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Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Georgia Bulldogs Preview and Prediction

Nick Saban

Nick Saban

Georgia and Alabama have been two of the SEC’s top programs in recent years, and Saturday afternoon's matchup in Athens could be a preview of the conference championship game in early December. And in a slight role reversal, the Crimson Tide is not the favorite on Saturday. For the first time in 72 games, Alabama is considered an underdog. Georgia isn’t a huge favorite by Vegas standards, but this should be a good barometer test for both teams.

The Crimson Tide has some work to do in order to win the SEC West, as coach Nick Saban’s team is 0-1 in conference play after a loss to Ole Miss in Week 3. Mark Richt’s Bulldogs are undefeated, but this is the biggest test for Georgia after accumulating wins against ULM, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Southern so far.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Georgia Beats Alabama

Although Georgia and Alabama are two of the SEC’s top programs, these two teams have not played in a regular season game since 2008. That matchup is a memorable one for both fanbases, as a No. 3 ranked Georgia team was a seven-point favorite over Alabama, but the Crimson Tide went into Athens and won 41-30.

Alabama owns a 37-25-4 series edge against Georgia. The last matchup between these two teams took place in the 2012 SEC Championship.

Alabama at Georgia

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Georgia -2.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. The Quarterbacks

It’s no secret Georgia and Alabama both entered fall practice with uncertainty at quarterback. And after four weeks, it’s fair to say the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs still have question marks about their signal-callers. Georgia’s Greyson Lambert set a NCAA record by completing 96 percent of his passes in the win over South Carolina but struggled in the road win at Vanderbilt (11 of 21 for 116 yards). While Lambert has managed to take care of the ball (no interceptions) and boasts a 76.5 completion percentage, this is by far his toughest game of the season. Alabama has started two quarterbacks with Jake Coker and Cooper Bateman combining to complete 98 of 163 passes for 1,030 yards and nine scores in 2015. Bateman started in the loss against Ole Miss, but Coker took the first snap in the other three games and is expected to start on Saturday afternoon. Both teams are built in a similar blueprint with a strong defense and rushing attack. However, Lambert and Coker are going to have to make plays through the air for their team to win this game. Which quarterback steps up in the clutch on Saturday afternoon?

Related: College Football's Top 10 Running Backs from September

2. Stopping the Run

This matchup of two of the SEC’s best teams also features one of the top running back duels college football will see in 2015. Alabama’s Derrick Henry is a physical specimen at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds and gashed opponents for 422 yards and eight scores in September. Henry has a good blend of size, speed and power and is primed for a huge season in his first as the Crimson Tide’s feature back. On the other sideline, Georgia’s Nick Chubb has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 consecutive games and enters this matchup No. 2 in the SEC (behind Leonard Fournette) with 599 rushing yards. Considering the question marks or uncertainty at quarterback for both teams, the offenses want to establish the ground attack and limit the pressure on the passing attack. But establishing the rushing game will be difficult for both teams. Georgia ranks fourth in the SEC against the run, limiting opponents to 107.3 yards and just 3.1 yards per carry. Alabama has been stingier, as the Crimson Tide has limited opponents to 1.97 yards per carry and only 56.8 yards per game. The edge in offensive line play goes to Georgia. But will the Bulldogs find rushing lanes against the Alabama defense? Keep an eye on the battle in the trenches Saturday afternoon.

Related: SEC Week 5 Predictions

3. Turnovers, 3rd Down and Red Zone Conversions

With a close game anticipated on Saturday afternoon, turnovers are going to be critical in the outcome. If the good folks in Vegas are right, and this game is decided by a field goal or less, a turnover or a key stop in the red zone could decide the winner of this critical SEC showdown. Through four games in 2015, Georgia has a plus-two margin and has lost only three turnovers. Alabama hasn’t been as strong in this department. Nick Saban’s team ranks near the bottom of the SEC in margin (minus-one) and has lost eight turnovers. However, it’s notable the Crimson Tide lost five turnovers against Ole Miss, which accounts for more than half of the giveaways in 2015. Considering the gameplan on offense for both teams, avoiding third-and-long situations are critical. Georgia is only converting 35.5 third-down attempts, while Alabama is only converting at a 36.8 rate. And once both teams reach the 20-yard line, seven points – not three – is needed. So far, The Crimson Tide has cashed in 89.5 percent of its trips into the red zone for scores, while the Bulldogs are converting at an 84.2 percent rate. All three areas – third downs, red zone conversions and turnovers – are a small factor. However, they could have a huge impact on how this game plays out on Saturday afternoon.

Final Analysis

While Alabama and Georgia haven’t played in the regular season since the matchup in 2008, there’s a lot of familiarity between these two programs. Three current Bulldog assistants spent time at Alabama under Nick Saban, including defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. In addition to the familiarity between the two programs, the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs are built in a similar fashion. Both teams want to establish the run and win with their defense. Which team wins the battle in the trenches and makes the least amount of mistakes on Saturday is going to have a huge advantage. Both quarterbacks – Greyson Lambert and Jake Coker – will be tested after experiencing their share of ups and downs so far this season. This one is a tossup.

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Prediction: Alabama 27, Georgia 24