Alabama stands one victory away from a chance to defend its national title. The second-ranked Crimson Tide will face off against the third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, with the winner to face the undefeated No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The Tide are rightfully favored heading into the SEC Championship Game, but they shouldn't start packing for South Florida quite yet. The Bulldogs have been on a roll of their own since losing to South Carolina, and they should put up a good fight.
Let's break down what Alabama has to do in order to earn its place alongside Notre Dame.
Establish Run Early
It's no mistake the only game Alabama lost is also the only time it allowed more than 17 points. The Tide weren't able to assert their dominance on the ground against Texas A&M, fell behind by 20 and never caught up.
Alabama isn't built to win those type of games. Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon must be effective early to control the pace and keep the ball out of the hands of Aaron Murray. That will turn it into the grind-it-out game Nick Saban's team wants.
The good news for Alabama is that Lacy has been on a roll. He's averaged over eight yards per carry over the last two weeks, with a lot of help from his offensive line, of course. It also helps that Georgia is giving up 163 yards per game on the ground.
Utilize Play-Action Passes
A.J. McCarron has made big strides since taking the reins of the Alabama offense. The junior quarterback has always featured good decision-making ability, but he's learned to take advantage of situations a lot better this season.
Specifically, reading when the opposing defense is selling out to stop the run and knowing that's when to take a shot downfield. Otherwise, he usually keeps it simple and avoids big mistakes that could turn the game around.
After the Tide spend the first couple of drives getting Georgia to respect the running game, the time will come for McCarron to take a few shots deep. One big play to Amari Cooper and Alabama should be off to the races.
Defense, Defense, Defense
When breaking down an Alabama game, it always comes back to defense eventually. The Tide finished the regular season with the best scoring defense in the nation at just over nine points per game. They pitched two straight shutouts after the loss to A&M.
C.J. Mosley leads the way, but the unit has no shortage of star power. That's the most astonishing aspect of what Saban has been able to do. No matter how many players his defense loses to the NFL, new players are prepared to dominate the next season.
The Bulldogs have a balanced offense. Murray gets most of the national attention for leading the passing game, but Todd Gurley and his fellow running backs can cause major problems as well. The Tide must find a way to contain them on Saturday.