While many northeasterners are busy hunkering down in anticipation of Hurricane Joaquin, Bama fans are busy in their own right as they are hunkering down in anticipation of the storm that is the Georgia game. With a 90% chance of heavy rains in Athens predicted, perhaps it will be a high Tide alert for the Georgia Bulldogs. Ever seen a bulldog swim? Other than Rowdy Gaines, me neither.
Luckily for you, the crack Lighthouse staff has been breaking down game film to get ready for Hurricane Richt and, with some luck, we are hopeful that Saturday ends up being more of a Tropical Depression Richt. We’ve looked at the offenses. We’ve looked at the defenses. Special teams. Strength training. We’ve studied it all. And what have we found?
If Alabama were to look in the mirror, to many folks’ surprise they might find the Georgia Bulldogs – and that’s no coincidence. Nick Saban’s coaching tree has branched out to Athens with no less than four coaches on Mark Richt’s staff having Alabama roots. Once known as a “weak” team, now Richt’s team owes its tremendous upgrades in strength and conditioning to a Scott Cochran disciple. Once known for “finesse” blocking, Georgia’s maulers along the offensive line are being coached up by another former Alabama coach. And Georgia’s formerly fundamentally unsound defense is now coached up by Jeremy Pruitt and the Dawgs’ defense often looks better than the defense coached by Kirby Smart (Pruitt has had much more success against Auburn).
When Alabama plays Georgia on Saturday, in many ways they will be playing against themselves. How will it turn out? Well, hopefully neither Hurricane Joaquin or this What to Watch For will rain on your parade this weekend…
Alabama on Offense
The Tide’s offense comes into the Georgia game with a lack of identity. Alabama has two thoroughbreds like Secretariat and American Pharoah in Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry but it seems they never get to compete in the Triple Crown. Instead, Lane Kiffin often treats them as Tennessee Walking Horses or show ponies. Alabama’s offensive line will once again own a significant advantage over the Bulldogs’ front seven in size and strength but the question is whether (or weather) or not the Tide will be patient enough to lean on the Dawgs for four quarters. Will Kiffin let his thoroughbreds run unbridled?
In the passing game, we’ve seen Bama’s offensive line get confused and abused by blitzes and Dominick Jackson has, at times, been little more than a turnstile for speed rushers. So, staying out of long down and distance situations will determine the Tide’s success or failure in this game. Jeremy Pruitt loves to play aggressively and is very adept at scheming and designing blitzes to create confusion along the line. So, hear me when I say this – Alabama must run the ball. Here are a few other things to watch for during this game…
Georgia will play a lot of man coverage with safeties over the top. Honestly, their secondary coverages this year reminds me a lot of Ole Miss. Georgia appears content to give up the underneath routes because they are adamantly opposed to giving up the deep ball. Once again, Jake Coker will need to be patient this week and take what the defense gives him – not exactly something that he is want to do. Additionally, Coker is going to have to read the blitzes and know where his hot routes are because there will be no time to figure things out as they develop. Look for out routes to the flats and the middle behind the linebackers but in front of the safeties to be the open patterns Saturday. On blitzes, Howard should be available right off the line of scrimmage.
Against the spread, Georgia plays a 4-2 defense. South Carolina was able to turn the corner numerous times, especially with fly sweeps and quarterback zone reads so look for Alabama to attempt to spread the Dawgs out in an effort to run the ball on them. Don’t be surprised if you see Coker pull the ball and take it upfield a few times to keep the Dawgs’ D honest – the Gamecocks had a lot of success when their QB ran the ball.
The interior of the Georgia line did not seem to hold up well against the interior runs of South Carolina. All everything linebacker Leonard Floyd (#84) is uber-athletic but he looks more like a wide receiver than a linebacker. His strengths are operating in space and blitzing. His weaknesses are taking on blocks and disengaging to make tackles. This is why we think the Tide needs to drop the hammer on the Dawgs repeatedly this week and slam the ball down the doggies throats. Question is whether or not Kiffin can be content with this type of game plan. We hope that with the added depth of Bo Scarborough, the sloppy conditions and the size advantage on the line, Kiffin will be running Bama Slammers into the Georgia line all afternoon long.
