College football fans are getting a taste of the playoff system that will be instituted in the near future, as the SEC Championship Game is serving as a national semifinal this season.
With Alabama at No. 2 and Georgia at No. 3 in the BCS standings, the winner of Saturday’s showdown will go on to face No. 1 Notre Dame in the national championship game.
Both of these SEC giants have excellent defense, tough running backs and talented quarterbacks. It will be an extremely even matchup.
Here is what the Crimson Tide must do to gain an advantage.
Contain Jarvis Jones
There is no defensive force in college football like Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, and Alabama’s primary focus on offense needs to be limiting his impact on this game. He proved against Florida earlier this season that he can take over a contest when he recorded 13 tackles (4.5 for a loss), three sacks and two forced fumbles.
While the primary responsibility for blocking him will fall on left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, it will take the entire offense to deal with Jones. Tight ends will need to throw chip blocks and running backs will have to stay by A.J. McCarron’s side.
Play fakes, misdirection and varied snap counts will also need to be used in order to keep him off balance. But most importantly, Alabama’s offensive players simply need to hold on to the ball when Jones hits them.
The outside linebacker is a fumble-forcing machine and has dispossessed opponents six times this season. In such an even matchup, a turnover at the wrong time could prove to be a fatal mistake.
Stuff the Run
Georgia’s rushing game has been incredibly efficient this season thanks to two talented freshmen.
Todd Gurley has been the star in the backfield with 176 carries for 1,138 yards and 14 touchdowns. But Keith Marshall has also made a name for himself this year with 107 carries for 720 yards and eight touchdowns.
Gurley is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and Marshall is averaging 6.7 yards on each attempt. To stop them, Alabama’s front seven will need to be active and on top of their assignments.
Nose tackle Jesse Williams will need to take up space and linebackers C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson will have to get up the field and shed blockers. If the heart of Alabama’s defense plays well, it will be able to contain Gurley and Marshall.
Capitalize on Aaron Murray’s Mistakes
If the Tide can limit Georgia’s running backs, it will force quarterback Aaron Murray to make plays.
As ESPN Stats & Info notes, he has historically made mistakes when playing against highly ranked teams. In the last two years, Murray has thrown seven interceptions and just four touchdown passes against Top 10 teams.
If Alabama is able to secure a slight lead and control the line of scrimmage, Murray will give the defensive backs opportunities to create turnovers.
Dee Milliner and Deion Belue need to be alert, and when the ball hits their hands, they cannot drop it.