Keys to the Game
by John Harris
Alabama v. Georgia – SEC Championship – Atlanta
Welcome to the inaugural BCS National Championship semi-final! Well, that’s not entirely accurate, I suppose. Florida and Alabama met in 2008 and 2009 with the winner headed to the Crystal Ball Bowl. But, for the first time since the new playoff system was announced, we have a de facto semi-final between Alabama and Georgia. As such, we’ll get to see how it’ll work in the near future…sort of. Given the fact that these are two of the storied programs in this legendary conference, you’d have thought Alabama and Georgia would’ve met at least once for the SEC title. However, this is the first time they’ve ever met in the SEC championship game and the first time the two teams have met since 2008. In fact, Alabama has only played Florida in the SEC Championship game, a whopping seven times in the last 20 years. Georgia is back in the game for the second consecutive year, one year after getting embarrassed by LSU 42-10. So, let’s get it on, southern fried style.
When Alabama has the ball…
Keys for the Crimson Tide
1. Occupy the second level in the run game. Consistently getting a hat on Georgia’s speedy ILB is paramount to success.
2. Involve TE Michael Williams in play action or bootlegs as in last year’s BCS national championship. Short easy throws to tight ends got QB A.J McCarron some confidence and moved the chains.
3. Find the right opportunity to run the no huddle, up tempo offense (not just at end of half or game)
4. Isolate Amari Cooper by formation alignment to keep safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams from helping Georgia corners.
5. Turnovers fuel the Georgia beast – when the defense creates one, it jumpstarts the whole unit and team. Georgia Tech turned it over early and got knocked out because of it. Don’t give them any.
Alabama offensive players to watch
1. LT #71 Cyrus Kouandijo – will see plenty of All-American OLB Jarvis Jones and the more he handles him 1-on-1, the more Alabama RB can be involved in the passing game.
2. C #75 Barrett Jones – he won’t drive John Jenkins off the ball but has to occupy him without help
3. WR #9 Amari Cooper – go deep, young buck, go deep.
4. WR #83 Kevin Norwood – with Kenny Bell out due to injury, Norwood must pick up the slack in the intermediate passing game as he did on The Drive against LSU.
5. RB #42 Eddie Lacy – Bulldogs get lazy at times and struggle tackling in space so expect more yards after first contact for ‘Circle Button’ Lacy
Keys for the Bulldogs
1. Tackle. It’s that simple.
2. Free up Jarvis Jones to rush from as many different spots as possible without losing edge pressure.
3. Rob the middle with safeties as Texas A&M did – disguise coverages and then let either Shawn Williams or Bacarri Rambo jump the crossing routes in the middle of the field.
4. Keep linebackers clean in the run game. Ogletree and company are quick and explosive to the football but don’t get off blocks well
5. In bringing pressure, DO NOT lose the running backs in the passing game/screen game – UGA LB can’t lose sight of T.J Yeldon, in particular
Georgia defensive players to watch
1. LB #29 Jarvis Jones – if he’s not the best pass rusher in the nation, he’s right behind Jadeveon Clowney
2. ILB #9 Alec Ogletree – a tremendous athlete who can lose focus during a game and get lost in the run defense.
3. S #18 Bacarri Rambo – a turnover machine, whether it’s forcing them or capitalizing on them; since he’s been back in the lineup, UGA’s defense has played much more cohesively.
4. NT #6 John Jenkins – he’s a large man who has one job this weekend – eat blockers for lunch…or dinner, whatever works for you.
5. CB #5 Damian Swann – aggressive young cover corner who may draw the assignment on Cooper.
Alabama QB #10 A.J McCarron v. Georgia safeties #18 Bacarri Rambo and #36 Shawn Williams
When Georgia has the ball…
Keys for the Bulldogs
1. Play action can work but it has to happen now. UGA’s play action is deliberate for a reason, but QB Aaron Murray must speed up his footwork, get his eyes downfield quicker and find open receivers.
2. Put Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall on the field together – see how Alabama reacts, then send Marshall in motion. If LB goes with him, pound Gurley inside. If S follows, work TE or WR into the void
3. Give help to interior G-C-G trio and let tackles handle Alabama DE/OLB 1-on-1. NT Jesse Williams is the guy who could push Murray’s feet in the passing game and is perhaps the biggest worry.
4. Swing to space – the old school FSU swing route to a RB puts Alabama defenders in space on either Gurley or Marshall.
5. Attack Deion Belue’s side, make him the focus in stopping Georgia’s big receiving corps (Malcolm Mitchell, Tavarres King)
Georgia offensive players to watch
1. WR #26 Malcolm Mitchell – must find a way to utilize his explosiveness, especially early in the game.
2. RB #3 Todd Gurley/RB #4 Keith Marshall – best freshmen duo in the nation
3. RT #71 John Theus – has been stellar this year, but will face more power than speed off the edge
4. WR #12 Tavarres King – can disappear at times and lose focus on catching the football – neither one can happen this weekend
5. QB #11 Aaron Murray – it’s time for him to win a big one AND play well doing it (the Florida win was big, but it was one of Murray’s worst overall games of the season)
Keys for the Crimson Tide
1. Win 1st down consistently – if UGA is in 2nd and short or 2nd and medium allowing OC Mike Bobo to tap into full playbook, Alabama won’t be able to dictate defensive sets – it can’t be reactive.
2. Force Murray’s passing windows into the middle of the field – keep it narrow and tight and he’ll throw you a few.
3. As such, speed up Murray’s throwing process with selective “quick” pressure, in particular from LB C.J Mosley or safety blitzes from Robert Lester, HaHa Clinton Dix or Nick Perry
4. Keep C.J Mosley on the field, no matter what.
5. Quicker and faster defenders must be on the field – put Vinnie Sunseri at linebacker along with Mosley for example. The front is stout enough to stop the run game, let speed change the game.
Alabama defensive players to watch
1. NT #54 Jesse Williams – must be a factor shutting down the A and B gaps in the run game.
2. CB #28 Dee Milliner – if UGA throws opposite, ‘Bama DC Kirby Smart can use him in other ways, i.e blitzing the edge
3. LB #32 C.J Mosley – a nickel specialist that’ll be asked to drop, rush and cover in space.
4. OLB #42 Adrian Hubbard – Bama doesn’t have a dynamic pass rush, but Hubbard is the best it has.
5. S #37 Robert Lester – didn’t play well in loss to A&M, perfect spot for redemption.
Georgia C #61 David Andrews v. Alabama NT #54 Jesse Williams
I’m as pumped about seeing this one as any game I’ve been to live in quite some time. These two teams both lost one game this season and in both games they got sledgehammered early and weren’t able to answer back. South Carolina scored in rapid fashion early in a 35-7 beatdown over UGA, while Texas A&M’s up tempo Johnny Manziel-led offense had Alabama back on its heels early in a 29-24 loss in Tuscaloosa. South Carolina’s offense reminds me a bit of Alabama’s with the main difference being what I feel will be the biggest factor in this matchup – Alabama’s offensive line. Even with the NFL talent Georgia possesses in the front seven, offenses have moved the football effectively without having an OL like Alabama’s. Georgia DC Todd Grantham will mix up his “looks” and attempt to disrupt the blocking scheme in both the run and pass game. But, in the end, Barrett Jones and company will take control of the game in the third quarter and pave the way for Lacy and Yeldon to run roughshod over a game, but worn down, UGA front seven for the last 15-20 minutes.
Alabama – 29 vs. Georgia – 20