Like most things we do here at Setting the Edge, we decided to do a spur of the moment National Championship preview of tonight’s game. Derrik is going to sub in and help me breakdown the game between the Alabama Nick Sabans and the Georgia Baby Sabans. We’re going to keep this structured for y’all so you can use it as a reference point throughout the game.
For both teams we’ll note draft prospects, core principals of their offensive and defensive scheme, under the radar players than can be x-factors, and score predictions. I’ll be handling the Georgia Baby Sabans while Derrik breaks down the Alabama Nick Sabans. Let’s jump right in.
Spread: Alabama -5
#3 Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs caught fire in Kirby Smart’s second season as their head coach. They ripped through their schedule this season and blew out just about every opponent they faced. The Bulldogs’ path to success mirrored their Saban roots. Just about every week, Georgia pummeled opponents by running the ball with their legendary duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel while playing tough defense on the other side of the ball.
Jacob Eason was expected to take a leap this season after a questionable freshman season, but after he suffered an injury in the season opener against Appalachian State, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm took the reigns and never looked back. Fromm had an outstanding freshman season throwing for 2383 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions while finishing 5th in adjusted yards per attempt among qualifying passers.
Here’s an in-depth look at his passing production as a first year starter.
Note: If you don’t know some of the abbreviations above, this should help.
Georgia’s offense is structured to make life easy on their first year quarterback. Their passing game is built on quick hitters using three step drops and the ability to hit deep play action shots after Nick Chubb and Sony Michel establish dominance on the ground. Georgia runs a fair mix of pistol, under center, and shotgun plays. Whichever formation they’re in, they run a healthy does of 12 (one back, two tight ends) personnel given the fact that they have two tight ends they trust in Isaac Nauta and Jeb Blazevich. Nauta and Blazevich have the ability to make plays after the catch to go with solid blocking.
Georgia’s receivers aren’t household names, but they’ve been an effective unit throughout the season. Senior Javon Wims has been Fromm’s go to receiver this year; he’s a solid possession receiver and bailed Fromm out of a handful of 50/50 balls this year. Outside of Wims, Georgia has two speedsters in junior Terry Godwin and sophomore Mecole Hardman that are capable of making big plays in space.
Fromm, Wims, Godwin, and Hardman all work well with each other. Wims is easily the largest receiver of the group (listed at 6’4″, 215) and he does a lot of the dirty work for Georgia’s passing game.
While Godwin and Hardman’s strengths are making plays after the catch, they’ve both flashed the ability to make plays on the ball when Fromm can line up an accurate back shoulder throw. Godwin and Hardman need a bit more precision than Wims on downfield throws, but Fromm has routinely been able to make the difficult throws this season.
Of course, the focal point of Georgia’s offense revolves around their ability to run Nick Chubb and Sony Michel behind their monstrous offensive line. Chubb and Michel combined for 347 carries, 2449 yards, and 31 touchdowns. This includes their dominant showing against Oklahoma in the first round of the playoffs in which they combined for a whopping 25 carries, 326 yards, and 5 touchdowns.
Chubb and Michel have staggered running styles. Nick Chubb is closer to your prototypical power back while Sony Michel fits the “slasher” archetype a bit better. With that in mind, it’s fascinating to watch how their games can mirror each other. Michel is tough to bring down on first contact and Chubb has surprising breakaway speed coming off of his catastrophic knee injury in 2015.
Chubb and Michel ripped Oklahoma with long runs, they’ll have tougher sledding tonight.
Georgia’s rushing game is unlocked further by Jake Fromm’s ability to audible at the line of scrimmage. This run versus Oklahoma showcases that ability.
Georgia broke the huddle with a passing play, which isn’t a favorable matchup versus Oklahoma’s dime defense. Then, Fromm looks at how many blockers he has compared to how many defenders are in the box. If you look at running the box as a plus/minus situation in regards to blockers and defenders you can see that Georgia has the same amount of blockers as Oklahoma has defenders in the box.
The next signifier that Fromm should change the play to a run is the alignment of the safeties and the cornerbacks. Oklahoma is expecting a pass so they rolled out a two high safety look, which means there won’t be a safety lurking in the box. All of Oklahoma’s cornerbacks are aligned directly over Georgia’s receivers making it difficult to recover and play the run. Fromm sees all of this, audibles to a run, and the rest was history. Also take note of Javon Wims blocking down the field after driving his cornerback off the ball with a vertical stem.
Here it is drawn out.
If Fromm and his receivers can do enough in the passing game to give Georgia favorable box matchups on the ground, they’ll have a shot to score against a rugged Alabama defense.
Georgia’s defense is essentially a schematic carbon copy of what Alabama runs. Their “base” formation is a 3-4, but they run a fair amount of nickel that reduces their defensive line to two players with Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter playing on the edge. With their fronts they look like a standard, “pro style” defense that plays heavy handed run defense and standard run fits. Like Nick Saban defenses tend to be, Georgia is disciplined and extremely physical.
