Alabama vs. Georgia: Complete Guide to the 2022 National Title GameJanuary 7, 2022
Alabama vs. Georgia: Complete Guide to the 2022 National Title Game
The Alabama Crimson Tide will face off against the Georgia Bulldogs for the second time this season, and this time it's for the national championship.
Alabama took care of business against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl semifinal 27-6 to advance to its sixth national title game in seven seasons. Brian Robinson Jr. led the Tide offense, as the redshirt senior broke out with an Alabama bowl-game record 204 rushing yards.
Georgia, meanwhile, dismantled Michigan in the Orange Bowl semifinal 34-11. Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett finished with 313 passing yards and three touchdowns.
These teams met just over a month ago in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Although Georgia entered as a six-point favorite, Alabama won 41-24. This also marks the first time since January 2018 these two will play for the national title, when the Tide came from behind to beat the Dawgs 26-23.
When: Monday at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Live stream: WatchESPN
Spread: (via DraftKings): Georgia -3
How Alabama Got Here
It's a bit surprising that Alabama is sitting in this position, given how vulnerable the Tide looked at various points throughout the season. Bama survived a close one on the road against Florida in Week 3, winning 31-29.
Then, a few weeks later, the top-ranked Tide fell on the road against Texas A&M 41-38, with the Aggies kicking a game-winning field goal to pull off the upset. The win for TAMU head coach Jimbo Fisher marked the first time in Nick Saban's career that one of his former assistants had beaten him.
As the season went on, Alabama never quite looked like its dominant self—it won just 20-14 against a struggling LSU on Nov. 6, won 42-35 against Arkansas two weeks later and needed four overtimes to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl. It wasn't pretty, but Bama managed to clinch the SEC West even with the loss to TAMU earlier in the season.
All signs indicated undefeated Georgia would knock off the Tide in the SEC Championship Game to end Bama's CFP hopes. Instead, Alabama upset the Dawgs 41-24 and put up 536 yards on a defense that had given up 230.2 per game and a season-high of 17 points.
Bama's success has largely come thanks to quarterback Bryce Young and the offense under coordinator Bill O'Brien. Young—who took home the Heisman Trophy a week after throwing for 421 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia—has made all the plays he's needed to late in games. On the season, he threw for 4,503 yards, 46 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
On the other side, Alabama ranks sixth in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. More impressively, it sports the No. 2 rushing defense and is holding opponents a 31.12 percent third-down conversion rate—certainly enough to stop opponents when it needs to.
How Georgia Got Here
Starting with its 10-3 victory over Clemson in its season opener, Georgia dominated every opponent it faced during the regular season. Let's run through their SEC games, just to give you a sense of how easily this team won:
40-13 win vs. South Carolina
62-0 win at Vanderbilt
37-0 win vs. Arkansas
34-10 win at Auburn
30-13 win vs. Kentucky
34-7 win vs. Florida
43-6 win vs. Missouri
41-17 at Tennessee
Its remaining non-SEC opponents? Georgia beat them 157-14.
As you can see, the biggest asset this team has is its defense. It's so good that it's been called one of the greatest ever. Along the line, the unit is led by 6'6", 340-pound nose tackle Jordan Davis, who has 30 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. Defensive end Travon Walker has 34 total tackles, 6.5 for loss and 5.0 sacks.
Georgia's linebacking corps features Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall, Nolan Smith and Quay Walker, a quartet that has combined for 13.5 sacks. Georgia's secondary ranks fifth nationally, allowing just 172.6 yards per game.
That's why what Alabama, and especially Young, did against Georgia's defense was so shocking. Young's offensive line held up incredibly well against Georgia's pass rush, allowing the sophomore to make play after play downfield.
UGA's defense got back to its dominant ways against Michigan in the Orange Bowl, though, allowing just 328 total yards and 11 points against the Wolverines, who averaged 37.7 points per game heading into the matchup.
Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects
Monday night's game will be loaded with future NFL stars, including a number of potential first-rounders.
WR Jameson Williams: Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash predicted he'll go to the New Orleans Saints at No. 15. Williams is ninth nationally in receiving yards per game, averaging 107.6. His 1,507 receiving yards puts him fifth.
According to PFF, Williams gets 9.4 yards after each catch, and among FBS receivers, his separation rate is in the 94th percentile.
RB Brian Robinson Jr.: He had a season-best outing in the semifinal against Cincinnati, finishing with 204 yards on a 7.8 per-carry average.