Third & Short
It appears that Georgia plays it straight up on first downs, rarely committing their back seven in blitz packages. However, on third downs of six yards or less, look out. Former Alabama defensive back coach-turned-Florida State defensive coordinator –turned-Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt does an outstanding job with his schemes. He’s aggressive. He’s smart. And he’s routinely put together better game plans against Auburn than the Bama staff has (sorry, but this is true). Look for a variety of blitzes, stunts, loops and games to be thrown at the Bama line on third down while their DBs play press man coverage. The Tide’s offensive line hasn’t fared well against this type of pressure so look the Tide to counter this with a variety of screens, rollouts and hard counts in an effort to slow down the Georgia pass rush.
- Much like Saban & Smart do with their schemes, look for Pruitt to change his defense after Alabama audibles to a new play at the line of scrimmage. The mind games between Kiffin & Pruitt will be fascinating to watch unfold as Coker tries to get Alabama into the right play.
- We hate to even go here but this is the type of game you could see OJ Howard thrive in. With Georgia blitzing, they will leave some ill prepared someone on an island against Howard.
- Just as we know the Dawgs will be dialing up pressures on third downs, know that Jake Coker will be dialing up Richard Mullaney to convert first downs. Mullaney has become Coker’s most dependable target.
- Coker is 1 of 15 on passes of over 20 yards down the field this season. Georgia will be hell-bent on making sure Coker doesn’t double his number of completions this week. They will play with two deep safeties much of the time. The one caveat to this is the rain. Defenders are at a supreme disadvantage in the slop so a double move could come up big against the Dawgs secondary.
- Chris Black’s ability to recognize the blitz and adjust his routes accordingly really impressed us last week – he could be on the receiving end of a critical pass or two this week.
- Alphonse Taylor once again had a horrific week last week. Pray for him this week as it isn’t going to get any easier.
- Bo Scarborough is back, he’s healthy, and he’s as big as Jalston Fowler ever wanted to be. Look for big #6 to be used in play action and even split out a few times this week.
Alabama on Defense
Georgia’s offensive line is one of the best I’ve seen on tape. They have two seniors, two juniors and they all share a love of moving an opponent from point A to point B against his will. They protect well. They run block well. They pull very well. Making things worse, Nick Chubb is extremely patient and loves to allow his big uns to operate downfield before he makes a cut.
Meanwhile, Georgia QB Grayson Lambert is exactly what new offensive coordinator (and former NFL coordinator) Brian Schottenheimer is looking for in a quarterback. Lambert is highly accurate and is extremely content in throwing 7 yard slants, 3 yard screens and 5 yard flares. Lambert doesn’t have a big arm and the ball tends to hang up in the air when he throws it down the field but it’s rare that he looks to throw it deep. Georgia has enough playmakers at tight end, fullback and running back that Lambert and Schottenheimer can afford to just dump the ball off and let his athletes go to work. Here’s what else you should watch for this week…
Alabama’s front four is as dominant of a group as there is in the country. When anyone breaks this particular game down, they start with Alabama’s line and conclude that Georgia simply will not be able to run the ball. Well, after watching Georgia’s offensive line do some work, I’ve concluded that the usual advantage that the Tide enjoys at the line of scrimmage will likely end in a lot of draws – that’s not good if you want to stop Chubb. The UGA line is talented and while they won’t own every down, they’ll win their fair share of snaps.
Georgia loves to get the ball out in space to Sony Michel (#1) and he’s quite a weapon with the ball in his hands. When you think of Michel, think of Kenyan Drake – Michel is that kind of player and is used similarly. The issue here is that Alabama’s linebackers and secondary will be asked repeatedly to come up and take down Michel and Chubb in one on one situations – from what we’ve seen, this may be a problem. Guys like Marlon Humphrey, Geno Matias-Smith and Eddie Jackson are going to have to come downhill and play with a physicality that we haven’t seen thus far this season. If Jackson and Matias-Smith are asked to make a lot of tackles, it will be interesting to see how long Saban & Smart go with them at the safety position. We’ve been VERY impressed with Ronnie Harrison and Hootie Jones. Both of them looked good in run support last week and with a game that is expected to be played in a quagmire, a more physical safety may be necessary.
The Key to the Game
If Alabama wants to win, they’ll have to shut down the Georgia running game. As we discussed above, at times the UGA offensive line should be able to stalemate the Bama line, which should force Tide linebackers Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster to have the game of their lives. We’ve seen them struggle to run laterally and fill the outside running lanes this season so this will be a huge, huge key to winning or losing on Saturday. UGA comes into the game averaging 258 yards per game. Bama gives up just 57. Something’s gotta give – and Bama’s linebackers will decide which stat (and which team) wins out.
