Round three of the Alabama feud with Clemson was actually something of a dud. Not that Nick Saban or the Crimson Tide will be particularly bothered about that given that the Alabama defense made the game boring with their superiority. Georgia meanwhile had to fight to the last breath to escape a fired up and offensive heavy Oklahoma team in their College Football Playoff semifinal. Now the two SEC heavyweights meet for all the marbles.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Don’t let Roquan Smith change the game
The Alabama defense is loaded with playmakers at all levels. It is this defensive power under Saban that has been the driving force behind the Alabama dynasty. The offense does it’s part too, but the defense is just littered with NFL prospects all over the depth chart that have the ability to change the way a game is heading in just one play.
It is not often that Alabama faces a defense with players that would get into Saban’s best team. In the National Title Game, however, Georgia has a couple of players who would both find playing time in Saban’s unit. Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter is an outstanding player, but the true star of the show is true junior inside linebacker Roquan Smith.
Smith is a top-10 NFL talent. He has the size and speed to cover the whole filed from the ILB position and he has instincts that are off the chart. Smith won the Butkus Award this season and he is one of those guys that plays better when the pressure is on. Stopping Smith making game-defining plays is a huge key for Alabama.
Take away Georgia’s run game
Freshman Jake Fromm is a player that has grown as this season has developed. He can make throws from the pocket and he is just about mobile enough to make things happen when on the move.
He is not nearly good enough (yet) to beat Alabama on his own.
The Georgia Bulldogs running game will decide if this is a close contest of a blowout. If Georgia cannot run the ball against the Alabama front seven, then Fromm will have no time to throw as the pressure will be coming from all angles. That is why it will be up to the Alabama rushing defense to quickly nullify Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, taking them out of the game and making Georgia one dimensional.
Chubb and Michel are the best running back tandem in the country today and they are up there with the best in the history of the game. They both blend speed and power to do a little bit of everything and they work perfectly as complementary backs. Stopping them will be the first key for the Alabama defense on every single play.
Be prepared to win ugly
This is not going to be a pretty game of football.
These are two teams that know each other so well. They know schemes and tendencies, personnel and playing styles. Their defenses are basically the same units in different uniforms with different logos on their helmets. Kirby Smart learned from Nick Saban and – unlike many before him – he has been able to take those teachings and turn them into his own success.
The result of this though is that the offenses will struggle. Jalen Hurts is the quarterback of the two that is more likely to have a breakout game, but it is much more likely we will see a steady dose of Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. The defenses are fast, so expect plenty of punting.
With this in mind, it will be important to do the ugly things right. A big third-down stop here. A punt downed inside the 10-yard line there. Those are the kind of plays that will decide this National Title Game.