Kirby Smart had turned the UGA program around in just his second season. He now has one more huge obstacle to overcome to finish an improbable season as the National Champions. In his way: his mentor and former boss Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide. The classic teacher versus student matchup usually bodes well for the teacher. Saban is 11-0 versus his former assistant coaches, defeating them by an average of 39-10. Smart will pose a much greater challenge, however. He has built his team in the spirit of Alabama with huge defenders and a rugged run game. One of the best in the country in both categories, just like Saban’s team.
When Georgia played in the Rose Bowl, it was all about what they can’t do. After the game it was all about what their next opponent needs to watch out for. 317 yards on the ground and two touchdowns through the air made for a balanced attack. The Bulldogs should employ this same kind of assault except do one thing different: throw more. Jake Fromm should be asked to play the game of his life. Throwing more on early downs will keep the Crimson Tide off balance. They will be looking for the run, so using play action and options should help confuse a defense ready to attack the backfield. Fromm has proven he can stand in the pocket and deliver strikes. The more Saban is worried about the passing game, the more those holes in the ground will open up. Kirby Smart can get his team in great position by opening up the playbook. Even though Alabama is expecting run, Georgia should still run it right at that ‘Bama defense. Georgia shouldn’t hesitate to get nasty upfront and punch those defenders in the mouth. Both teams lost to Auburn during the regular season, mostly due to the fact that they were both handled at the line of scrimmage. Alabama might be able to stifle most running attacks, but not Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Forget this myth about an unstoppable defense in Alabama that won’t allow any yards (lies).
Defensively, it will be a tall order for the Bulldogs but not impossible. The key is to make Jalen Hurts a pocket passer. That’s easier said than done, but Georgia has the weapons to do so. The Bulldogs should crush the quarterback coming off those option runs even if he’s not taking the ball the whole way. Make Hurts stationary and force him to prove he can do it through the air. Alabama will do their part on the ground too. Everybody runs, from quarterback to the wide receivers, so Georgia needs to stay at home on misdirection plays. Screen plays and reverses and the little gadget plays Nick Saban loves to use in place of an actual passing game can hurt you if you aren’t disciplined. The Bulldogs should take away the edge plays off tackle and at the sideline. Most importantly, they need to keep plays concentrated in the middle of the field so that swarming fast defense can make a play.
Nick Saban is the ultimate test for any college coach to overcome. It’s like you beat everybody else and now the final master comes out with a cape on and a condescending look. Kirby Smart is not afraid of his former team or of his former boss. In a test like this, Smart and his Bulldogs should pass with flying colors.