W2W4 – The SEC Championship Game

W2W4 – The SEC Championship Game

Here we are once again in 2012 – participating in what is essentially a semi-final game for the fourth time in five years!  That’s quite a Roll, Tide!  So, Bama’s been here, done that.  Georgia hasn’t.  This is the second “biggest game ever” that Alabama has played this season while it’s Georgia’s biggest game in 30 years.  Every two years Nick Saban is hoisting a crystal ball while every other year finds Richt’s balls being flambéed on a hot seat.  Saban is the consummate coach who can get the very most out of his players while Richt’s teams are notorious “underachievers.”  Will coaching be the deciding edge?  Let’s start this week’s W2W4 with a quick look at the stats….

Mirror, mirror on the wall, tell me who will win this big game of Foosball!  Before I sat down to review a multitude of Georgia game film for the W2W4, my initial thoughts about this matchup were that this is about as even of a matchup as you can have.  Honestly, these two teams are basically mirror images of one another.  First, the defenses are strikingly similar as UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was on Saban’s staff at MichiganState and uses the same 3-4 defensive philosophies that Saban uses.  Also, these two balanced offenses are nearly identical, with each pro-style offense predicated on a strong running game mixed with an efficient passing game.  A quick review of their SEC offensive statistics absolutely confirmed that Even Stephen was right on the money – this game is about as even as it can be.  Take a look at these offensive rankings:

Category Georgia Alabama
Scoring Offense #3 – 38 ppg #2 – 39 ppg
Rushing Offense #4 – 190 ypg #2 – 214 ypg
Total Offense #3 – 463 ypg #4 – 433 ypg
Pass Efficiency #2 – 174.4 #1 – 175
Third down % #3 – 46% #2 – 48%

The only real disparity between the two offenses is UGA ranks #4 in passing offense while Alabama ranks #9.  But, as you can see by the Total Offense rankings, the two offenses are both pretty similar and both are highly effective. 

However, when we take a look at these two defenses this is actually where these two teams begin to differentiate themselves.  While you’ll take a look at Georgia’s defense and see a vast array of NFL talent, it hasn’t completely translated onto the field like you would expect it to.  Take a look:

Category Georgia Alabama
Scoring Defense #5 – 17.7 ppg #1 – 9.2 ppg
Rushing Defense #11 – 163.4 ypg #1 – 77 ypg
Pass Defense #2 – 174.4 ypg #1 – 156.7 ypg
Total Defense #6 – 337.8 ypg #1 – 233.7 ypg
Pass Efficiency Defense #5 (10 interceptions) #2 (16 interceptions)

As you can see, Georgia is ranked 11th in rushing defense and 6th in total defense and that certainly tells a story.  But, to really understand the significance of these stats you have to look at the disparity between the two teams.  Alabama is more than twice as effective at stopping the run and gives up 104 yards less per game than UGA!  That is a substantial difference!  With all of the smack talk emanating out of the Georgia players (evidently they are the new mouths of the south), the Lighthouse can’t help but wonder if the UGA players are trying to convince US they are better than Alabama or are they trying to convince THEMSELVES they are better.  Hmmmm.  Well, let’s see what the film study tells us about this Georgia team…

Alabama on Offense

When you start looking at Alabama on offense, there’s one big matchup that you absolutely have to watch for – Jarvis Jones vs DJ Fluker & Cyrus Kouandjio.  Georgia likes to move Jones around and this Dawg will most definitely hunt.  Jones is second in the league in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (19.5) and he’s first in the league in forced fumbles (6).  But, he’s probably best known for being a one man wrecking crew against Florida accumulating 12.5 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles during that one game alone.  Holy…!  The team defensive stats we talked about in the intro really do not account for this one man gang tackler so controlling Jones means controlling the Dawgs.  Honestly – in our opinion the entire game begins and ends with controlling the Dawg wearing the #29 jersey.  Here’s what else to watch for…

We Talkin’ Bout Practice, Man:  It’s not a coincidence that once Alabama realized their two best drives against LSU’s defense were out of the hurry up look that Bama began to utilize the No Huddle approach thereafter.  I was baffled when the Tide used the hurry up approach against Texas A&M – a game where ball control and long drives was needed.  Then Alabama used the No Huddle against Western Carolina and Auburn, as well.  Do you think Bama needed the No Huddle to beat WCU and AU?  NO!  As Allen Iverson said, “We talkin’ bout practice, man!”  Look for a HEAVY dose of No Huddle against UGA.  The interior defenders for the Dawgs are massive but they have no stamina.  The hurry up should wear them down and perhaps will take a toll on Jarvis Jones as well.  But, look for this early and often.

