By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports
Alabama has been held up as the standard bearer of college football for the past six seasons. No matter their record, the Tide have gone into every game as the favorites with expectations of winning that game. That kind of track record is why it was surprising to some waking up today to see that the Tide opened as the underdog heading into this Saturday’s match-up with Georgia in Athens, GA.
The Tide and Bulldogs don’t meet as often as other SEC foes because of their separation into the East and West divisions. The last time the two teams met was back in 2012 when the Tide walked away with a 32-28 win. For Georgia, the last time the Bulldogs defeated the Tide was in 2007 in the first year for Alabama under head coach Nick Saban.
Georgia is 4-0 on the season, coming off a 48-6 win over Southern this weekend and they sit at No. 8 in the AP Top 25 poll. The Bulldogs are riding a hot hand at QB in Greyson Lambert, who has thrown just two incomplete passes in the last two games (33/35 476 yards 5 TD 0 INT). The junior transfer has really seemed to find a rhythm in these last two outings.
Of course, part of that rhythm can be attributed to having the talented Nick Chubb at tailback, who’s currently 5th in the nation with 599 rushing yards to go with six TD’s. He’s not the only threat out of the backfield as fellow running backs Sony Michel and Keith Marshall are both over 100 yards rushing and three TD’s as well. Combine that with Michel’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield (eight receptions 148 yards and three TD) and you have a potent backfield trio capable of giving defensive coordinators nightmares.
That strength for Georgia will go up against the strength of Alabama: run defense. The Tide are 4th in the country against the run allowing just over 56 yards per game. The front seven is dominant along the line with ends A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed and stout linebackers Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster. Those four have combined to make 6.5 tackles for loss already this season. The run defense was good even in the lone loss of the season to Ole Miss, holding the Rebels to 92 yards on 32 attempts (2.9 YPC).
The Crimson Tide (3-1) sit at No. 13 in the most recent AP poll and are coming off pitching a shutout against Louisiana Monroe (35-0) in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. The biggest question for Nick Saban’s crew has been the one that has lingered over this team since the beginning of the season: Who is the starting QB? For the moment, it looks as if Jake Coker has taken a hold of the spot after playing well in the second half against Ole Miss and getting the vast majority of the snaps against the Warhawks.
Coker will face a Bulldogs defense that is allowing opponents to throw for just 166.0 yards per game and have picked off opposing QB’s five times. Coker and the Tide will have to watch the turnovers as they have a negative turnover margin so far this year, and their five turnovers against Ole Miss were a major factor in that loss.
The Bulldogs look to assert their candidacy for a College Football Playoff spot while Bama looks to regain its spot as a top contender in the conference. If the Tide were to lose this game it would be the first time they’ve suffered consecutive conference losses since Saban’s first year on campus in 2007 when they lost to LSU and Mississippi State in consecutive weeks. On the other side, Mark Richt is looking for their first 5-0 start since the 2012 season. Kickoff is set for 3:30 pm on CBS.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him.