Georgia doesn’t have the most explosive pass rush, but Bellamy and Carter have shown the ability to make game changing plays as pass rushers. Bellamy especially has come up in the clutch this season with big strip sacks against Notre Dame and Auburn.
In their second year under Kirby Smart, Georgia jumped from 34th to 11th in Bill Connelly’s defensive S&P+ ratings. Much of Georgia’s defensive improvement stems from the play of Butkus award winner Roquan Smith who has developed into a superstar talent at middle linebacker. Smith is the prototypical “new age” linebacker that NFL teams are craving for. Smith pairs exorbitant speed with exceptional instincts to be an overwhelming presence for opposing offenses.
Tonight, Smith is likely going to spy Alabama QB Jalen Hurts. Hurts improved greatly as a passer from his freshman season to his sophomore season, but he can still struggle at times if he’s forced to throw from the pocket. Roquan Smith has the speed be a factor there.
Outside of Bellamy, Carter, and Smith, Georgia has an underrated secondary that’s among the best in the nation. Aaron Davis, Deandre Baker, Malkom Parrish, J.R. Reed, Tyrique McGhee, and Dominick Sanders have provided outstanding coverage all season long for a pass rush that could use some room for improvement. Georgia runs a lot of Cover 3 with pattern match principles littered throughout their coverage. When they run Cover 0 blitzes, they have enough talent in the secondary to hold firm while the blitzing players reach the quarterbacks.
What makes Georgia’s secondary intriguing are the types of players they have in their secondary. Aaron Davis is your typical overhang defender in the mold of Kam Chancellor or Keanu Neal (though he doesn’t hit as hard), Deandre Baker and Tyrique McGhee are typical cover corners, and Malkom Parrish, Dominick Sanders, and J.R. Reed play a bit of everywhere as do-it-all safeties.
Here are back to back plays that Deandre Baker and Dominick Sanders made in the Rose Bowl to swing the game back in favor of the Bulldogs.
This is how Georgia’s passing defense has performed up to this point.
Note: If you don’t know some of the abbreviations above, this should help.
Georgia’s defense is going to be tasked with keeping them in the game. Jake Fromm might struggle against the best defense he’ll see all season, so it’ll be up to Roquan Smith and Co. to keep the Alabama offense at bay.
Derrik will go into further detail on the X’s and O’s of Alabama’s defense, which is what Georgia’s defense is rooted in.
Nick Chubb and Sony Michel get all the publicity, but true freshman D’Andre Swift looks poised to be the next great Georgia back once Chubb and Michel move on to the NFL. Swift brings unique explosiveness as a receiving option out of the backfield and can rip off long gain anytime he touches the ball. Swift finished his freshman season with 92 touches, 749 yards, and 4 total touchdowns. That’s 8.1 yards per touch, a remarkable number for a freshman running back.
Alabama 17, Georgia 13 (+5)
#4 Alabama Crimson Tide
Minkah Fitzpatrick headlines yet another impressive Alabama draft class. Fitzpatrick is a do-it-all defensive back who can be a cover corner as well as a box safety. Ronnie Harrison, Fitzpatrick’s safety partner, is also wonderfully versatile, proving to have back-end range and the ability to cover from the slot. On the other side of the ball, Calvin Ridley provides a deep-threat spark for Alabama that could be much needed in this game.
In Brian Daboll’s first season as a collegiate offensive coordinator, the former New England Patriots assistant is proving to be creative and balanced enough to run a stable offense. Daboll is not quite as quirky or exciting as Lane Kiffin was in year’s past, but he does provide some of the same elements in his offense.
Alabama is an 11/21/12 personnel spread-option offense. The offense is built upon downhill running and option plays, topped off with regular play-action and intermediate passing concepts. The role of the quarterback in Daboll’s offense is to facilitate and make keen decisions. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is often required to read in the option game, throw hot versus blitzes, and hit on enough deep crossers and play-action shots to keep the chains moving. The offense is deeply reliant on the quarterback to make smart decisions, yet does not force him into too many difficult reads or situations.
Alabama ran these two plays back-to-back during a game-tying touchdown drive. The first play is a read-option off of the defensive tackle; the second is a bubble/QB draw RPO (run-pass option). On both plays, Hurts is required to read a key defender (1st: defensive tackle, 2nd: play side outside linebacker) and make a split-second decision. Hurts makes the correct read on both and the offense picks up a nice chunk of yardage. Read plays such as these are perfect for someone like Hurts, who is a safe and sound decision maker and a talented runner.
Jalen Hurts is underappreciated as a passer, as well. Hurts, as he is now, is not a game-changing passer with impeccable ball placement or blazing velocity, but Hurts is a sound decision-maker and that is often enough in Daboll’s offense.