Mt Jenkins:  Remember MountCody?  Meet MountJenkins, who is one very large human being.  Rumor has it he’s been tested by John Brankus and ESPN’s Sports Science for having his own gravitational pull but that’s just a rumor.  Jenkins is listed at 6’3, 351 but I think that was with only one foot on the scales.  Jenkins has no lateral pursuit, no stamina and has one sack on the season but he can absolutely jam up the middle or the end when he’s moved out as a defensive end.  Why move him to end?  Well, they have some other “big sumbitch” named Kwame Geathers who at 6-6, 350 is a large mammal himself.  Mercy.

Danger Zone:  So how do you deal with these two twin behemoths?  Look for Alabama to employ a ton of zone blocking stretch plays that are designed to generate a flow one way and then use cut blocks on the backside to open up cutback lanes on the backside of the run.  Jenkins and Geathers do not move well and can easily be cut blocked.  Going man-up against these two will be tough sledding so zone blocking with cut blocks will be the order of the day.  BTW – zone blocking is Bama’s usual approach, though they do supplement this with a good bit of tandem and isolation blocks as well.

Cuts Like a Knife:  Georgia plays a ton of zone defense and their two middle linebackers can be exposed in coverage.  Look for Alabama’s backs and slot receivers to use option routes in the middle of the field to isolate and expose the LBs in coverage.  Florida’s tight ends and slots ran a hard route one way and then would stop and flare back out the other way (laterally from the line of scrimmage).  This was open all day.  UGA also blew a coverage against a tight end deep and I think we’ll try the same route with a slot WR or Michael Williams.  Basically, this is the pattern that Brad Smelley scored on against Auburn last year where he did an out and up against the flow of the QB.  The QB takes a couple of steps to his right while the TE on the right (or perhaps a WR stacked next to the tackle) slants left and then takes off for the goal line.

Pay Action PassLook for a play action pass where a run is faked to Jarvis Jones’ side of the line.  Once he reads pass, he always charges in to get the QB.  Well, this is significant b/c he shows a lack of discipline and loses sight of his coverage responsibilities when this happens.  The fullback, H-back or running back will run right by him and be wide open.  Bama will use this to their advantage.

Where’d Whoooooo Go?:  So, with Jarvis Jones being hell bent on getting to the QB (and only he and the other LB Jenkins are true pass rushers as evidenced by the fact they only rank 10th in the SEC in generating sacks), a draw and/or screen is available on his side of the line.  Basically the tackle will push him up the field creating a huge crease for the run.  We’ll screen and draw with our backs at least 5 times during this game, IMO.

Lonely Men There on the Corner:  DJ Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio are going to have their hands full Saturday afternoon but they’ve been here before.  This dynamic duo nearly had a clean sheet against LSU’s vaunted defensive ends as they only gave up one sack against them.  Look for a combination of chip blocks from the backs and TE help to assist in successfully neutralizing the Georgia ends.  If this doesn’t happen then Alabama will lose the game.  Yes, it is that simple.

Backin’ Black:  It’s not often that you can suddenly add a 4 star wide receiver to an offense 12 games into the season but that’s exactly what it appears Saban & Co will do Saturday afternoon.  Chris Black injured his shoulder in fall camp and was slated for a redshirt this season.  But, as his shoulder has healed and he’s begun practicing again, Alabama lost fellow wide receivers DeAndrew White & Kenny Bell and sustained injuries to Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood and Danny Woodson so numbers are low.  White caught 5 passes for 97 yards during the A-Day game so he’s got some serious skills.  It will be interesting to see how he’s used against UGA (he’s currently backing up Norwood on the outside but most of his earlier reps were in the slot) but the staff seems absolutely sold on his ability to help the team during the next 2 games.  Black wears jersey #5 so be on the lookout for him!

Swami Sez:  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  What a matchup.  Look for Jarvis Jones to collect at least one sack and Georgia as a team to get two.  This would have to be considered as a success for Bama, by the way.  Look for Alabama to rush for under 135 yards.  Look for Bama to pass for around 250 yards.  This will be a defensive struggle until a late score by Bama.  Alabama will use the hurry up, no huddle attack for the first several drives but then they’ll likely settle into their normal routine.  As we said above, there will be a combination of at least 5 draws or screens.  Amari Cooper will get deep once again and it will be on a play action pass.  UGA’s safeties are much like Alabama’s and they bite heavily on the run fakes.  This should allow one on one coverage for Cooper and he should haul in a pass over 25 yards.  Big plays will not be available often so it’s critical that Bama hits on these opportunities when they are presented. 