- Grayson Lambert has been playing out of his mind since beginning the Vandy game with seven straight incompletions. In his last two games, Lambert completed an astounding 33 of 35 passes. I don’t think Alabama has a QB (or receivers) who could do that against tall grass right now – there were six drops in last week’s game alone. Against USC, Lambert proved to be calm, cool and collected and showed a very nice pocket presence. However, the Gamecocks rush the passer about as well as Nick Saban’s statue does so disrupting the pocket will be priority #1 when Lambert drops back to pass. He’s not super mobile and Saban typically owns pocket passers so this could be an advantage.
- During my years of breaking down film of the Alabama defense I’ve noticed that the Achilles heel (besides a mobile QB) is often covering the TE or backs out of the backfield. Georgia loves to throw to their tight ends, fullbacks and backs so look for Bama’s safeties to line up close to the line of scrimmage and dare Lambert to throw the ball down the field.
- Watching Nick Chubb reminds me of watching Emmitt Smith. Chubb isn’t blazing fast but he’s short, stout and has tremendous leg drive – he’s always falling forward after impact. His vision and patience are outstanding, too.
- Chubb loves to start inside and then bounce outside – edge containment will be vital this week.
- Georgia plays with a ton of two tight end and/or fullback sets so Alabama will often line up in their favored 3-4 defense. It’s rare that an opponent can run against this front.
- Georgia uses a lot of “bunch” formations in their passing game – something the Tide secondary has struggled with in the last couple of years.
- Lambert will throw at least 8 slant routes. Book it. Alabama will jump at least one of them – book that, too.
- Rumor has it that UGA has been practicing their hurry up offense and they plan to employ it throughout the contest on Saturday. If so, in our opinion this will take UGA out of their comfort zone and force Lambert to handle situations he hasn’t been thus far this season. Why you would ask your offense to suddenly become something entirely different is beyond me and I hope this rumor is true.
Alabama on Special Teams
Not surprisingly, Georgia holds a distinct advantage across the board on special teams. Their return game is annually one of the best in the conference and their kicking game is outstanding, as well. Basically, Alabama’s one slight advantage is their ability to block punts – maybe that’s a little something to look for in this game. Otherwise, look for Georgia to have an advantage in field position throughout the game.
Through four games this season, we’ve seen Alabama’s offensive line struggle against the blitz and/or against quicker opponents. Georgia’s defense is plenty quick and they will begin blitzing when they get off the bus.
We’ve seen Alabama’s receivers drop a multitude of passes. Right now there is a 90% chance of rain on Saturday so every single catchable pass must be caught – rain will make that very difficult.
Alabama’s biggest advantage on offense is their size, so the running game should generate a lot of points and yardage. But, thus far Kiffin hasn’t shown the type of patience required to slowly squeeze the life out of an opponent. Perhaps murky conditions will force him to channel his inner Larry Czonka and he’ll pound the rock.
Defensively, this season we’ve seen numerous missed tackles by Alabama’s linebackers and secondary – each of which will be called upon to play their very best game in run support. It’s hard to imagine the tackling will get better when facing elite backs like Chubb, Michel and Marshall.
Alabama’s defensive line typically dominates games. Georgia’s offensive line will not allow that to happen.
Personally, I think a rainy Saturday plays to Alabama’s favor – it will force the normally conservative Mark Richt to become even more conservative. Meanwhile, thru wind, thru hail, thru storm at night, Kiffin won’t know any better and will continue throwing the ball all around Athens. Any defender will tell you that the offense has the supreme advantage in bad weather and Coker has the kind of arm that can throw the ball thru a car wash and not get the ball wet. Maybe, just maybe, it will be to Bama’s advantage to continue to attack Joaquin and throw the ball down the field…
For the first time since 2009, Alabama is not favored. Vegas feels Georgia is the better team and, after watching film of both teams, I agree with Vegas.
After watching Alabama struggle to consistently block their opponents…after watching Alabama drop passes…and miss tackles….I cannot sit here and objectively tell you that Alabama will win this game without some kind of help from the heavens.
Final Score: Georgia 27 Alabama 24