Georgia earned a trip to the national championship game for the first time since the 2017 season by defeating Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31. That convincing victory over the Big Ten champions set up a colossal rematch against Alabama in Indianapolis on Jan. 10.
Georgia hasn't won a national championship since 1980, and in order for coach Kirby Smart's team to end that streak, it only has to go through the Crimson Tide - its SEC rival and No. 1 program in college football right now. However, the Bulldogs have several reasons to believe a repeat of the SEC Championship Game - a 41-24 win by Alabama - won't happen this time. Georgia still boasts the No. 1 defense in college football, quarterback Stetson Bennett is coming off a huge performance against Michigan, and Smart and his staff are likely to have a better game plan than the one it deployed in the SEC title game.
College football’s 2021-22 season concludes on Monday, Jan. 10 with the national championship game in Indianapolis. Why will Georgia defeat Alabama and claim the title? Here are five reasons why the Bulldogs will win it all:
5 Reasons Why Georgia Will Beat Alabama for the National Title
1. Stetson Bennett
Georgia’s quarterback room has been a source of intrigue all season. JT Daniels opened 2021 as the starter, but an injury gave way to Bennett. Although Daniels appears to be healthy, the coaching staff stuck with Bennett throughout the regular season and in the lead up to the Orange Bowl despite a shaky outing against Alabama in the SEC title game. In the last meeting versus the Crimson Tide, Bennett completed 29 of 48 throws for 340 yards and three touchdowns. However, the senior tossed two costly interceptions, including one that was returned for a score.
Although Bennett had an uneven performance in Atlanta, the coaching staff’s confidence in him was rewarded with a strong outing against Michigan. Bennett was in complete command of the offense, effectively distributing the ball for 310 yards and three scores over 21 completions. For the season, Bennett has passed for 2,635 yards and 27 touchdowns to only seven picks. Bennett’s yards per attempt (10.1) are tied for second nationally behind only Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. The senior also brings more mobility (283 yards) to the offense than Daniels did in 2020-21. That could come in handy against a defense like Alabama.
Bennett certainly has to play better in Indianapolis than he did in the first meeting between these two teams. However, the staff’s belief in him, along with the performance against Michigan should give the senior plenty of confidence. Bennett doesn’t have to win this game on his right arm, but he’s certainly going to need to make a couple of clutch throws and has to avoid the big mistakes.
2. Emerging Skill Talent
A defensive slugfest is unlikely with Bryce Young on the other sideline. Georgia managed 24 points in the first meeting but likely needs to hit 30 (or more) to have a shot to beat the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s defense doesn’t give up much on the scoreboard (19.2 points a game allowed), but coordinator Todd Monken has the pieces to stress this unit.
A deep and talented stable of running backs is headlined by Zamir White (772 yards), with James Cook (651) and Kenny McIntosh (324) playing supporting roles. Cook’s value to the offense isn’t solely on the ground, as he’s a valuable safety valve coming out of the backfield and played a key role in the win over Michigan. The senior has 24 receptions for 256 yards and four scores and grabbed four in the first meeting against Alabama.
Tight end Brock Bowers (53 catches for 859 yards and 12 scores) is a matchup nightmare for the Crimson Tide, with fellow tight end Darnell Washington (nine grabs) another big-time weapon at 6-foot-7. This duo is joined by Jermaine Burton (19.5 yards per catch over 24 receptions), Ladd McConkey (30 rec.), Adonai Mitchell (27), and Kearis Jackson (16) on the outside. But most importantly, the extended time off between the SEC title game and Orange Bowl allowed Georgia to get receiver George Pickens more reps to knock off the rust from a torn ACL suffered in spring practice. When healthy, Pickens is among the best receivers in the SEC. Although Pickens caught two passes for 41 yards in the SEC Championship Game, he needs to play a bigger role on Jan. 10.
There’s no doubt Alabama’s defense is one of the best in college football. But Georgia has the pieces to give Saban and coordinator Pete Golding plenty of headaches. Bowers – who caught 10 passes for 139 yards in the SEC title game – figures to be a tough matchup for the Crimson Tide once again. Finding ways to get the ball to this group of skill players in space, on the move, and on quick throws has to be a priority for Monken.
3. A Standout Offensive Line
For a majority of the season, the play in the trenches has been a strength for Georgia. The front gave up the fewest sacks in the SEC (11), and rushers averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2021. In the blowout win over Michigan, the Bulldogs’ offensive front clearly won this battle. The Wolverines recorded zero sacks and just two tackles for a loss, while rushers for Georgia averaged 5.4 yards per carry. The offensive front kept standout rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo away from quarterback Stetson Bennett, which allowed the Bulldogs to put up 328 yards through the air.
However, the SEC title game against Alabama was one of the few times Georgia’s offensive front had an uneven performance this year. Bennett was sacked three times, the Crimson Tide recorded six tackles for a loss, and rushers for the Bulldogs managed only 3.6 yards per carry. For Georgia to win on Jan. 10, the front has to play up to its potential and keep Alabama’s pass rush led by standout Will Anderson away from Bennett. The Bulldogs aren’t likely to have much success running the ball with the Crimson Tide giving up only 82.1 rushing yards a game. However, the offense needs to have more success here than it did in the first game.
Just like it has all year, Alabama’s defense dominated the line of scrimmage in the Cotton Bowl win over Cincinnati. The Bulldogs can’t lose the battle up front to the Crimson Tide on Jan. 10 and expect to come out on top.
4. The Best Defense in College Football Will Be Ready
Dominant. With the exception of the SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama, that’s the best way to sum up Georgia’s defense throughout the season. Despite the Crimson Tide’s performance versus the Bulldogs defense in Atlanta, this defense is still holding teams to just 9.6 points a game and 4.01 yards per play. Outside of Alabama, no opponent scored more than 17 points against Smart’s defense. Also, seven opponents were held to single digits.
The strength of this group clearly rests up front. Anchored by lineman Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean, Georgia is giving up only 82.1 rushing yards per contest and 2.7 yards a carry. Alabama also will have to account for standouts up front like Jalen Carter and Devonte Wyatt, with Channing Tindall, Quay Walker and Robert Beal helping Dean patrol the middle of the defense. This unit has registered 45 sacks, 92 tackles for a loss, and ranks first in the nation in the red zone. No opponent has managed a rush over 40 yards this season.
Georgia’s secondary struggled in the first matchup, but Smart and coordinator Dan Lanning had time to evaluate their game plan and are likely to come into this game with a different approach. The Bulldogs need the front to get pressure on Young and for the secondary to eliminate some of the big plays on the back end. The pass rush and coverage have to work in tandem better than they did in the first meeting.
5. The Rematch Favors Georgia
Kirby Smart is 0-4 as Georgia’s head coach against Alabama. The first two meetings were decided by one score, but the last two games came by a score of 41-24. Although the gap between the two teams would appear to be widening, oddsmakers have installed Georgia as a slight favorite for the showdown on Jan. 10. The Bulldogs recruit as well as the Crimson Tide and are certainly familiar with their SEC rival considering the staff connections and past four matchups. Although the first game didn’t go well for Georgia, Smart and his staff have plenty of time to correct some of the errors that plagued the team on both sides of the ball and make adjustments for the rematch. Also, beating a team twice during the season is never easy. Eventually, Georgia is going breakthrough and beat Alabama in a high-stakes matchup. With a dominant defense and an offense with confidence after a blowout win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl, the title game in Indianapolis is the right opportunity for the Bulldogs to break through and win their first national title since 1980.
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