Nick Saban opened his case for Alabama to upset No. 1-ranked Georgia with a very simple premise of the Crimson Tide not beating itself.
It’s a given Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Young will also need to make some plays from his quarterback position along the way.
Alabama (11-1) sets out to defend its SEC and CFP Championships at 4 p.m. on Saturday when it faces Georgia (12-0) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The Bulldogs, led by sixth-year head coach and former Saban assistant Kirby Smart, feature a historically dominant defense that’s allowing just 6.92 points per game — less than half of the second-best scoring defense in the nation (Clemson, 15.0).
“I think the fact they have like nine different players that have 4 1/2 tackles for loss, one guy has 8 1/2, and they have five different players that have multiple sacks,” Saban noted, asked about 345-pound Georgia All-American nose tackle Jordan Davis.
“This is not a one-man wrecking crew; this is a really good group of players who play well together, and there are multiple players who have the ability to make plays.”
Own worst enemy
Conversely, Saban is the first to admit his reloaded Alabama offense has been its own worst enemy at times, which has allowed the past three SEC opponents to play the Tide within one score.
“We can’t have as many negative plays, which is what this (Georgia) defense thrives on relative to their pressure and the way they do things up front,” said Saban, whose team overcame seven quarterback sacks in its 24-22 quadruple overtime victory at Auburn last Saturday.
“It will be difficult to overcome those circumstances; the best way to overcome them is not to allow them to happen to start with.”
The Alabama offensive line reloaded after having three starters off last year’s undefeated team selected in the 2021 NFL Draft: first-round pick Alex Leatherwood, second-round pick Landon Dickerson and sixth-round pick Deonte Brown.
The result has been the Tide giving up an eye-popping 36 sacks, 12th in the SEC.
Saban has been clear Alabama needs to find a way to run the football to help neutralize the Georgia pass rush.
It could prove challenging if senior running back Brian Robinson is unable to recover from the lower-body injury that Saban said sidelined him in the third quarter or the game against Auburn.
“When we play the best, we have some kind of balance on offense,” Saban said. “So it’s going to be important for us to be able to create that as well.”
Bryce Young Magic
“Create” is the operative word, and that’s where Young’s escapability and playmaking ability could prove pivotal.
As much as the Alabama offense is carefully planned and scripted, there can also be a backyard element to it.
Receiver John Metchie lll explained on Monday the Tide’s offense has experience on scramble plays, when Young and the receivers are forced to improvise to connect after the primary play breaks down.
“Things like that happen in practice,” said Metchie, who had 150 yards on 13 catches against Auburn. “Where we have to feel it out, you’re just playing. When things get off script, you have to improvise and play football.”
Under pressure, Young averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and threw for 15 touchdowns with only two interceptions the season, per Pro Football Focus metrics. His 1.7% turnover-worthy play rate was third-best among the Power Five quarterbacks, as well.
“What puts them over the top is the distributor; he’s an incredible athlete, player, decision-maker,” Smart said. “What he didn’t get enough credit for is when the play breaks down, his skill set to deliver the ball, make people miss.
So long as Young is delivering the ball to players in the right colored jerseys, Alabama players know they have a chance.
“Extremely confident,” Metchie said of the Tide’s offense, as it prepares for Georgia. “I think we are concerned about ourselves more and playing our best brand of football.”
KIRBY’S IRON BOWL VIEW
Smart experienced nine Iron Bowl games as any assistant coach to Saban, so he could understand how an Auburn team on a three-game losing streak could play the Tide close before falling 24-22 in four overtimes last Saturday.
“That (Auburn) is a really tough place to play, and so is (Texas) A&M,” Smart said. “That doesn’t fall on deaf ears with our staff and understand probably two of the hardest places to play in the country are right there.
“That (Iron Bowl) game is always different. The nine years I was there, you never could judge anything on that game because it’s such an intrastate rivalry.”
:Georgia is a 6 1/2-point favorite over Alabama, the line jumping from 4 1/2 after the teams’ games on Saturday.
The Bulldogs’ role as favorites snaps a 92-game streak where Alabama had been favored in games dating back to the 2015 meeting between Georgia and the Crimson Tide when UGA was a 2 1/2-point favorite.