The first official College Football Playoff rankings were released on Tuesday of this week and they featured a pair of SEC teams at the top of the rankings. Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs were bestowed with the number one ranking with Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide right behind them at number two. Both teams have started the year 8-0 and they are on track for a collision in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta if things remain the same for the rest of the year.
But, there are still some tests left on each team’s schedule that they’ll have to pass in order to book their trip to Atlanta. This Saturday, both teams face teams that are right behind them in the division race. Georgia welcomes the South Carolina Gamecocks to Athens, while the Tide host 19th ranked LSU in Tuscaloosa. The games are going to be featured in a doubleheader of SEC on CBS with Georgia-South Carolina at 3:30 Eastern and Alabama-LSU in prime-time at 8 p.m. Eastern.
To get some thoughts on these match-ups and on the first edition of the playoff rankings, we caught up with CBS Sports Network college football analyst Houston Nutt to get his thoughts on the country’s top two teams and their match-ups this Saturday.
CBS Local Sports: Georgia was named the #1 team in the country in the first official College Football Playoff rankings this week. As a coach, how do you keep your team focused after something like that with all the media attention it brings?
Houston Nutt: It’s really important that the first meeting back after hearing about it all day long at school, and your next door neighbors, and the guy in the apartment next to you telling you how great you are, the number one team in the country all of that. It’s important to make the point that all the polls and bowls mean nothing right now. Absolutely nothing. So, it’s very important to remember that the reason we got to this point is we had focus and the attitude and commitment all of those things.
Forget about all that outside noise. It’s about the next 60 minutes and you’re playing a very good team that has one thing they want. They want what you have.
I think that Kirby will send that message real loud and clear starting today.
CBS Local Sports: Now, on the field, when it comes for game-planning against Georgia’s offense and that rushing attack, what does South Carolina need to do to contain it?
Houston Nutt: It’s very difficult because it’s a good one-two punch and you can actually add a third in there with DeAndre Swift. They’re so healthy right now, running hard, physical and that has to be the mindset though of the team to say ‘We’ve got to stop the run.’
That’s where Jake Fromm will have to come in for Georgia. He’ll have to come in and with play-actions and bootlegs and waggles, be able to get some explosive plays to keep the defense off-balance.
Now, to stop them, you’re going to have to mix up a couple of different fronts, but more importantly, you’re going to have to go and gang-tackle these backs. One guy usually doesn’t get it done against these guys. There has to be a real emphasis on stopping the run and they’ll have some different run blitzes and stuff like that to get them behind the count. That’s going to have to be the emphasis. Even if you have to overpopulate the line of scrimmage a bit and put a little pressure on your secondary. You say to those guys “Listen, we’re going to line you up man-to-man. It’s one-on-one. We’re depending on you, because we’re going to stop this run.”
CBS Local Sports: On the other side of the ball, Georgia’s defense is one of the best in the country. How do Jake Bentley and the Gamecocks look to attack that unit?
Houston Nutt: That’s going to be the chore because they look so good. The one thing I took away watching them play Notre Dame at Notre Dame was the suddenness, the quickness of a Kirby Smart defense it just really looks good. Lorenzo Carter, Trent Thompson, (John) Atkins, those guys are so quick and fast. They get off blocks so, South Carolina has to do a great job up front. You have to hope you get some turnovers that turn into a short field because they (Georgia) have been real stingy as far as giving up yardage.
If they can somehow keep Georgia off-balance, they may have to go against the grain a little bit by using a pass to set up the run. That’s because this team (Georgia) does such a good job getting you behind the count and making it 2nd-and-12 and 3rd-and-long. You have to avoid those situations.
CBS Local Sports: The nightcap features #2 Alabama taking on LSU. Alabama, like Georgia, is undefeated this year. Are there any weaknesses you see with the Tide that LSU can exploit?
Houston Nutt: Not much. Alabama, is very, very good. To me, it shows me how good they are when, like the beginning of the year, they lose linebackers. Nobody can say “next” better than Nick Saban. Just because we don’t know their name that’s how well they’ve recruited. They’ve had the best classes the past few years so, they can just say “next” when someone gets injured. They’re very deep, very talented. It looks like he’s getting them back healthy again.
The running game with Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough has been outstanding. Jalen Hurts is so athletic that when things break down he can beat you with his legs so you have to contain him too.
There’s not much in the way of weaknesses. I’ve seen a couple of teams give their offense some problems, but the backbone of their teams is defense and they always play good special teams. That’s why they’re undefeated again this year.
CBS Local Sports: The past few times these teams have played, Alabama has loaded up against the run and dared the LSU QB to beat them. Is that something that you think Danny Etling is capable of?
Houston Nutt: A game like this, no one expected this game to be 10-0 last year. I have a lot of confidence in LSU’s defense. The thing that I think is going to be difficult is just what you brought up: Can Danny Etling make some explosive plays? I think it’s going to be very hard. They have done some different things, getting receivers involved with jet sweeps, fly sweeps and things like that along with throwing the ball down the field. They’re going to have to do that again here because Alabama is going to be so stingy as far as giving up the run.
In the end, I think it’s going to be very, very hard for Danny Etling to come up with explosive plays.
CBS Local Sports: What did you think of how the committee ranked the teams in their first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings?
Houston Nutt: I think they got it exactly right. Now, I know it’s very easy to say that, but I think they got it exactly right. When you look at it, one or two I don’t care if it’s Alabama or Georgia, you can put Alabama one if you want to. But, if you look at it, they’ve done it the right way. I was glad to see them put Oklahoma right there in front of Ohio State because Oklahoma beat them.