One year ago, the 11-1 Georgia Bulldogs made their way to Atlanta to face an Auburn team in the SEC Championship Game that completely dismantled them only three weeks earlier. The underdog Bulldogs proceeded to return the favor with a 28-7 blowout of their own against the Tigers. The unlikely victory gave Georgia its first SEC title since 2005 and catapulted the Bulldogs into the College Football Playoff.
Georgia now makes its way back to Atlanta following another 11-1 campaign under head coach Kirby Smart. And like last season, the Bulldogs have an opportunity to get into the playoff with a win in the SEC title game. They also find themselves in the role of underdog, once again in search of redemption. Only this time, Georgia will have to defy even bigger odds against a heavily favored Alabama team, in the same stadium in which Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide dealt the Bulldogs a heartbreaking, 26-23 overtime loss just 11 months earlier. A loss that also deprived Georgia of its first national title since 1980. The question is can the Bulldogs get the revenge they seek with yet another upset in the SEC Championship Game?
It certainly won’t come easy against a 12-0 Alabama team that has dominated its competition throughout 2018. But there are reasons to be optimistic about the Bulldog’s chances in Saturday's rematch against the Crimson Tide inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
5 Reasons Why Georgia Will Win the SEC Championship Game
1. Stellar ground attack
It will be critical for the Bulldogs to keep Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama’s high-powered offense off the field as much as possible on Saturday. The only way to do that is to keep the clock rolling and the chains moving with a successful run game. Unlike previous Alabama opponents this season, Georgia is capable of doing just that. The Bulldogs feature the best ground attack the Crimson Tide have faced all season, and it really isn’t close.
It was widely anticipated that the Georgia running game would take a step back in 2018 following the departure of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. However, that has not been the case, as the Bulldogs are actually averaging more rushing yards per game than they did last season. As a result, Georgia once again leads the SEC in pretty much every rushing category. That is thanks in large part to D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, who are on the verge of giving the Bulldogs a pair of 1,000-yard rushers for the second year in a row. Swift, in particular, has been a force to be reckoned with of late. The sophomore has gained 600 yards and scored five touchdowns on the ground alone over his last five games, averaging an impressive 8.8 yards per carry in that stretch.
2. Alabama run defense
While the Georgia's running game is on pace to exceed last season’s impressive totals, Alabama’s top-ranked run defense from a season ago has regressed to third in the SEC in 2018, allowing 20 more rushing yards per game than last season. That’s not to say that the Crimson Tide no longer feature a formidable run defense, because they do; it’s just not quite as stout as the one Georgia faced in the national title game. Case in point: Last season's Bama defense would have never surrendered 275 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground to an FCS school, regardless of the “tricky” nature of The Citadel’s triple-option offense. It just would not have happened, but it did just a couple of weeks ago, in Tuscaloosa no less. And it’s safe to say that Georgia is far better equipped than The Citadel to exploit any weaknesses in Tide's run defense.
3. An improved Georgia passing game led by an older, wiser Jake Fromm
Fromm is no stranger to the big stage, and he will not be intimidated by the Alabama defense on Saturday. He also brings a wealth of experience into Saturday’s rematch, particularly for a player still in his sophomore season. That experience has paid dividends with improvement on the field and stat sheet in 2018, and it should pay off for the poised signal-caller on Saturday as well. Fromm has already matched his total for touchdown passes (24), while throwing two fewer interceptions. More importantly, he’s elevated his completion percentage from 62.2 percent to 69.1 this season. He enters Saturday third in passer rating (179.4) and is fourth in yards per attempt (9.6).
Fromm is complemented by a stellar offensive line that has allowed eight fewer sacks than it did last season. And the Georgia passing game features a standout group of receivers that pose a legitimate threat to the Alabama secondary, especially in man coverage. Alabama is giving up just three more passing yards per game than it did in 2017. However, the Crimson Tide have already allowed six more TD passes than all of last season, with five fewer interceptions. That holds promise for a Georgia passing attack that has proven itself to be superior to the one Alabama faced 11 months ago.
4. Georgia pass defense
Many defenses have tried to shut down Heisman front-runner Tua Tagovailoa and an elite Alabama passing game this season, and all have failed miserably in their attempts. That daunting task now awaits Georgia on Saturday. And while the Bulldogs stand little chance of shutting down the Crimson Tide offense completely, Georgia can drastically improve its chances for victory by simply keeping the damage to a minimum, which is something the Bulldogs are capable of doing.
Georgia has allowed just 175 passing yards per game this season (third in the SEC and 13th nationally). More importantly, the defense has been very adept when it comes to limiting explosive plays in the passing game, giving up the fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more in the SEC this season by a wide margin. That bodes well against an Alabama passing attack that thrives on big plays. The Bulldogs also feature a secondary that is arguably the best the Crimson Tide have faced this season. That group is spearheaded by All-SEC lockdown cornerback Deandre Baker, who grades out as one of the nation’s top defenders regardless of position.
It truly has been a remarkable season of dominance for Alabama in 2018. That said, the Crimson Tide haven’t been quite as dominant of late, particularly in the first half of games, which begs the question: Is Alabama on the verge of running out of steam? It’s possible, and Nick Saban gave further credence to that notion when addressing questions about Alabama’s slow starts over the last two weeks, stating “We don’t seem to have the same kind of intensity, mental energy to start the game that you’d like to see in your team or that we had earlier in the season.” Conversely, Georgia has shown no signs of slowing down, having played its best football of the season over the last few weeks. And the red-hot Bulldogs may be peaking at just the right time to catch a “mentally fatigued” Alabama team napping.
Additionally, Alabama will likely make its way into the College Football Playoff regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s SEC Championship Game. But it is a different story for Georgia, which must win on Saturday to earn a return trip to the playoff. And if another SEC title and another shot at a national title aren’t enough motivation, there’s also the revenge factor that potentially looms large in the Bulldogs' favor.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.