Robinson backed up 2021 first-round pick Najee Harris for most of his career, but he's run for 1,275 yards and 14 touchdowns this year and might be getting hot at the right time. Robinson could see his name called as early as the second round, per Touchdown Alabama, and is B/R's No. 60 player in the class.
OL Evan Neal: Neal has shown versatility along the offensive line. He started his career in 2019 at guard and then moved to right tackle last season before settling in at left tackle this year. His performance has been so impressive over three campaigns that he's been in the top 10 of many recent mock drafts.
LB Nakobe Dean: The junior leads the unit in total tackles (68), tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6.0). He also has five pass breakups, 25 quarterback hurries and two interceptions—including a pick-six, per the school's website. Most mock drafts have Dean going in the first round, with PFF putting him as high as No. 7.
CB Derion Kendrick: The Clemson transfer had a breakout game against Michigan in the Orange Bowl, recording five tackles, one tackle for a loss and two interceptions. The performance was good enough to earn him the game's defensive MVP award.
B/R's latest rankings place Kendrick as the No. 29 overall prospect.
DE Travon Walker: He has assembled an impressive junior season, racking up 34 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks. He was productive in Athens as early as his freshman season too—in 2019, he was named to the Freshman All-SEC team after accounting for 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Walter Football predicted he'll go at the back end of the first round.
One of the biggest differences in this rematch will be the absence of Tide receiver John Metchie III, who had 97 yards and a touchdown in the SEC title game before he suffered a torn ACL late in the first half.
Alabama is also dealing with some key injuries in the secondary. Starting cornerback Josh Jobe underwent foot surgery last month, and he is not expected to play. Jobe played in 12 games and had 38 tackles, one tackle for loss, four passes defended and two interceptions.
Fellow cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis, who has three interceptions and four pass breakups, left the semifinal against Cincinnati in the first half with a hip injury, and his status is uncertain.
For Georgia, the Dawgs' primary concern on the injury front is tight end Brock Bowers. He leads Georgia with 846 receiving yards and 12 touchdown catches but left the semifinal against Michigan with a shoulder injury. Dawgs head coach Kirby Smart told reporters earlier this week that the setback shouldn't be much of a concern.
"[Bowers is] good," Smart said. "He was good in the game. That same shoulder has bothered him all year, to be honest. It's not like it's something new that just came up. It bothers him from time to time at practice."
Keys to the Game
Alabama: Exploit Georgia's Secondary (Again)
The biggest reason the Tide found success against Georgia in Round 1 was Young's ability to pick apart the secondary. The Dawgs' pass rush was virtually nonexistent against the Tide's offensive line, getting zero sacks.
"He's so good at avoiding the rush," Smart told reporters of Young after the game. "He buys time with his mobility and makes plays downfield. Give him credit. He did a tremendous job."
The Heisman winner finished with 421 yards and three passing touchdowns, with another 40 yards on the ground to go with a rushing touchdown. If Young and the offense can stick to the same script, getting past Georgia's D will once again be easy.
Georgia: Find a Way to Get After Young
If Georgia wants to avoid the same fate, stopping Young has to be priority No. 1. Some of his biggest throws in Atlanta came when he was scrambling and kept his eyes downfield. The Bulldogs know this will be key Monday night—just take Nolan Smith's word for it, as he told Richard Johnson of SI.com:
"We say all the time here the best rush is the best coverage, and we've got to get to the quarterback. There's nothing else about it. Last game, we did not do that. And I know a lot of people felt hurt after that one. I hold myself and my room accountable and also the D-line. It's our job as pass rushers to get after the quarterback and we didn't do that. The difference between this game and that game is we just have to do it."
Smart will undoubtedly make defensive adjustments to avoid a repeat of what happened in Atlanta.
I picked Georgia to beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, but when I saw what the Tide did to the Dawgs, I wasn't surprised whatsoever. So, a caveat: You can't exactly count out a Saban-coached team.
But it's incredibly hard to beat an opponent twice in the matter of just over a month, especially when that team, Georgia, dominated during the rest of the season. Not to mention that Smart can probably make the right adjustments on defense that even Young's best stuff can't hold up to.
Georgia's performance against a top-notch Michigan team will give the Dawgs even more momentum heading into this one. Holding the Wolverines to 11 points is a good reminder of what the defense did all season, and that should carry into Monday night.
Georgia will finally beat Alabama for the first time since 2007 and get the national title its fans have been waiting for since 1980. While this one will be close throughout, I can see Georgia's defense coming up with a huge takeaway or stop late in the game to give the Dawgs the win.
Prediction: Georgia 38, Alabama 35
Statistics via CFBStats unless otherwise noted.
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