The similar styles of the SEC programs are set to collide on Monday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Alabama Crimson Tide vs Georgia Bulldogs
MONDAY, JANUARY 8
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide have a dominant defense that has withstood countless injuries to key players. Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs are known most for their running backs, but they also have a solid defense.
A low-scoring affair is expected in what could be a historic night for one coach.
Here’s a look at a few of the key storylines to keep an eye on during the national championship game.
Another Injury at Linebacker Won’t Hurt Alabama
No program has dealt with an injury crisis quite like the Crimson Tide this season.
Although they didn’t play like a defense without a few key members in the Sugar Bowl, the Tide were without linebackers, Dylan Moses and Shaun Dion Hamilton.
The depth chart at linebacker got smaller after Monday’s semifinal win over Clemson, as Anfernee Jennings suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of the championship tilt. Jennings confirmed the news on Twitter on Wednesday.
But since this is Alabama, there are still four linebackers in the starting lineup more than capable of stopping the Georgia running game.
Mack Wilson, who was all over the place in the Sugar Bowl, and Rashaan Evans, a highly touted NFL prospect, will start on the inside with Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis on the outside.
Miller and Lewis were hurt in the season opener against Florida State and didn’t return until the Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. Although they have a little bit of rust when it comes to live action, the two have seen plenty of reps in practice to prepare.
Alabama isn’t the only national championship participant with a defense that will make an opposing offense miserable for 60 minutes.
Georgia comes into Mercedes-Benz Stadium, some 70 miles away from its Athens campus, with the second-best passing defense in the FBS and the 12th-best rushing defense. The Bulldogs are sixth in total defense, just five spots below the Crimson Tide.
The linebackers will be key for Georgia as well, with Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter looking to match the output of Alabama’s men in the middle of the defense.
In the three games leading up to the Rose Bowl, the Bulldogs conceded 27 points and held Georgia Tech and Auburn to one score in consecutive weeks.
Alabama’s defense may be receiving more headlines because of its most-recent performance in the Sugar Bowl, but don’t be surprised if Georgia matches its production, or outplays the Crimson Tide during stretches.
The Bulldogs will key in on the ground game of the Crimson Tide. If they are able to limit the progress of Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris, Alabama will be forced to win the game through the air.
Finding success against the nation’s second-best passing defense will be hard for the Crimson Tide, especially if the Bulldogs can keep Calvin Ridley silent.
Nick Saban Trying to Tie National Championship Record
Nick Saban can already be described as a legendary coach, but he can add another accomplishment to his resume with a victory in the national championship game.
The 66-year-old is one championship behind former Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who holds the record for six won by a coach.
Bryant won his six national titles in a span from 1961 to 1979, with his first three coming in a five-year stretch from 1961 to 1965.
If Bama beats Georgia on Monday, Saban will have won six national championships since 2003 and five in the last nine years.
What this means for Georgia’s offense is it’s going to have to work for every yard. The Alabama front seven will clog every hole Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will try to run through, which means we’ll see a lot of short carries from them.
Even if Saban loses on Monday, he’d have two more seasons to try and beat Bryant to become the fastest coach to win six championships. He probably would’ve had the record already if he didn’t leave LSU for the Miami Dolphins in 2005 for two seasons before returning to the SEC with Alabama.
Regardless of what your opinion on Saban and the Alabama program is, you have to respect just how fantastic his time in Tuscaloosa has been.
It may be hard to take in right now with all of the SEC hate and College Football Playoff criticism flying around, but the greatness we’re witnessing from Saban may never be seen again.