INDIANAPOLIS – Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked if he hears or feels talk of a national championship drought for the program dating back to the 1980 college football season.
Smart delivered a practical response on the coaches conference call Sunday.
“No, I don’t,” Smart said. “What I feel is how we stop Bryce Young and how we control his forehead and how we run the ball, how we throw the ball efficiently, how we convert the third downs and stop them in the red area.”
Suffice it to say, Smart is locked in at No. 1 Alabama (13-1) ahead of the college football championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday. To break that national championship drought, No. 3 Georgia (13-1) needs to break a seven-game losing streak to Alabama that dates back to 2008.
Smart is also on point. If Georgia wants to win, then the focus starts with the Alabama quarterback. Here are three keys to a Bulldogs victory:
Young secured the Heisman Trophy in a 41-24 victory over Georgia in the SEC championship game on December 4. He hit 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns, adding three carries for 40 yards and another touchdown. Alabama racked up 536 yards of total offense against a unit that allowed 258.3 yards in its first 12 games.
“We talk about him as Houdini because he can make people lose themselves,” Smart said. “He gets rid of the ball. People don’t even take into account how many times this guy has avoided sacks and thrown the ball with no intention of anyone catching it. But he knows where to throw the ball so he doesn’t get caught.”
Georgia did not have a sack in the first meeting, so the key will be to land under pressure with Nakobe Dean and Devonte Wyatt, who had two troubles each in the first meeting. Will Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning use Dean in a spy role more often? That’s another trend to watch out for.
Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III is out with a torn ACL, and now Georgia can focus on stopping Jameson Williams, who had seven receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the first game.
Dean said the Bulldogs are looking at all possible options.
“Everything, basically,” Dean said. “We’re looking at every little thing, from the scheme we used, the scheme they used to how we can take advantage of some of the things we did.”
Stick with the running game
That’s a common adage for any championship game, but Smart said there’s a different level to that when it comes to Alabama.
“You can actually win the line of scrimmage and possibly lose the game due to explosive plays,” Smart said. “That’s what you have to be careful of.”
Georgia held Alabama to 115 rushing yards in the first game. That needs to be replicated, given that Crimson Tide running back Brian Robinson loosened for 204 rushing yards in a 27-6 Cotton Bowl semifinal victory over Cincinnati. Here’s a look at the running totals in the last seven matches:
|2018 *||39||184||Four. Five||133|
* CFP championship game
** SEC Championship Game
Those numbers suggest Georgia needs to run the ball about 40 times with the trio of Zamir White, James Cook and Kenny McIntosh. That would limit Alabama’s number of chances on the offensive end.
That would also take the pressure off Stetson Bennett, who finished 29 of 48 for 340 yards and three touchdowns in the SEC championship game. He also threw two interceptions. Georgia wants this game to be played in the high 20s.
Great players appear
Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, who had 10 receptions for 139 yards and a score in Game 1, doesn’t match Alabama’s seven, and should see favorable coverage in the sets with catcher George Pickens. Bowers has six touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ last four games.
All-American defensive tackle Jordan Davis is another key. Can you disrupt the Crimson Tide offense from the inside? He had four tackles in the first meeting and must be a factor in the first few downs. In the end, Georgia needs to set the tone with that disgusting defense that has allowed just 9.6 points per game. Davis said he hopes the Bulldogs will adjust the second time against Alabama as well.
That’s the one that was shown in a 34-11 domination over Michigan in the Orange Bowl semifinal.
“Our defense is what you’ve seen for the last 12 weeks in the regular season,” Davis said. “Alabama, they gave us a little seizure. They threw a lot of hay and we really couldn’t respond the way we wanted to.
“But with time, you get better,” he said. “You learn more about yourself as a defender. You learn more about Alabama this time coming into the game. So definitely this time it will definitely be different.”