Alabama is a buzzsaw even by Alabama standards. The Tide have cast an air of inevitability over this whole season. And while Bama’s likely national title doesn’t have to stop you or me from enjoying the rest of the year, the Georgia Bulldogs are not you or me. Their reward for winning the SEC East is that they know a month ahead of time they got Bama.
The Tide will be heavy favorites in the rematch of last year’s national title game. S&P+ says now they’re about 7 points better than the Dawgs on a neutral field like the one in Atlanta. Kirby Smart’s team needs to spend the next month whittling away at that difference.
1. Use the UMass and Georgia Tech games to hone a vertical passing game.
Jake Fromm still hasn’t shown any ability to stretch the field. For two years, he’s done a good job throwing sporadically when Georgia’s been able to run over people. When the Dawgs haven’t run well, Fromm’s had only ugly games. And Fromm’s lack of proven ability to hit on downfield passes makes it harder for UGA to run against good defenses.
Fortunately, UMass’ and Georgia Tech’s pass defenses are both terrible. They’re each comfortably below 100th in Defensive Passing S&P+. Fromm should be able to carve them up. Once the Dawgs are up comfortably, or even before that, they should work in a lot of deep passes on different route concepts for Fromm. Tech’s defense is actually good at preventing big passing plays, though not at stopping efficiency, so maybe he’ll get a slight test there.
This should also involve trying Justin Fields at some point and letting him throw meaningful passes. Last year, the Tide beat Georgia by bringing in the best dual-threat freshman QB in the country after a four-star sophomore struggled. It might be the Dawgs’ turn.
2. Figure out a power package for short yardage, and make sure it works.
You don’t beat Alabama by settling for field goals. When the Dawgs have short yardage to extend drives or punch in touchdowns, they have to convert often. Alabama suffered from some big-play problems at the start of the year but seems to have fixed them. Nobody’s scored longer than a 20-yard TD on them since Ole Miss on the first play of Week 3.
Drive-finishing is vital, and the Dawgs have been bad in short yardage. While they’re ninth in Rushing S&P+, they’re 56th in Stuff Rate, the percentage of carries that don’t get past the line (18.2 percent). They’re 88th in third-and-short conversion percentage (66.7 percent.) They’re 125th in Success Rate inside the 10-yard line, and 129th in goal-line success rate.
The ugliest example of this problem was when Florida stoned the Dawgs on six goal-line snaps in a row at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail party ...
... but that six-play, zero-yard drive from the Gators’ 1 was indicative of a year-long problem. This is nonsense for a team with four- and five-stars all over the line and in the backfield.
Alabama has Quinnen Williams and a bunch of maulers up front. But you’re still Georgia, and you should still be able to get a yard or two almost every time you need it.
Please, Dawgs, on behalf of the whole United States: Do not let this be the reason you can’t pull off the upset. Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney are paid well enough that they should be able to figure this out.
3. On defense, get comfortable in man coverage, even when you’re playing teams that don’t have good athletes at receiver.
UGA’s run defense is, like its goal-line offense, inexplicably bad. The Dawgs are 71st in Defensive Rushing S&P+. Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter were huge losses from last year’s team, but again, this is a Georgia roster. There are blue-chips all over the front, and they should be able to hold the line without the secondary giving up too many bodies to help.
It hasn’t always worked out that way. Going forward, senior corner Deandre Baker and five-star freshman Tyson Campbell need to be as comfy as possible playing man-to-man with limited safety help.
Tua Tagovailoa’s arm usually makes it impossible to make a good choice about allocating players on defense. But if Georgia can only play with six men in the box, good luck. The Tide usually have eight: the five linemen, a tight end, a running back, and Tagovailoa as a running threat himself. Tagovailoa can read a defender and create an edge at the point of attack when the Tide run the zone read into a power or dart run, like this one:
Georgia can’t let Alabama run behind numbers all day. The Dawgs’ run defense suggests they’ll need players in the box, which means DBs have to hold up on their own against the Tide’s four future NFL receivers. It sucks, but that’s what has to happen.
Georgia Tech will barely throw, but Campbell and Baker, especially, need to use the Auburn and UMass games to make sure they’re as technically sound as possible.
4. Start praying, or whatever.
Because if Alabama plays to its potential, none of this matters.