The All-SEC rematch that not everybody wanted to see will be on the big stage Monday night when No. 1 Alabama faces No. 3 Georgia in the College Football Playoff title game at Indianapolis.
Alabama feasted on the Bulldogs 41-24 in last month’s SEC title game and the one-sided nature of the contest dulled excitement over a possible second meeting.
Alabama (13-1) knocked off Cincinnati 27-6 in its CFP semifinal and Georgia (13-1) trampled Michigan 34-11 to set up the rematch.
Anybody suspecting another easy victory hasn’t run the subject by Crimson Tide star linebacker Will Anderson Jr.
“That was last game. We have to focus on this game,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a whole, totally new game, new area, new setting, everything. So we’re going to see something different that we probably haven’t seen before. We have to be prepared for it.”
All Kirby Smart has seen during his coaching stint at Georgia is losses to Alabama — he is 0-4 against former boss Nick Saban.
And Smart isn’t fond of being reminded of his team’s shortfalls against the Crimson Tide.
“They’ve also been a problem and a thorn for any team they’ve played besides ours,” Smart said. “We have that in common with a lot of teams.”
The Crimson Tide are defending champions and are looking for their fourth title in eight seasons under the CFP format. Coach Nick Saban has won six national crowns at Alabama and seven overall.
One of the CFP titles was a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in the 2017 championship contest. That was in Smart’s second season at the helm after his stint as Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama.
The Crimson Tide’s victory in the SEC title game was stunning in that the Bulldogs hadn’t allowed more than 17 points all season.
But Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young passed for 421 yards and three touchdowns and Jameson Williams had seven receptions for 184 yards and two scores as Alabama easily dissected the vaunted Georgia defense.
“We didn’t play a good game at all on the defensive side of the ball,” Bulldogs cornerback Derion Kendrick said of the first matchup. “We’ve got to help the offense out as well.”
The Georgia defense was back in form in the victory over Michigan. The Bulldogs controlled the contest and the Wolverines scored their lone touchdown with 4:25 remaining.
Georgia has held eight opponents to seven or fewer points this season and the performance against Michigan led to the Bulldogs being installed as slight favorites against Alabama.
That is just fine with Crimson Tide star running back Brian Robinson Jr. who rushed for a career-best 204 yards in the victory over Cincinnati.
“Sometimes we always feel like the underdog even when we’re expected to win a game,” Robinson said. “I feel we’ll be motivated. We’ll come out with the underdog mentality and be ready to play.”
Even with performers like Young (4,503 passing yards, 46 touchdowns), Robinson (1,275 rushing yards, 14 scores), Williams (75 receptions for 1,507 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Anderson (17.5 sacks), there were times when Alabama looked in danger of missing the playoffs.
A comeback 24-22 quadruple-overtime win over Auburn on Nov. 27 was a lifesaver one week prior to the SEC title game. But the one loss — 41-38 to Texas A&M on Oct. 9 — stands out in Saban’s mind as the season’s pivotal moment.
“I think that losing a game gave our team an opportunity to mature,” Saban said. “We have a really, really young team. We don’t have very many seniors that play a significant role. So I think with young players who sort of had a lot of success in terms of wins prior to the Texas A&M game, maybe they lost respect for winning or what it takes to prepare to win on a consistent basis.
“I think it made people realize the importance of leadership, setting a good example and holding each other accountable.”
Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett displayed some impressive traits in a big outing against Michigan with 313 yards and three touchdowns. However, he was picked off twice in the loss to Alabama and expects to see similar defensive tendencies from the Crimson Tide in the rematch.
“They’re going to be Alabama, and we’re going to be Georgia,” said Bennett, who has 27 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. “And we’re going to see who executes better. And if there is a wrinkle come Monday night from either side, then whoever adjusts best to that will win the football game.”
Georgia is looking to win the title for the first time since Herschel Walker led the 1980 team to an undefeated 12-0 season.
–Field Level Media