Battle for the SEC Championship
#1 Alabama started the season as the pre-season number one after winning the College Football Playoff last season, and they’ve held onto that ranking the entire season.
#4 Georgia entered the season ranked third (AP) and fourth (coaches’) and hasn’t been ranked lower than 8th on the season. Georgia is the defending SEC Champion, having defeated Auburn at the end of last season.
The Alabama Crimson Tide have rolled (pun intended) through the 2018 college football season. In 11 games against FBS opponents – they played FCS school The Citadel this season – they won by an average of 35.5 points per game. In SEC play, the margin went down a bit… to 32.6.
Alabama features a pro-style offense that is relatively balanced but leans heavily on the pass (61.3% of yards were passing). In 11 games against FBS opponents, the Crimson Tide averaged 328.5 passing yards (6th in NCAA) and 207.4 rushing yards (31st) per game. Their total offense of 535.9 yards per game ranked 4th. As for scoring, they ranked second – behind high-flying Oklahoma – with an average of 48.9 points per game against FBS opponents.
Alabama’s offense is led by Heisman candidate Tua Tagovailoa. The sophomore quarterback leads the country in passing efficiency, having thrown for 3,189 yards and 36 touchdowns (and only 2 interceptions!).
Sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy was the leading receiver, catching 56 passes for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. Freshman receiver Jaylen Waddle was second on the team in receiving yards, snagging 37 catches for 690 yards and six touchdowns.
Alabama has featured a running back by committee approach for years, and 2018 was no exception. The leading rusher is senior running back Damien Harris, who has run for 719 yards and seven touchdowns. Not to be outdone, sophomore Najee Harris has run for 664 yards and four touchdowns. Tagovailoa has added 211 yards and five touchdowns as well.
Alabama’s defense is as dominant as its ever been, and it ranks sixth in total defense (282.8 ypg against FBS opponents). It’s rush defense has surrendered less than 100 yards per game and ranks fourth, while its pass defense is 19th. They’ve also allowed the 3rd-fewest points per game (13.5), and have four games – including two shutouts – where opponents were held under 10 points.
Eight defenders have intercepted 14 passes, led by junior Saivion Smith with three. The team has also returned four interceptions for touchdowns. Sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses leads the defense with 70 tackles, while senior lineman Isaiah Buggs leads with 9.5 sacks. Along with those 14 interceptions, the team has also recovered seven fumbles on defense, resulting in a +10 turnover margin, which ranks ninth in the country.
Georgia has been just as dominant at times throughout the system, but they do it a little differently than Alabama. Against 11 FBS opponents this season – they played FCS team Austin Peay in the season opener – their average margin of victory was 20.9 points per game. Remove the 20 point loss to LSU, and the average margin is 25 points. Unlike Alabama, however, their margin dramatically reduced in SEC play, though they did play a more difficult schedule against the SEC East.
Also unlike Alabama, Georgia’s offense focused on the run, with nearly 54% of their offensive output coming on the ground. Overall, they averaged 478.4 yards per game against FBS foes, which was good enough for 14th in the country. They also had the 13th-best scoring offense, averaging 39.6 points per game.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm was third nationally in passing efficiency, albeit with about a thousand fewer yards than Tua. He threw for 2,236 yards and 24 touchdowns, with only five interceptions on the season.
Junior receiver Riley Ridley leads the team in receptions, catching 34 balls for 450 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Mecole Hardman is second in receptions with 32, but leads the team in receiving yards with 519. He also has six receiving touchdowns.
Georgia also employs a two running back rotation, and the results have been a little better for the Bulldogs. Sophomore D’Andre Smith has 962 yards and nine touchdowns, and is averaging an astounding 6.9 yards per carry. Backfield mate Elijah Holyfield is right behind him with 896 yards and seven touchdowns, with an average rush of 6.7 yards. They truly have split the rushing load: Smith has 139 carries on the season, while Holyfield has 133.
The Georgia defense is no slouch, ranking 15th in overall yards per game (317.3). They are in the same neighborhood as the Crimson Tide on stopping the pass, but their rush defense is over 30 yards a game worse, though they still rank 30th in the country.
They aren’t a big turnover generating team, picking off only six passes all season and recovering only nine fumbles. They still have a positive turnover differential because they take care of the ball on offense, though it is only +3. Richard Lecounte III is the team’s leading tackler with 64, while senior linebacker (and future NFL draft pick) D’Andre Walker leads with 6.5 sacks.
The game is played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia with kickoff at 4:00pm EST. It will be broadcast on CBS.
The neutrals are expecting 63 points to be put up on the board and the Alabama Crimson Tide to come out on top (-13.5 points).
Keys to a win for each side
- Play like Alabama
- Tua things
- Umm… no turnovers?
- Did I mention Tua?
- Hope for rain to slow down the Tide
- What? The stadium is a dome? Hmm…
- Spy Tua so he only beats you a little
- Try to overcome a season-long trend and force some turnovers maybe?
As indicated above, Alabama is a 13.5-point favorite, and I don’t see this going any different once the game starts. Georgia is hoping to keep it close in order to impress the selection committee so they can still find a spot in the CFP semifinals should another top club falter in their own championship game on Saturday. If they do make it back into the CFP semifinal, whether it’s after a win or a loss, they could end up in a rematch with Alabama in the semifinal this year.
Score – Alabama 42 – Georgia 27