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For Georgia, a short memory may be the key to beating Alabama.
It's been a little more than a month since the Crimson Tide scored 41 points on Georgia's top-ranked defense to take home the SEC in the one blip in Georgia's otherwise dominant march to the doorstep of the program's first national championship since the 1980 season.
That upset is joined by a run of losses against the Crimson Tide dating to 2008, many among the most painful in Georgia's history. Can the Bulldogs wipe the slate clean?
Look for an early feeling-out period when the two meet on Monday night in the College Football Playoff national championship game (8 p.m. ET). Alabama will look to see what Georgia learned from last month's loss. How the Bulldogs tweak a clearly flawed game plan — and how the Tide respond to a new defensive approach — might be the factor that ultimately decides this matchup of SEC powers.
But it's not the only ingredient for a Georgia win.
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Boiled down, these are the steps that will pilot the Bulldogs or Crimson Tide to the top of college football.
How Alabama beats Georgia
By making it about quarterback play. This is what happened in early December, and the result clearly indicates how Alabama thrives in a setting where quarterback play is the determining factor. This isn't a knock against Georgia's Stetson Bennett IV, who keeps making plays and proving his doubters wrong, but a testament to Bryce Young's brilliant, Heisman Trophy-winning sophomore season. If the Crimson Tide can again dictate the tempo and pace against Georgia, turning the matchup into one determined by which offense and which quarterback can make key conversions or throws, the Bulldogs will again be in a difficult spot.
But not ignoring the running game. Missing for good chunks of the regular season, Alabama's ground game has rebounded since putting up six yards against LSU in early November. The Tide went for a season-high 301 yards on 6.4 yards per carry in the semifinals against Cincinnati behind a career-best 204 yards from running back Brian Robinson, bringing balance to an offense typically reliant on Young to do almost all of the heavy lifting. This balance makes the Tide even more dangerous.
With another strong game in pass protection. After hitting rock bottom in the narrow Iron Bowl win against Auburn, the offensive line has rebounded with very strong performances against two of the best teams in the country. With Cincinnati wobbled by the running game, the Tide gave up just six tackles for loss and two sacks in the Cotton Bowl. In the SEC championship game, the line held Georgia without a sack for the first time in more than two years. If Young stays clean, the Bulldogs could be in trouble.
By bucking a trend on defense. Alabama is in the midst of a hot-and-cold run on defense. Beginning in the season opener against Miami, the Tide have alternated between dominant and vulnerable in the 10 games against Power Five competition and the recent Cotton Bowl. Against the Hurricanes (Sept. 4), Ole Miss (Oct. 2), Mississippi State (Oct. 16), LSU (Nov. 6), Auburn (Nov. 27) and the Bearcats (Dec. 31), Alabama gave up 14.2 points per game and 3.9 yards per play. In games against Florida (Sept. 18), Texas A&M (Oct. 9), Tennessee (Oct. 23), Arkansas (Nov. 20) and Georgia (Dec. 4), the defense allowed 30.6 points per game on 6.2 yards per play.
The lack of consistency can be largely attributed to the schedule: Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas finished in the top six in the SEC in yards per play. But Alabama's inability to put together back-to-back successful performances against the best teams on the schedule speaks to the unpredictability of this year's defense.
How Georgia beats Alabama
With touchdowns in the red zone. Getting points on every drive inside the red zone is vital after Georgia capitalized on just three of five opportunities in the previous meeting. Just two of those five drives ended in a touchdown, however, and the Bulldogs aren't going to win by getting six points on just 40% of red-zone trips. Alabama's defense remains pretty stout inside the 20-yard line but not quite up the program's recent standard, which may be a result of less impressive cornerback play and issues in coverage at safety.
By making Young move his feet. Georgia will have to take chances and bring pressure in an effort to make Young uncomfortable in the pocket. No opponent during the regular season did a better job of this than LSU, which rolled the dice with pressure packages and slowed the Alabama offense to a crawl in the Tide's 20-14 win. The Bulldogs have the strength in the middle and the burst off the edge to get pressure without additional rushers, but the SEC championship game has to linger in the minds of Kirby Smart and his defensive coaching staff — even if the pressure doesn't result in sacks, this defense has to bring heat and get Young out of his comfort zone.
By locking on Jameson Williams. Every team on Alabama's schedule has tried to slow down Williams, the electric former Ohio State transfer, and no team has succeeded. That includes Georgia, which allowed Williams to pull down 184 receiving yards and two scores. But with running mate John Metchie out for the championship game due to injury, Williams will need to carry even more of the workload in the passing game. Assigning even more resources to slowing him down may provide chances for Alabama's Slade Bolden, but that's a risk the Bulldogs will be happy to take,
With Stetson Bennett's legs. A win against Alabama might allow Bennett to finally shed the "former walk-on" label that's dogged his run as the Bulldogs' starter. While he was outplayed by Young last month, one way he can draw closer to the Heisman winner is with his talent as a runner. That's the most overlooked part of his game: Bennett's ability to take chunks of yardage when flushed from the pocket. While not built in the same dual-threat mode of the quarterbacks who have historically given Alabama fits, Bennett can alter what the Tide approach things on defense by tucking and running.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alabama-Georgia: Paths to victory in college football championship