Alabama football prepares for clash with Georgia Bulldogs 


CW File

Alabama and Georgia last faced off in the 2018 SEC Championship Game.

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

The matchup college football fans have been waiting for is here. 

The No. 4 Alabama football team will head to Atlanta, Georgia, on Dec. 4 to take on the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs in the 2021 SEC championship. 

The Journey

These two teams were projected to be the top dogs of the college football playoff world before the season even began. 

Alabama, with the acquisition of quarterback Bryce Young in 2020, was primed to continue the trend of being an offensive powerhouse. Georgia built a defense for the ages, which includes playmakers like defensive lineman Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean. 

Both teams made the SEC Championship, as everyone expected. However, they had very different paths to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Alabama started off the season as the top-ranked team in college football. Although the team sent a host of players to the NFL, many thought the Crimson Tide would pick up right where it left off. That hasn’t been the case. 

Alabama started the season 5-0, routing Southern Mississippi, Ole Miss, Miami and Mercer. The Crimson Tide also squeaked out a tough 31-29 win over Florida. Alabama looked like a strong team heading into its Oct. 9 clash with Texas A&M. 

“This is all-around a really, really good team,” head coach Nick Saban said. “Maybe the best team we’ve played to this point from a personnel standpoint.” 

The trip to College Station changed the trajectory of the Crimson Tide’s season. Alabama left Kyle Field with a bitter 41-38 loss. Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher became the first former assistant coach of head coach Nick Saban to defeat him. 

For the first time this season, Alabama looked beatable. 

The Crimson Tide bounced back with a 49-9 victory over Mississippi State, but since Texas A&M, it has hardly been smooth sailing for Alabama. Tough, physical games with LSU, Auburn and Arkansas made college football fans and analysts question if the Crimson Tide is as dominant as it was projected to be. 

Still, Alabama booked a trip to the 2021 SEC Championship — its second straight —  after a win over Arkansas on Nov. 27.

Georgia’s road to the SEC championship was a smoother path. 

The Bulldogs, like Alabama, were considered a top program in the country. Quarterback JT Daniels was viewed as a top quarterback. The development of Davis and Dean made the defense a stout unit. The Bulldogs had all the makings of a championship-caliber team. 

Georgia has lived up to the hype. The sole time Georgia’s offense was held under 30 points was against Clemson during their season opener. The Bulldogs won that game 10-3. 

Since then, Georgia has scored 30 or more points in each of its games this season. Despite not getting any buzz during the offseason, quarterback Stetson Bennett has been a strong signal-caller for the Bulldogs. 

The defense has also put up some strong numbers. The Bulldogs have the top-ranked team in total defense this season. Georgia has only given up an average of 230.8 yards per game this season. Opponents have also only converted 32.1% of third-down attempts against Georgia. 

The plethora of talent Georgia has on the defensive side of the football has made it hard on opposing offenses to scheme a successful plan. 

“I think it’s the players and that it’s so many of them that you just can’t keep an eye on all of them,” said Drew Hubbard, sports editor at The Red & Black. 

The Bulldogs booked their trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium after defeating Florida 34-7 on Oct. 30. Mississippi State’s upset win over Kentucky that same night sealed the deal for Georgia. 

“A lot of hard work, a lot of great support from our fan base and our administration, and a lot of recruiting,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “The expectation is to win the East and go play for an SEC championship.” 

So far, Georgia has lived up to every expectation fans have had of them. 

The Goal 

If Alabama wins, it will mean a successful SEC title defense and another trip to the College Football Playoff. If Georgia wins, it will be the team’s first SEC title since 2017 and the first under Smart. 

A win for Georgia would also firmly establish the Bulldogs as the top dogs in college football this year. 

Neither team has faced a defense quite as good as the ones that will take the field on Saturday. Alabama sits at seventh in the country in total defense, with linebacker Will Anderson Jr. leading the way. 

Anderson has amassed 30.5 tackles for loss — the most from any defensive player this season. Alabama is also third in the nation in total sacks with 43.0 sacks. Georgia is sixth with 41.0.

With such strong defenses on both sides of the ball, the offensive lines of each team must be prepared for anything and everything. 

“Alabama’s always been known for physical toughness, and they have a great offensive line,” Davis said. “They have a great size, great motor. I just feel like it’s going to be a tremendous challenge to play against them.” 

Alabama’s offensive line has struggled at certain points in the season. Against Auburn, the offensive line gave up seven total sacks — five within the first 30 minutes of play. The Crimson Tide had little success running the football to the right side of the offensive line. 

Against the third-best rushing defense in the nation, Alabama’s offensive line can ill afford a performance like the one fans saw on Nov. 27. 

“It’s on us to prepare, to push ourselves, and to work to be the best us we can be for Saturday,” Young said. “So we’re all excited for the challenge.” 

Alabama fans have seen what this offense can do with a clean performance from the guys in the trenches. 

Young threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns in his starting debut against Miami. Young was sacked twice, but the offensive line did a relativel good job keeping him upright. Because Young wasn’t getting pressured by the defense, he was able to control the tempo of the game. 

Alabama held the ball for just over 37 minutes during that game and notched 28 first downs. Maintaining a steady tempo against Georgia is crucial for the Crimson Tide, and it starts with the blocking up front. 

If Alabama gives Georgia too much time to rest and figure out the next play call, it could be a long night for the offense. 

The History

Georgia’s path includes walking away from the history of this rivalry. Alabama has had Georgia’s number as of late. The Crimson Tide holds a commanding 41-25-4 lead over the Bulldogs in this rivalry. Alabama has won the last six meetings. 

Two of those six meetings were SEC title wins for Alabama. One was a thrilling overtime win for Alabama in the 2017 National Championship game. Three of Alabama’s last six wins have been in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

If all of that weren’t already enough for Georgia fans, Smart has yet to defeat Saban. History suggests another Alabama victory, but the energy in Athens is much different than it has been in years past. 

“I think this is the first time that I can remember that Georgia fans legitimately expect to win this game,” Hubbard said. “I think, given Georgia’s success and Alabama struggling against Auburn, struggling against Arkansas — and those are two teams Georgia handled pretty well — most students are pretty optimistic about this game.” 

People outside of Athens, Georgia, seem to agree with the energy on campus. 

Georgia opened up as 6.5-point favorites over Alabama. This is the first time in 92 games that the Crimson Tide are the underdogs before a game. The last time this happened was on Oct. 31, 2015. 

Like the fans and students, Georgia must not let history warp its view of this game. Georgia will have to go out and execute its game plan. The Bulldogs can ill afford a subpar performance against Alabama, which has dominated all but one opponent this season. 

The Bulldogs must capitalize on this chance as Texas A&M capitalized on its opportunity back in October. If this isn’t the time to do it, then when will it be the time for Georgia? 

Kickoff for the 2021 SEC Championship is set for 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT on Saturday, Dec. 4. The game will be broadcast on CBS.