Can Georgia pull off the upset against Alabama?
Roll Tide has taken on a new meaning since Nick Saban came to Tuscaloosa. From a phrase uttered by fans to promote comradery to a definition of the game, it's evolved over the last few years. Alabama continues to steam roll anyone in their way, and they've found new ways to do it. This weekend it came from their offense, a group that's made defensive coordinators worry day and night. Can anyone stop them? The number of contenders has fallen since we last took a look, but the Georgia Bulldogs are hoping they can knock off the Tide.
Georgia's own offense has endured a whirlwind of events in their young season. Wake Forest Jamie Newman was tabbed as the starter in the offseason by many, but he decided to opt out of the season for the NFL Draft. USC transfer JT Daniels wasn't ready to go for the first game, so Georgia had to turn to D'Wan Mathis and Stetson Bennett. Mathis got the start in the first game, but struggled to the point where Bennett took over and never gave the spot back. Once counted out of the quarterback race (and from what we just talked about considered the fourth string), Bennett has proven to be reliable enough to get Georgia to this point.
The Bulldogs offense goes where Bennett takes them, and that carries even more weight this weekend. Bennett's not going to torch anyone with his arm strength, but he's a steady player who limits his mistakes. He'll also throw in a few runs every now and then to keep a defense honest, and he has enough speed to elude a pass rush. The front seven Georgia faces this weekend is better than Tennessee's, and the Volunteers at times pushed the Bulldogs line right into Bennett's lap. Establishing the run becomes a vital component to pulling off the upset too, which starts up front. There are also two players that must step up with Bennett this weekend, and they've yet to shine this year.
Zamir White was picked as the replacement for D'Andre Swift. With a large frame and downhill running style, he fit into the Georgia offense well last year. For some reason, things haven't quite clicked for him. This weekend's game will be physical, and that fits into White's game perfectly. He just needs a little room to run and remind everyone why people were so high on him coming into this year. Same for George Pickens.
Sadly, this is Pickens' highlight for the year. An unsportsmanlike penalty. He's caught just eight passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns this season in Todd Monken's offense, a system that figured to open things up for the star receiver. Yet he's struggled since the start of the season. Granted, Georgia's only three games in, but two catches for 14 yards isn't exactly what Bulldogs fans had in mind against Tennessee, and the lack of separation from defenders is concerning. As is his desire to focus on jawing with the opponent. If the offense wants to compete with Alabama, guys Pickens have to pick it up. The defense can't do everything
Georgia's defense has been elite. There's not a better way to put it.
The matchup that everyone wants to watch is Alabama's explosive offense against Georgia's stifling defense. Regardless of what their offense does, the pressure on the Dawgs defense would mount for this game. Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Alex Leatherwood, you name it. The Tide are loaded offensively, and it's going to take a special group to stop them. Georgia fits that description.
Starting with the secondary, the Dawgs are well equipped to handle Alabama's receivers. Waddle and Smith are speedy, but Eric Stokes can fly and Tyson Campbell continues to shut down receivers. Lewis Cine and Richard Lecounte III aren't afraid to throw their weight around to send a message either. It's going to be tough to slow down the Tide offense, but this defense is scary good too. If the back end can slow down the receivers, that will give the front seven more time to get after Jones.
If there's a team that can get after Mac Jones, it's Georgia, and there isn't just one guy that can do it. Azeez Ojulari brings explosive speed around the edge, and is capable of making incredible plays like he did Saturday against Tennessee. Adam Anderson is a monster as well on the edge. Nolan Smith can get after the quarterback. In the middle, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt showed what they could do against a good Tennessee offensive line. Should all of these players somehow get wiped out of a play, that leaves the two leading tacklers in Nakobe Dean and Monty Rice. Dean is a rising young playmaker and Rice's motor never stops. If you're afraid of what Alabama brings to the table offensively, you should be equally terrified of what Georgia brings to stop it.
There's a reason why Alabama's the best in the SEC. The talent on their roster makes them a contender every year, and it's tough to beat them. But this feels like the first time in a while that there's a team that can shut down the Tide's offense. I'm not saying Georgia will win, but their defense gives them more than a fighting chance to do so. It just comes down to their offense. If guys who should be stars step up, Georgia can flip the script, and make a statement about who the new top dog is not only in the conference, but in all of college football.