At the least, Hurts is not one to give up the ball. Hurts has thrown just one interception on the season. Versus a nasty Georgia secondary, being able to keep the ball out of harm’s way will be a major advantage for Alabama. If Georgia is weak anywhere defensively, it is along the line, so it would play right into Alabama’s hands to protect the ball all game and work the downhill running game, rather than press with the passing attack.
On occasion, Hurts dazzles with pocket movement and a clean strike. A true sophomore, Hurts is not yet consistent with this caliber of play, but the talent is there. If Hurts can come through with a few plays like this one to complement Alabama’s ground game, Georgia could be in serious trouble — a predicament Georgia’s defense has seldom faced this season.
Nick Saban employs a primarily Cover-3 defense with pattern-match tendencies. Pattern-matching, in short, is the idea that defenders will drop into their zone, but transition to man coverage by “matching” the route combination. Many of Saban’s one-high coverages will push the zones toward the strong side of the field, making it almost instant man-coverage on the weak side.
It is a system that requires constant communication and great synergy. Given Saban is one of the best teachers in modern football and Alabama’s defense is immensely talented, Alabama can suffocate passing offense by matching consistently and keeping up in coverage with wonderful athleticism and technique.
Here is an example of Saban pushing the coverage toward the strong side (tight end side) and matching the route combination.
Alabama is in a typical Cover-3 look, but the defenders do not drop to their typical spots. On the weak side, the two defenders lock onto man-coverage assignments, whereas normally the outside cornerback would drop to a deep-third and the slot defender would be a flat player. Those two defenders communicate that to each other before the play (occurs after TE shifts from right to left).
The two hook players — the linebackers — shade their coverage toward the strong side right off the snap. The outside cornerback on the strong side matches #1 (outside WR) vertical and the slot defender matches #2 (slot receiver) on the quick out. Because the slot defender knew he would have help inside, if need be due to the coverage push, he jumped the outside route and came away with the interception.
Alabama’s defense is also supported by the idea that blitzing is more for run defense, not quarterback disruption. Saban trusts his front to get home with four or five rushers, as well as his secondary to match correctly and not give a quarterback any clean reads. In doing so, Saban is able to douse opposing offenses with run blitzes, designed to fit a defender into each separate gap as soon as the ball is snapped. A poorly executed run blitz can leave a gaping hole for the running back, but Saban trusts his secondary to clean up the mess in the rare event Alabama botches their immediate run fits. Alabama’s defense ranked 1st in run defense S&P+ due in part to consistently well executed run blitzes.
Alabama’s stellar run defense versus Georgia’s running attack is the obvious matchup in this game. However, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has proven more than capable as a freshman passer and could unlock Georgia’s offense by hitting a few key passes. Fromm has done so in a few games this season, so it is not outside the realm of possibilities. That being said, doing so against Alabama’s pass defense will be a challenge Fromm has not yet seen.
Alabama allows just under three yards per drop back. In theory, a team could drop back to pass three times versus Alabama and still be faced with a fourth down. A sack rate of 8.37% and an interception rate of 4.31% highlights Alabama’s knack for not only suffocating a passing offense, but forcing it to surrender big plays. Fromm, for as poised and talented as he is, will have to play at a level that would not be fair to expect of him in order to overcome Alabama’s defensive prowess.
The primary task for Alabama’s defense will be to avoid explosive plays via the perimeter. Alabama’s defense should hunker down between the tackles well, but Georgia running backs Sony Michel and De’Andre Swift have proven to abuse any defense on the perimeter if he can get a step.
Lucky for Alabama, cornerback Anthony Averett is as hard-nosed as run defending cornerbacks get. Averett is not only hyper aware of his surroundings, but he is more than willing to sacrifice himself in an attempt to tackle or slow down a running back trying to get the edge. Assuming Averett, as well as safeties Fitzpatrick and Harrison, show up in run defense the way they have all season, Alabama should be able to nullify big play chances on the perimeter. At that point, Georgia will have to either grind away with downhill running or bank on a freshman quarterback vs a ferocious pass defense. The game will then be in Alabama’s control either way.
Committing to a downhill rushing attack with Damien Harris will be key for Alabama. Last week during the Rose Bowl, Oklahoma was able to gash Georgia down the middle with counter, inside zone, and iso runs. Oklahoma’s downfall was trying too hard to stress the perimeter in the run game, playing right into Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith’s skill set as a speed demon. Alabama is even less equipped to try that than Oklahoma was, and Oklahoma had little-to-no success with their efforts.
If Brian Daboll tries to get too cute or forgets he has quality downhill running backs, which he has done before this season, Alabama could suffer the same fate Oklahoma did. Daboll needs to remain poised and balanced as a play caller, and the offensive line must provide adequate push to keep Harris and Bo Scarbrough moving the chains.
Alabama (-5) 23, Georgia 13