Alabama vs. Georgia: Who Has the Edge at Every Position?

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2022

Alabama vs. Georgia: Who Has the Edge at Every Position?

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Alabama-Georgia II will be for all the marbles. 

    While that's no big surprise, considering the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs have been the two best teams in the nation throughout the year, what was shocking was Alabama's 41-24 dominance in the SEC Championship Game.

    These teams are much, much closer in talent, efficiency and effectiveness than that final score implies. The bottom line is the teacher still holds sway over the student in a massive way.

    Nick Saban hadn't lost to one of his former assistants until Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher finally took him down this year and handed the Crimson Tide their only loss. Against Georgia, Saban is 7-1, including a spotless 4-0 against former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

    This is a must-win for Smart to prove he can take his Dawgs to the top of the nation. For Saban, it's just a test of staying at the top, even when fielding what's far from his best team.

    Let's take a look at how these two heavyweight title contenders stack up heading into Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. 

Special Teams

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    We've only just begun, and this is already a difficult exercise.

    On one hand, both teams have good kickers. What was once Alabama's kryptonite has been somewhat assuaged by the addition of Will Reichard, who has had a solid season. He's made 18 of 23 field goals, which must seem Lou Groza-like to Crimson Tide fans.

    Georgia has the slight edge with Jack Podlesny, who has made 20 of his 25 field-goal attempts, and exceptional punter Jake Camarda, who is worlds better than Bama's James Burnip with 47-yard average and coaches' first-team All-SEC honors.

    So, the Dawgs have the advantage, right? Not quite. 

    Both of these teams have the athletes to block kicks and make game-changing plays on special teams, but only the Crimson Tide have Jameson Williams, who has taken two of his 10 kick returns to the house and posted a 35.2-yard average.

    On the flip side, Georgia doesn't have the horses in the return game, as Kenny McIntosh and Kearis Jackson are just ball-securers who ensure the Dawgs don't botch field position. If you're going with kickers only, UGA has the edge, but we're looking at the whole picture.

    Williams' big-play ability gives the Tide a slight advantage, but barely.

    Edge: Alabama

Defensive Backs

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    On one hand, Josh Jobe's absence because of turf toe is a major hit to Alabama's secondary. But the Crimson Tide exposed a Georgia group of defensive backs in the SEC Championship Game that hadn't been tested much this year by gaining 421 yards, a season-worst for the Dawgs.

    What the Crimson Tide have remaining on the back end of the defense is better than a unit that has been the weakest on a generationally good defense led by coordinator Dan Lanning.

    Yes, the Dawgs have wily veteran Lewis Cine, and youngsters such as Kelee Ringo are capable of big things. But they didn't have an answer for Tide receiver Jameson Williams and Co. in the league title game, and a group that could have been so much better has been decimated by injuries throughout the year.

    If Christopher Smith plays up to his ability, he can make UGA a lot better in the secondary, and Derion Kendrick is a standout, but are the Dawgs as good as Bama? 

    This Tide group is aggressive and talented, even without Jobe. Jordan Battle, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Malachi Moore are quality playmakers, and freshman Kool-Aid McKinstry is as talented as anybody in the SEC; the freshman is just young and inexperienced.

    Both teams can make game-changing plays, but Alabama has more proven players in its secondary, and UGA has to prove it can slow down the Tide receivers.

    Edge: Alabama


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    Sometimes you just have to call things square.

    The Alabama and Georgia linebacker groups are probably the best in the nation, and there simply isn't much difference between the two.

    For a while, the Tide were going to be the winners of this category when number-crunching commenced. They get after the quarterback like nobody's business, and while Will Anderson Jr. (33.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks) sometimes plays with his hand down, the edge-rusher is listed as a linebacker, and he's college football's best defender.

    Then there's tackle-gobbling Henry To'oTo'o, who anchors the center of the second level and compiled 106 total stops. Though the Tennessee transfer isn't good against the pass, he is a stalwart in stopping the run. Add the steady Christian Harris and freshman difference-maker Dallas Turner, and the Tide have 'backers.

    So do the Dawgs. 

    They're led by Nakobe Dean, a machine who won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker and was all over the field against Michigan with seven tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. Channing Tindall (59) and Quay Walker (59) are among the team leaders in tackles, and Nolan Smith is a weapon off the edge who scouts will drool over.

    Both sets of fans will likely be angry that their team didn't win this category, which is fair because both have a strong case.

    Edge: Even

Defensive Line

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    This is another area where the teams are extremely close, and either unit can (and probably will) impact the game Monday night.

    But Georgia's defensive line is the top unit in college football.

    Travon Walker is underappreciated and commands tons of extra attention from offensive coordinators every week. He's a sneaky-strong future NFL draft pick who will have a long pro career. Then there's 6'3", 315-pound senior Devonte Wyatt, who was a first-team All-SEC player and a second-team All-American.

    There's also the massive 6'6", 340-pound nose guard Jordan Davis, who won the Bednarik Award given to college football's top defender. Though he isn't a three-down player, he's an absolute force when he's in there.

    How can you compete with that?

    The Tide can't, but they can come close. What they don't have in elite players, they've got in waves of rotations. Phidarian Mathis is the group's anchor, an NFL star in the making. Solid players abound around and behind him too.

    Byron Young, Tim Smith, Justin Eboigbe and DJ Dale are all terrific players, but the Tide just aren't on UGA's level. That group of junkyard dawgs is the reason Georgia is so elite on that side of the ball and why nearly nobody can run on it.

