Destiny awaits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game when the Crimson Tide head to Atlanta to face No. 4 Georgia. By definition, this matchup in the Bulldogs’ backyard is a neutral-site game, but the Tide is no stranger to big games played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Alabama (12-0, 8-0 SEC) enters the showdown on a 14-game winning streak that goes back to last season's College Football Playoff with wins over then-No. 1 Clemson (24-6) and No. 3 Georgia (26-23, OT). The 2018 season has been an embarrassment of riches on offense with the arm and headiness of sophomore Tua Tagovailoa leading the nation’s No. 2-ranked scoring offense (49.0 ppg). The defense has been equally unkind to the opposition, allowing just 14 points per game, including pitching back-to-back shutouts against LSU and Mississippi State to open November.
Statistically, Georgia (11-1, 7-1) has played as well as anyone else in the nation except for well, Alabama. The Bulldogs' defense has been stingy again, holding teams to just 17 points per game while the offense has put up 40 per contest. But Georgia has yet to face a team as good on either offense or defense as what it will see on Saturday.
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Win the SEC Championship Game
1. Alabama’s run defense
Trying to attack Alabama’s defense with a ground-and-pound approach has not worked yet this season. Against SEC foes, the Crimson Tide has allowed just 88 rushing yards per game. Defensive linemen Quinnen Williams, Raekwon Davis and Isiah Buggs have been difference-makers up front with linebacker Dylan Moses owning the middle. Deionte Thompson has been the safety coming down the alley cleaning up the few messes that slip through the first two levels.
Georgia will no doubt try to soften up Alabama's defense by handing it off to tailbacks D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield early and often. The duo has combined for 1,858 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground alone. The Bulldogs are averaging 260 rushing yards per game, but they are not unstoppable either. In their lone loss of the season to LSU on Oct. 13, Georgia was held to just 113 rushing yards on 30 attempts. For the season, the Tigers rank 38th nationally against the run. The Crimson Tide check in at No. 15.
2. Tide’s pass defense
Being the quarterback on the No. 4-ranked team in the nation brings a lot of headlines and coverage, but when one looks at the numbers, Jake Fromm has been just average for Georgia this season. The Bulldogs generate 221 passing yards per game, which ranks them 72nd out of 129 FBS teams. The sophomore gunslinger has increased his completion percentage (69.1 vs. 62.2 in 2017), but his overall numbers are basically the same.
More importantly, against good defenses Fromm has underperformed. LSU held him to 209 yards with one touchdown pass but two interceptions, while Kentucky limited him to 113 yards and a score. Fromm also is not a running threat, which makes Alabama's job a little easier on defense.
From a numbers standpoint, the Crimson Tide have given up more than 250 yards through the air just twice – to Louisville (252) and Texas A&M (263). Cornerback Saivion Smith has been a ball hawk this season, leading the team with three interceptions. In addition to being a force against the run, the aforementioned Thompson has two picks, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles. Georgia definitely needs to do some damage with its running game because it can't put all of the burden on Fromm's arm.
3. Damien Harris and Najee Harris
The Tide’s lead tailbacks are both averaging better than six yards per carry and rarely get stopped behind the line of scrimmage thanks to their overpowering offensive line. Damien, a senior, leads the team with 719 yards on 117 attempts. Najee, a sophomore, is second in both categories with 664 yards on 98 carries. The two have combined for 11 rushing touchdowns and are key components to an Alabama running game that is averaging 206 rushing yards per game.
Defensively, Georgia had some issues with the top two rushing offenses it faced this season – LSU and Florida. The Tigers dominated at the line of scrimmage, picking up 275 rushing yards and three scores in their win, while the Gators ran for 170 and a score in a losing effort. Overall, the Bulldogs have been solid against the run (128.4 ypg), but the Crimson Tide will present a different kind of challenge.
4. QB Tua Tagovailoa
Want to know the impact Tagovailoa has made on the Crimson Tide? Last year, Alabama averaged 193 passing yards per game. That number has ballooned to 332 this season, good for sixth in the nation. Tagovailoa, a sophomore, is the most accurate passer in the SEC (70 percent) and has the highest QBR (212.5). His 36:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is unbelievable. And if that's not enough, he's also run for 211 yards with five touchdowns and has been sacked just nine times in his 269 pass attempts.
Georgia has been tough against the pass, limiting teams to 175 yards a game; but the stats may be inflated. For one, the Bulldogs have only faced on pass-heavy offense in Missouri, with Drew Lock throwing for 221 yards (with no touchdowns and an interception). The season high is 287 passing yards given up to UMass, but that was in a game that was never close and featured plenty of garbage time. Georgia also let Jake Bentley throw for 269 with a touchdown and two picks back in early September. But to say Tagovailoa will be the best quarterback the Bulldogs have faced is an understatement. He is considered by many the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy.
5. Unfinished business
It's probably too much to call this a revenge game, but Alabama does want to reclaim the SEC title after seeing its streak of four straight come to an end courtesy of last season's Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. Georgia then took down the Tigers 28-7 to win the conference crown and advance to the playoff. The Crimson Tide got the last word by beating the Bulldogs in overtime to win the national title, but that was then and this is now. These two teams are back in Atlanta, in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Nick Saban will surely have his team focused on one goal – winning another SEC championship.
A victory Saturday also will break Alabama's tie with Florida for the most SEC Championship Game victories, with both currently sitting at seven. Just another reason for the rest of the SEC to despise the Crimson Tide.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.