(CBS Local)- Alabama and Georgia's recent history would suggest that Saturday night's tilt would be fun regardless of the teams' respective standing nationally. Add in that the two sides come in ranked 2nd (Alabama) and 3rd (Georgia), and you have all you could ask for from an early-season SEC clash.
The last two times the teams have met, Alabama has engineered a second half comeback to dash the Bulldogs hopes of a national championship and an SEC title. This year, things are a bit different. First, The Tide enter with a similarly prolific offense, but the defense has been faulty. Georgia enters as one of the country's stingiest defensive units, though it will face its first serious test this weekend.
"What we've seen so far is that defenses just aren't the same as they were in the SEC. Other than at Georgia where Kirby has built that team very much in the way the Alabama teams were when he was Nick Saban's defensive coordinator for a decade. So far, that's the team that reminds me of classic Alabama," said College Football Today host Adam Zucker in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer. "Current Alabama is throwing the ball all over the yard. They have a star in Najee Harris who just ran for over 200 yards. It's hard to use the Ole Miss game as a sample to go forward with because Alabama is going to be up against a much better defense in Georgia. Georgia's offense isn't what Ole Miss' offense is either."
The Tide gave up 48 points and 647 yards to the Rebels last week, mostly because, as Zucker points out, Bama's defense was gassed. Lane Kiffin has turned Ole Miss into a high tempo machine that kept Saban's unit on the field without much chance to substitute. Could Georgia look to that route?
"I can see that happening. Every team has it installed to go up tempo at this point. So I could see Georgia trying to take advantage of that," said Zucker. "You just don't want to get Stetson Bennett IV too far over his skis."
That is the rub. For as much as the Bulldogs may have found some areas of the field to attack by studying last week's Ole Miss game plan, they are fundamentally the same Bulldogs offense we've seen the last few years. They're averaging 45.7 rushing attempts against just 34 passing attempts on the season and they have a stable of backs led by Zamir White. For Zucker, whether that Georgia rushing attack can find holes in Alabama's front is going to be one of the keys to watch.
"What you notice watching Ole Miss vs. Alabama is up front Alabama does not have the dominant guys that we're used to seeing with Johnathan Allen, Quinnen Williams, etc," said Zucker. "Seeing if Georgia is able to find holes there and get to the edge the way Ole Miss was in the last game. If Georgia can do that, I think they'll be at a huge advantage."
On the flip side, Zucker is interested in the strength on strength matchup of Georgia's pass defense against the Tide's explosive passing game. There hasn't been much drop off with Mac Jones taking over as starting quarterback, he's completed 79.5% of his passes for 1,101 and eight touchdowns against just one pick through the first three games.
Though the Tide saw two receivers go in the first round of April's draft, they have two more likely first rounders in Devonta Smith and blink and you'll miss him Jaylen Waddle.
It's an explosive group going up against a Georgia defense that has allowed just 3.7 yards per play so far this season.
"Can Mac Jones find his guys against the speed of that Georgia defense, while also contending with the Georgia pass rush that completely changed the game against Tennessee," asked Zucker.
The Tide enter as 4.5 point favorites at home. Win or lose, one thing seems clear. We're likely to see these two squads match up again in December.
"I think the West is Alabama's and it's just a matter of who ends up second. I originally thought that Florida was the team to beat in the East this year because of what we're used to with their defense. They actually lost a good number of guys and it's a pretty complicated defense and they're clearly struggling right now," said Zucker. "Georgia is the team to me now and win or lose on Saturday, I would imagine they would be the team back in the SEC title game from the East. And, I wouldn't be surprised if it's Alabama Georgia not only in December but in the College Football Playoff."
#2 Alabama hosts #3 Georgia on Saturday, October 17 on CBS. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Eastern Time with The Drive To Atlanta featuring Adam, Rick Neuheisel and Brian Jones followed by College Football Today at 7:30 p.m. with kick-off slated for 8.
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