SEC Championship Game 2021: Early Preview, Predictions for Georgia vs. Alabama
When it comes to conference championship weekend, it doesn't get bigger than the matchup between Alabama and Georgia.
The SEC powerhouses will meet with the conference title on the line for the third time in the history of the game. The two teams last met with the SEC title up for grabs in 2018, when Alabama won 35-28 on its way to the CFP National Championship, which it lost to Clemson.
This year, both sides have national championship aspirations, and the Bulldogs are coming in as the favorite.
Georgia has been the consensus No. 1 team in college football for the majority of the season. Alabama was the No. 1 team in the preseason AP poll. However, the Dawgs took over in Week 6 and haven't relinquished top spot since.
Now, the teams will collide in Atlanta on Saturday with major playoff implications on the line. The winner will almost certainly be the favorite to win the playoff, so here's a quick preview of what to expect and some predictions for how the game will play out.
When Alabama Has the Ball
The Alabama offense has its work cut out for it in this one. Georgia's defense isn't just good—it's a historically great defense.
As Pick Six Previews noted, the Bulldogs are the first team since Texas in 1979 to hold their first 12 opponents to a maximum of 17 points and are the best scoring defense since Oklahoma in 1986. In today's spread-out, high-flying brand of college football, that's absurd.
The only fair criticism of their statistical greatness is that they haven't seen many elite offenses. When it comes to the 25 highest-scoring teams in the country, Tennessee is the only one Georgia has seen. It held the Vols (who have averaged 38.3 points per game) to 17 points.
The Bulldogs will once again see an elite offense in Alabama, which was averaging 44.4 points per game before getting held to 24 in its Iron Bowl win over Auburn. Much of that success has to do with Bryce Young and the passing game. Young's Heisman candidacy may have taken a hit Saturday. He went 25-of-51 for 317 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
The biggest key to watch is going to be how well Bama can protect Young. It surrendered seven sacks to the Tigers, and things won't get easier against a Georgia unit that entered the final week of the season fourth in sacks per game.
When Georgia Has the Ball
When you have a defense as dominant as Georgia's, the offense can get overshadowed. The Bulldogs undoubtedly benefit from having a great defense, but they are a strong unit in their own right.
According to Bill Connelly of ESPN, Georgia ranks fourth in offensive SP+ rankings, an advanced analytic that attempts to measure efficiency.
The offense is anchored in a rushing attack that has devastated opponents. Zamir White is the leading rusher with 657 yards, but five backs have at least 200 yards rushing, including quarterback Stetson Bennett.
Speaking of Bennett, he has been the steady hand at quarterback, orchestrating the passing game off the running game. He's fifth in the nation in passer rating.
While Alabama head coach Nick Saban has put together some great defenses in Tuscaloosa, this year's unit isn't quite in that category. It ranks 69th in passer rating allowed and 54th in yards per attempt.
The good news is the Tide are still stout against the run. They are fourth in yards allowed per rushing attempt at 2.6 yards a carry. That's good enough to potentially slow the run and force Georgia to beat them with Bennett throwing the ball.
While Alabama could force Georgia to pass the ball, that doesn't guarantee victory. The fact is that Bennett has proved capable of making big throws when he has to.
It also helps Georgia that wide receiver George Pickens made his return to the lineup in the final game of the season against Georgia Tech. He only had one catch for five yards, but he led the team in receiving when healthy last season.
Alabama's performance against Auburn doesn't inspire confidence they can get enough done on offense.
The Tide only put up 10 points in regulation against the Tigers on Saturday, and the pass protection was a real concern. The offensive line didn't do much to open holes for running backs Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders. The duo averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
That's not going to get the job done against a team that is as good as Georgia up front on both sides of the ball.
The Bulldogs should show off how complete they are in this one and put on another dominant defensive performance.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Alabama 14