Kirby Smart took over a Georgia program near college football's pinnacle, and almost immediately, carried it to the very cusp. After heartbreaking near-misses in recent years, Smart oversees his best team yet and the Bulldogs are poised to break through.
Alabama and Georgia have delivered on some of the best and most memorable games of the past decade — and the Crimson Tide have been responsible for most of the Bulldogs' heartache.
The 2012 SEC Championship Game was an instant classic that left Georgia just yards shy from a likely BCS championship. Jalen Hurts cemented his Alabama legacy before embarking on a standout year at Oklahoma with his late-game heroics in the 2018 conference title game. The 2017 season's College Football Playoff championship ranks among the greatest title matchups in the sport's history.
And Georgia came up on the wrong end every time.
The heartbreak ends in 2021 at the culmination of an inevitable march for Georgia and Alabama to meet again in Atlanta. While other matchups on Championship Weekend feature a surprise or two, the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide were the chalkiest choices to win their divisions.
But while Alabama faced resistance on its way to winning the West, Georgia flattened everyone. Only Clemson in Week 1 gave the Bulldogs any trouble; since then, it's been 11 Saturdays of pure dominance.
Nick Saban-coached teams almost never get blown out (the 2018 season's playoff championship is an outlier-of-outliers), so expect a hotly contested title tilt, albeit one that is Georgia's for the taking.
5 Reasons Why Georgia Will Win the SEC Championship Game
1. Historic defense
Eighty-three points. Less than seven (6.9) per game. That's all Georgia has allowed in 2021, nearly 100 points fewer than the next-stingiest defense and 23 points less than the historic 2011 Alabama side Smart coordinated.
It's perhaps easy to overlook or understate just how great this Bulldogs defense has been because there isn't any one facet or individual player who immediately commands attention. Georgia isn't collecting turnovers en masse like Iowa; it ranks among the nation's best in sacks but doesn't produce them at an eye-popping rate.
Defensive tackle Jordan Davis deserves to be a Heisman Trophy finalist, but won't because his statistical output isn't going to wow voters. In that regard, he's a perfect avatar for the greatness of the Georgia defense.
2. Run the dang ball
Alabama retooled its offense during the 2010s and rolled into the 2020s with a modern attack that unlocked the Crimson Tide's talent at wide receiver and combined it with the always-physical run game that's been the hallmark of the Saban era.
The prolific passing attack that elevated DeVonta Smith to the Heisman remains in place, and has even improved under potential 2021 Heisman winner Bryce Young. The Tide rank seventh in the nation in passing offense, a remarkable statistic given the program's reputation. But perhaps even more convention-defying is that Alabama ranks 77th nationally on the ground.
As good as Young is, a one-dimensional offense against Georgia's defense has an especially difficult climb. The Bulldogs give up just 2.5 yards per carry, while the Tide rush for just four per attempt.
On the flip side, Georgia's three-man rotation of running backs Zamir White, Kenny McIntosh and James Cook all produce between 5.4 and 6.5 yards per carry.
Alabama's run defense is hardly slouching behind the nation's best linebacker, Will Anderson Jr., and the Tide are actually holding opponents to fewer yards per carry than Georgia (2.4). But if Alabama struggles to establish its own run game, the Bulldogs' multifaceted look will put stress on the Tide.
3. Making hay in the red zone
Of the many defensive categories Georgia leads, the most remarkable might be its sub-55 percent yield in the red zone. That's not just touchdowns; that's total scores. The Bulldogs also are the only defense holding opponents to fewer than 30 percent of red-zone possessions resulting in touchdowns at 27.3.
Alabama's red-zone offense has been spectacular this season, converting touchdowns on 70.7 percent of attempts. The Tide's red-zone defense, however, has allowed touchdowns on 60 percent of trips. While the total number is just 18, an impressive figure, Georgia's yield is just six.
4. Land war
In a matchup of outstanding defenses, field position matters. And considering how little has separated Alabama from Georgia in their recent classic, the cliche about a game of inches rings particularly true.
A perhaps underrated element of Georgia's defensive dominance has been its dominance of field position. Bulldog opponents start with the ball, on average, just behind the 25-yard line. On offense, Georgia averages a starting position of its own 33.5.
Alabama's average offensive starting position is about the 32, and defensive at about the 28. Those three yards on each side may not seem like a tipping point on their own, but can add up over multiple changes of possession if it follows the season-long trends.
5. Fresh for the fight
Two schools of thought exist as it pertains to Georgia being so rarely challenged this season. One is that the Bulldogs won't know how to respond when given a stiff shot from a hardened opponent, like Mike Tyson fighting Buster Douglas in Tokyo decades ago.
The other: While Alabama is just a week removed from going multiple overtimes in a rock fight with rival Auburn, Georgia was able to give its starters rest in a blowout of Georgia Tech.
Alabama has long been responsible for college football's body-blow theory: An opponent struggles the week after playing the Crimson Tide's physical style. There's credence to the idea suggesting the Iron Bowl marathon will negatively impact Alabama in a bit of role reversal this time around.
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