    Edge: Georgia

Offensive Line

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Alabama's offensive line has flashed its massive potential and led the way for quarterback Bryce Young and even the running game to dominate plenty of contests this season.

    The SEC Championship Game win over Georgia was a prime example.

    However, there were other major lapses when the Crimson Tide front line got straight-up embarrassed, such as when it allowed seven sacks in a lucky Iron Bowl win over Auburn. Even in the College Football Playoff semifinal, Young ran for his life at times against Cincinnati.

    Georgia has seen no such issues.

    The Bulldogs have been one of the nation's best, most surprising units up front, dealing with injuries throughout the season and seeing players fill in admirably for line coach Matt Luke. Sedrick Van Pran became the center when Warren Ericson got hurt in August, and then Ericson stepped in when Tate Ratledge was lost for the year to a foot injury in September.

    Jamaree Salyer is a star NFL prospect, but when he hurt his foot in November, Broderick Jones didn't miss a beat.

    That continuity has made the Dawgs elite on the front line. They've allowed an SEC-low 11 sacks (to Alabama's 37), and though the Dawgs don't have any dominant runners, the by-committee group has run for 2,726 yards and a 5.3 average.

    They've paved the way for offensive success.

    Edge: Georgia

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Before John Metchie III went down with a season-ending torn ACL in the conference title game, Alabama had this category on lock. But the Crimson Tide are doing some patchwork in trying to find Biletnikoff Award finalist Jameson Williams some help on the outside.

    No matter. As if Slade Bolden weren't capable enough, freshman Ja'Corey Brooks has come through in a big way, turning up as a hero against Auburn with a 28-yard score and catching another massive 44-yard TD in the win over the Bearcats.

    Throw in tight end Cameron Latu, and the Tide aren't hurting for weapons for Young to sling it to.

    Suddenly, though, Georgia's pass-catchers are much better. The Dawgs already had star freshman tight end Brock Bowers, but he has gotten help at the position from Darnell Washington.

    Now, with NFL prospect George Pickens back from a torn ACL, he's a threat to do huge things every time he touches the ball. The junior's presence helps everybody from Jermaine Burton to the quality freshman duo of Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell.

    This gulf has narrowed in a big way recently after Metchie's injury and Pickens' return, but with the game on the line, Williams is still the best pass-catcher on the field. He's the guy who puts the Tide over the top.

    Edge: Alabama

Running Backs

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    Jim Rassol/Associated Press

    In some instances, an elite playmaker can be the defining reason for an edge. But this one isn't about who has the best individual running back. 

    Alabama has the best of the bunch in Brian Robinson Jr., who waited it out for his hometown Tide and is now starring as a first-team All-SEC runner as a senior. He was the standout of the semifinal win over Cincinnati, dominating with a Cotton Bowl and Alabama bowl-game record 204 yards on the ground

    But UGA has a bunch of dudes, even if none of them can match Robinson's 1,275 rushing yards. 

    James Cook is the biggest weapon in the backfield with 920 offensive yards (rushing/receiving) and 11 touchdowns. Zamir White leads the team in rushing with 772 yards and 10 touchdowns.

    Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards round out a loaded backfield that has enough carries to go around.

    This is a deep, diverse group of runners who can do it all. They narrowly edge Robinson and crew. But Robinson is the only one capable of taking over the game solely on the ground.

    Watch for Cook, though.

    Edge: Georgia


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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    There is no wider margin in this entire national championship game than at quarterback.

    Stetson Bennett simply isn't in the same ballpark as Youngand can silence a ton of doubters if he can lead the Bulldogs to the national championship.

    That's no knock on Bennett, a former walk-on whose ability to move the pocket and run a little opened things up for offensive coordinator Todd Monken and helped the Bulldogs turn the corner on that side of the ball. But is he an elite talent? No. Not even close, and he's a big reason UGA lost that SEC title game.

    On the other side of the ball is Young, and all he did was win the Heisman Trophy this year. Playing behind an offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 37 times, the 2020 5-star prospect went through swaths of the season when he did it himself.

    He can scramble, throws a beautiful, accurate ball and has sneaky arm strength. In his first year as the starter, the sophomore showed why everybody wanted him out of high school by throwing for 4,503 yards, 46 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

    Not only did he come up huge on the fourth-quarter drive to send the Auburn matchup into overtime, he also shredded UGA's vaunted defense for 421 yards and three touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game. Those two games were his "Heisman moments," and there could be a similar performance Monday.

    If Alabama is going to repeat the feat of beating the Dawgs, it'll rest on Young's gun.

    Edge: Alabama


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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Alabama wins the final tally 4-3-1, but Georgia is the better team this year. The Bulldogs have more talent, more experience and more depth.

    But it didn't matter in the SEC Championship Game and it isn't going to in this one, either. What's that reason? Two simple words:

    Nick Saban.

    He's the godfather of college football, and he straight-up owns Kirby Smart between the lines. That may infuriate UGA fans (as it should), but the fact is you can't pick the Bulldogs to beat Alabama, no matter how many they are favored by, until they actually do.

    Would it surprise me if Georgia manhandled that Alabama offensive line, got to Bryce Young and won the game handily with defense and ball control? No, it wouldn't, going by sheer ability. But that would factor into the equation Saban getting out-coached, which rarely happens.

    Saban will have his players ready, they already feel slighted and they are going to wind up winning the game. When you throw in the best player on the field is Heisman Trophy-winning UA quarterback Young, it's hard to pick against the defending champions.

    Alabama wins a much closer one this time, 30-27, in a classic.


    Prospect ratings via 247Sports.