Alabama on Defense

Mark Richt, Mike Bobo and Aaron Murray must have short circuited a few digital playbooks while they drooled over the LSU and Texas A&M game films.  I mean, if Zack Mettenberger can throw for nearly 300 yards then what can the #1 pass efficiency QB in the league throw for?  If Johnny Football can expose the Tide safeties in coverage, what can a sophisticated passing offense exploit?  Meanwhile, Nick and Kirby have been working in the lab trying to figure out ways to mask their secondary’s deficiencies.  First it was John Fulton playing in nickel and dime packages and now Geno Smith has emerged in the ever changing secondary shell game.  If one of these two kiddos doesn’t step it up in a hurry, instead of a shell game it will be a game of Russian roulette for the defensive coaches.

When Florida and South Carolina shut down the Georgia offense, they did it by pressuring and harassing Murray with their front four.  For all of the gaudy UGA stats (like ranking first in passing efficiency), Murray was a horrific 23 of 55 for 259 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions against these two teams combined this season.  And, if you expand to look at Murray’s performances against top 25 opponents, he’s completed a mere 172 of 314 (54.8%) and averaged only 208 yards per game.  By the way, UGA has gone 3-8 in these games and Murray’s play is the key reason for Georgia’s failures in big games.  So, as you can see, getting Murray out of his rhythm will be the key to punching Bama’s ticket to Miami.

Oh Line:  Coming into the season, Georgia’s offensive line was a significant question mark and after watching South Carolina and Florida expose it, it’s no wonder that Murray isn’t exactly sitting back there in an easy chair.  Sophomore center David Andrews weighs in at only 290 lbs and is apparently the only individual who can actually look slimmer on TV.  Meanwhile, Georgia’s right tackle is freshman Nathan Lewis and he didn’t exactly acquit himself well against USC or Florida.  So, evidently the interior and the exterior of the Georgia line are vulnerable – but everything else is solid!  This is the key difference between these two championship game combatants and should make for an Uga-ly performance from Murray.   

Under Pressure:  Aaron Murray is listed at 6’1 which means he’s likely closer to 5’10 without his heels on, so generating pocket pressure is key.  As we pointed out above, the Georgia OL is leaky, especially against good defenses, so as the pocket begins to collapse it becomes much harder for Murray to see over the carnage.  Todd McShay pointed out that Murray was only 3 of 13 against South Carolina when pressured.  Against Florida, all three of his interceptions were the result of Murray having to move in the pocket to maneuver around the pressure.  Oftentimes, to avoid the rush, Murray alters his throwing motion and the angle of his arm but that doesn’t seem to deter Murray from putting the football into harm’s way.  If Bama can pressure Murray in the slightest bit, the Bama defense will reap the benefits.

End Game:  Adrian Hubbard, all eyes are on you big man.  Hubbard is perhaps the most skilled edge rusher that the Tide has on their team and he does lead the defense in sacks and pressures.  Additionally, USC and Florida each generated more than enough pressure with their front four without having to resort to blitzes so this ratchets up the pressure on Bama’s ends (and Jesse Williams) to ratchet up the pressure on the QB.  Edge rushers were wildly successful in games against USC and UF.

Match Game:  Georgia loves to isolate Malcom Mitchell on the outside and have him run curls against man coverage.  Mitchell is their big game breaker at receiver now so I’m curious to see if Dee Milliner will spend his time guarding Mitchell.  LSU flexed their TEs out on the edges, forcing Milliner outside to cover them while the Tiger WRs worked against Sunseri, Lester and Perry.  Alabama’s corners must match up with King and Mitchell, as they are the two playmakers in the Georgia passing game.  If Georgia OC Mike Bobo finds a way to get these cats isolated on Bama safeties, pray that we are in zone coverage or that the front four gets to Murray in a hurry.

Lynch Pin:  Georgia utilizes their TEs more than anyone else in the league, especially since losing two of their top four WRs due to injuries.  In particular, Arthur Lynch has three catches in each of his last three games so look for Lynch to receive a lot of targets in this game.  Of course, he’ll spend most of his time working against CJ Mosley who is perhaps the best cover LB I have ever seen on tape.  Look for Mosley to lead the team is pass breakups and I think he’ll pick Murray off at least once!

Screen Game:  A staple of the UGA passing game is the screen game but, as I’ve told you guys for two years, no one plays screens better than Alabama.  The fact that Bama should be able to eliminate the screen game from the Dawgs’ playbook is a huge advantage.

