Georgia and Alabama will meet Monday in Atlanta for a shot at immortality as the 2018 College Football Playoff National Champion. The Dawgs and the Tide got through their semifinal games in very different ways, but will see each other in a matchup that will have the southeast buzzing from start to finish.
The Bulldogs played a heart-stopper of a game last Monday against Oklahoma that was so close that it had to be settled in double-overtime. UGA essentially played two completely different ballgames between the first and second halves. The Dawgs started off slow on defense, giving up 31 points en route to trailing by a 17-point margin at halftime. However, Kirby Smart made a very Nick Saban-like halftime adjustment going from two high safeties in the first half to playing hard man coverage and a cover 1 scheme in the second half, leaving an extra defender in the box to rush Baker Mayfield and play the run game. Mayfield had all the time in the world in the pocket in the first half, picking apart the UGA secondary. After switching to the cover 1 scheme in the second half though, Baker was pressured constantly, the Sooner wide receivers had trouble creating space in tough man coverage, and the vaunted Oklahoma Sooner offense was held to a measly one touchdown in the second half and both overtimes combines. On offense, Georgia was clicking on all cylinders throughout the game and was able to execute their game plan exactly how they wanted to. They pounded Sony Michel and Nick Chubb in the running game to the tune of a combined 25 carries for 326 yards between the two. Jake “No Mistake” Fromm had another wildly efficient day in the passing game going 20-29 for 210 yards with 2 TD’s and no picks. This explosive offense in combination with a revitalized second half defense led the Dawgs to a 54-48 double-OT win.
The Tide, on the other hand, had a much less heart pounding semi-final game. Nick Saban’s squad took on Clemson in the playoffs for the third straight year and absolutely dominated from start to finish to win 24-6 in convincing fashion. Bama’s defense was the story of this game, plain and simple. Clemson’s high scoring offense was disjointed all game long. They were limited to 1.9 yards a rush, which put Clemson QB Kelly Bryant in 3rd & long situations all night. Bryant did not respond well as the Crimson Tide defense sacked him 5 times and held him to 124 yards and two interceptions, one of which was taken back for a touchdown. Alabama’s offense was good, but not great in this game, and they didn’t have to be. Their average starting field position was on Clemson’s 48 and their defense got them consistent stops all night. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts was efficient, but didn’t make explosive plays, going 16-24 for 120 yards and 2 TD’s, while the Crimson Tide running game produced 144 yards against the best defensive line in college football in a grind-it-out kind of game that perfectly fit Alabama’s of play.
Ultimately, the winner of this game is incredibly hard to predict because of how similar these two teams are, as Kirby Smart has brought the same Nick Saban style of smashmouth offense and defense to Athens. No one unit, whether it be offense, defense, or special teams has a clear-cut advantage over the other’s. Alabama and UGA try to play a similar style of run-heavy offense with efficient quarterbacks paired with a stout run defense that sets up the secondary for success on 3rd down. UGA was able to produce consistent, explosive rushing gains in their semi-final matchup, as Michel and Chubb were able to go for 50+ yard runs each. However, this was against an Oklahoma defense that looked allergic to tackling. Alabama’s defense (especially their front-7 that will be taking on these two electric UGA backs) looked absolutely dominant against a very good Clemson offense and looks eerily reminiscent of the Crimson Tide defenses of old. While UGA’s offense and running game is to be feared, a true freshman QB, even one with the poise and skill of Jake Fromm, is going to have trouble against this type of uber-talented defense that is so experienced in games like this. UGA likely won’t try to lean on Fromm in this game, but he will need to make big throws in pressure moments because Bama’s defense specializes on 1st and 2nd down defense in order to put QB’s in 3rd & long situations so that they can make them uncomfortable and force bad passes by bringing blitzes. Fromm’s ability to make and convert on these kinds of throws will ultimately determine how successful the Georgia offense is going to be. On the other side, Alabama’s offense is going to need more explosive plays than they had in the Clemson game to beat this Georgia defense. This Bama offense did enough to beat Clemson, but they didn’t push the ball vertically down the field at all as they mustered up only 120 passing yards with their star wide receiver Calvin Ridley only going for 39 yards. The Alabama running game needs to be as productive against this hyper aggressive Bulldog front-7 as it was against Clemson’s all-world defensive line. The stats and matchups are interesting factors when trying to determine who’s going to emerge victorious in this heavyweight matchup, but to get the full story of how this game will develop, one needs more outside context. UGA played in a hyper-emotional doubt-OT game across the country in Pasadena, while Alabama played in a snoozer of a game a mere state over in Louisiana. UGA also only has three days of practice at their facilities before having to go through walkthrough’s in Atlanta. Even Kirby Smart has told the press this week that he’s scared of an emotional letdown and his team simply running out of gas as their last two games have been the SEC Championship and the CFP semi-final game compared to Alabama who had conference championship week off. One also has to add to this the fact that no players on UGA’s roster have even come close to playing in a game with this kind of magnitude before, while most all of Alabama’s starters will be entering their third consecutive national championship game. This level of title game experience cannot be overstated enough as UGA will have massive pressure on their shoulders playing for a championship just 45 minutes up the road as well as having to withstand an early game bum-rush from an already comfortable Bama team. And finally, you can’t discuss national title game experience without talking about one of the best minds to grace the college sidelines, Nick Saban. Kirby Smart has done a fantastic job with his Georgia team this year and will no doubt use his own national title game experience from his time in Tuscaloosa to calm his team’s nerves. However, the Dawgs are going up against a program with a head coach in Nick Saban that is gunning for his fifth championship in nine years, and that kind of experience is invaluable. It will be a close and competitive game, but the Tide are able to eek out a victory behind their stifling defense, run game, and big game experience.
It’s tough to predict a winner in an inner-conference national championship game like this one, but one winner is certain: southern college football fans.
Prediction: Alabama-28 UGA-21