s fast and is a huge weapon with his speed — to say nothing of the added dimension he brings in the passing game on screens or splitting out wide. Swift also forms a nice combo with Nauta to threaten over the middle and in the flats, which both Harrison and Brown need to keep an eye on at all times.
7. Georgia DBs J.R. Reed, Dominick Sanders and Malkom Parrish vs. Alabama WRs Calvin Ridley and Robert Foster
While neither Ridley nor Foster’s stats are eye-popping given the offense they operate in, they’re still a pair of veterans who can make you pay with big plays in the open field. The former in particular might be Alabama’s most dangerous weapon in the title game and he’ll be the top priority for a secondary that held up well against Oklahoma’s prolific passing attack on New Year’s Day. If the Dawgs can take away the pass and make their opponent rely too much on the run, Georgia has a great shot to keep this one low scoring and give the offense plenty of chances.
8. Alabama DBs Anthony Averett and Levi Wallace vs. Georgia WRs Terry Godwin, Javon Wims and Mecole Hardman
The Bulldogs are a run-first, run-often type of team but that doesn’t mean they don’t have guys that can fly on the outside. Godwin (right) has been coming on strong in the team’s biggest games and had two good outings in the SEC title game and the Rose Bowl to pace the team’s attack while Wims has been the big-play threat that has opened up a lot for the team too (to say nothing of the speedster in Hardman). Containing all three will be quite the challenge for Averett and Wallace on Monday night.
9. Alabama OL Jonah Williams, Matt Womack and Ross Pierschbacher vs. Georgia DL Jonathan Ledbetter, David Marshall, Trenton Thompson and Tyler Clark
UGA’s defensive line really came alive after halftime of the Rose Bowl and started to get increasing pressure on Baker Mayfield in helping mount the comeback. Could something similar play out at Mercedes-Benz Stadium? That remains to be seen because Alabama’s offensive line had one of its best performances in perhaps two seasons down in New Orleans, as the group was solid against four first-round picks on Clemson’s defensive line. This clash in the trenches is certainly one to watch and should play a huge role in determining the winner.
10. Georgia DL John Atkins vs. Alabama OL Bradley Bozeman
Atkins is the nose tackle who makes the Bulldogs’ defense work so well this year and put up the numbers that they have to rank among the nation’s best in stopping the run and pressuring the passer. He’ll need the best game of his career in the national title game however as Bozeman has been stellar for the Tide this year at center, allowing only a handful of pressures up the middle while adjusting to everything thrown his way by opponents.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.