Junior Seau, one of the greatest competitors in NFL history, once said, “Football is a chess game to me. If you move your pawn against my bishop, I’ll counter that move to beat you. Football is the same way.” In this game between the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs and the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, we can analyze many of the “pieces” that should play a huge role in the outcome of this much-anticipated matchup of SEC juggernauts. Of course, the big story going into this game is the absence of Alabama head coach Nick Saban due to his recent COVID-19 diagnosis. That said, there are still a number of intriguing storylines.
This particular chess match is all about the explosiveness and speed of the Tide offense against the tenacity and talent of the Bulldog defense. There are many critical, individual matchups that will certainly determine who should come out on top:
Mac Jones and Alabama Receivers vs. Georgia Secondary
Alabama QB Mac Jones has been sensational thus far, completing 79.5% of his passes, which ranks second in the country. Jones is also one of just two quarterbacks in the country with over 1,000 passing yards in less than 100 attempts. Thankfully for him, nobody in the country recruits better at the wide receiver position than Alabama.
Despite losing Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, both first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide is still loaded at wide receiver. It’s more than likely they have two more first-round selections at the position in DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Smith is second in receptions and fifth in receiving yards in the SEC, while Waddle is third in yards and averages more 20 yards per reception.
Waddle primarily operates in the slot and is nearly untouchable in the open field. He also brings special teams value, so limiting his production will be key for the UGA defense as he can take the top off the defense in the blink of an eye.
The Bulldog secondary will face its toughest test this season defending the verticality and speed of the Alabama pass catchers. Safety Richard LeCounte and cornerback Eric Stokes co-lead the SEC with 2 interceptions each. Stokes ran the 100m in 10.39 seconds and fellow cornerback Tyson Campbell also ran the same exact 100m time. Georgia has the speed in the back half to compete with the Tide receivers on the perimeter, but they will need to be disciplined in defending the middle of the field and the double moves that Smith and Waddle can execute so well.
Line of Scrimmage
It’s universally understood that controlling the line of scrimmage is the key to success at any level of football. That premise can’t be more relevant than in this game, as Alabama boasts one of the most talented offensive lines in the country and Georgia owns one of the most disruptive front sevens in all of college football.
By the numbers, the Bulldogs have dominated their opponents on the line of scrimmage. They are allowing a mere 38.3 rushing yards per game, the best in the country. Nose tackle Jordan Davis is a load to handle up front and center Landon Dickerson will have his hands full trying to anchor him from pushing the pocket.
Another matchup to watch on the line of scrimmage will be Alabama’s tackles, Alex Leatherwood and Evan Neal, against Georgia outside backer Azeez Ojulari, who has 3 sacks and 3 forced fumbles so far this season. Leatherwood will line up at left tackle, protecting Jones’ blindside. Ojulari’s toughness and motor could be a lot for Leatherwood to handle.
Jones is entering his eighth game as the starting quarterback for Alabama and has only been sacked three times in those starts. Putting pressure on Jones by shrinking the pocket and bringing interior pressure will be pivotal for Georgia’s defense.
Third Down Conversions
Ultimately, this game is going to come down to converting on third downs. Alabama leads the country in third-down conversion percentage (20 of 31, 64.5%) while Georgia has only allowed 13 conversions out of 46 attempts (28.3%).