Gurley Men:  True freshman Todd Gurley is 6’1, 218 and seems to play even bigger than that.  He’s extremely impressive and at that size will be a load for Mosley to handle in the running game.  Bama excels in stopping scat backs but backs built like Jeremy Hill have been a problem.  Gurley is built like Hill so I suspect the UGA running game will be better than you want it to be.

Swami Sez:  Georgia continues to be applauded for their victory against Florida and yet, in their biggest win, they played one of their worst games.  Had Florida not gifted 6 turnovers to the Dawgs, we’d be talking about Alabama’s matchup against the Gators this Saturday instead of their matchup with the Dawgs.  Murray’s woes against top competition are well documented and have been recited to Murray ad nauseum so he has the weight of the entire state of Georgia on his smallish shoulders.  We look for Murray to complete less than 60% of his passes, suffering four sacks (2 by Hubbard) and at least two batted and battered balls.  Gurley will be the one constant in the Georgia offense and will rush for over 80 yards.  Bama’s secondary woes will not be exposed as they were against LSU or Texas A&M and Georgia will have to work very, very hard to score against a revitalized and re-focused group of angry defensive Tiders.  Also, look for big Jesse Williams to have his name called for being in the UGA backfield a few times, as well.

Alabama on Special Teams

Georgia’s net punting average ranks 13th in the conference this season and the Dawgs have a freshman kicker who is 8 of 12 on field goals and has missed four extra points this season.  Finally, the kicking game should prove to be a huge advantage for Alabama.  Look for Christion Jones to pop off a big return that ignites the Bama sidelines early in the first half.  Look for Cody Mandell to have another big game as he continues to be a valuable weapon for Saban’s very special teams.

Conclusion

I started off this week thinking that Georgia was the exact type of team who could exploit Alabama’s defensive deficiencies in a way that Bama fans wouldn’t want to see.  Georgia features an accomplished passer, two dynamic running backs and skilled wide receivers so they should be able to threaten every level of Alabama’s defense in at least the same way as LSU and A&M did.  Meanwhile, their defense is as big and athletic of a defense as Bama has faced all season.  However….

Big time games are won by big time big boys on the offensive and defensive lines and that is where Alabama holds a distinct advantage on both sides of the ball.  First, Georgia’s offensive line has been woeful against teams that have been able to physically test them across their front.  Bama’s big, experienced linemen like Damian Square and Jesse Williams should dominate their matchups and Adrian Hubbard should be able to provide consistent pressure from the edge.  Bama’s defense is simply much, much better than Georgia’s (and you know the best defense wins championships).  Second, Alabama’s offensive line is experienced, athletic and physical and, as big as Georgia’s defenders are, they are not they type of defenders who typically pose real problems for Bama’s line.  You may remember that A&M moved a quicker but smaller interior player to the nose position and this wreaked havoc for Barrett Jones and the interior of the OL.  But, against 6’8, 380 lb Daniel McCullers, Jones & Co more than held their own.  The size of UGA’s tackles shouldn’t be as big of an issue as some are saying in my opinion.

At quarterback, AJ McCarron has excelled in big time games.  He has the kind of confidence that can only be gained by shining the brightest when placed among the stars.  Even in the A&M game, McCarron brought the Tide roaring back when they had to scrap the running game and he came within 2 yards of leading a pretty dramatic comeback.  Meanwhile, in the last two seasons Murray is 1-4 against top 15 teams with his one lone win coming in an awful performance against Florida.  With 30 years of Georgia history weighing him down in the pocket, there is absolutely no reason to expect him to excel in this, the biggest of moments.

But, finally, we end where we began – the coaches.  Saban hates losing more than he enjoys winning.  Richt is a family man who admits to prioritizing things ahead of football because, to him, football isn’t everything.  It is said that a team emulates and takes on the persona of their coach and, if that’s true, then give me the driven and focused band of Sabanites.  Give me the players with an undying hunger for victory and an overwhelming distaste for defeat.  The A&M game reminded this team what it was like to lose and they’ll go into this game remembering what that kind of pain feels like.  Meanwhile, Georgia’s biggest win was a game in which they played their worst…again.  And, after being humiliated against the Gamecocks, Georgia was once again outplayed by Florida.  The braggadocios pre-game statements coming from Georgia this week wreak of a team desperate to show the world that, gosh darn it, they’re  good enough to win this game.  Bama knows they can win…that they will win.  Saban owns moments like this one.  Richt has nightmares about his history of big losses in big games.  Expect another nightmare on Peachtree Street for the Dawgs.

Final Score:  Alabama 24               Georgia 13

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