Even without championship stakes, Georgia-Alabama still expects to be a ‘physical brand of football’

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Georgia and Alabama play on Saturday.

The last time Georgia and Alabama played, Georgia tight end Tre’ McKitty was watching from his couch. The then Florida State Seminole was tuning in to watch the 2018 SEC Championship Game as a fan. When the two teams met in the national championship game the previous January, McKitty said he was watching from his couch on that one as well.

Now McKitty will get a chance to play in the game, though the two sides won’t have a championship isn’t on the line.

“I know those [UGA-Alabama] games were extremely competitive and exciting to watch, and I can only imagine what it is going to be like playing in it,” McKitty said.

But even if Saturday’s game is only a regular-season meeting between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia — the first since 2015 —the game still has a pretty big feel to it. The game offers the chance to make an early statement, as the two teams are the last two unbeaten teams in the SEC.

There are also possible College Football Playoff implications and even SEC championship game stakes on the line. A win for Georgia or Alabama would likely big a large step in making sure they’re in Atlanta on Dec. 19 for the SEC championship game.

There will be some obvious differences from the first two times Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Nick Saban have head coaches. None of Jake Fromm, Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts will be able to play in this game, as all three are off in the NFL.

Instead, Mac Jones will quarterback the Crimson Tide and Stetson Bennett IV will do so for Georgia.

While many of the familiar faces from the two previous Alabama-Georgia games are now off in the NFL, there are still plenty of Georgia players who understand the magnitude of this game.

“There’s enough of our players that have played Alabama two games that know it’s a physical brand of football,” Smart said. “It’s a physical game. We played them twice, and it wasn’t like they didn’t feel like they couldn’t beat them.”

Related: Kirby Smart updates Georgia football injuries, talks running back rotation

When Smart and Saban have the teams meet on Saturday night, it will also be the first time the game won’t be played in Atlanta. The Bulldogs will be traveling to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the first time since 2007.

That year was Smart’s first at Alabama and he was not even the defensive coordinator yet. Smart doesn’t remember much of the game other than the Bulldogs winning it on their first play in overtime thanks to a Matthew Stafford touchdown pass.

Coincidently that’s also the last time Georgia beat Alabama, as the Crimson Tide have won the last five times these two teams have met.

And although there will be fan restrictions in place, the Bulldogs are still expecting it to be a tough place to win.

“I’m excited for the challenge, to be able to compete against a program like [Alabama] that’s been notoriously good for so long,” Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer said. “It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be a fun environment. I know our guys are hype, they’re ready to go, and we’re ready to compete.”

With how the two programs recruit, there’s quite a bit of overlap on the two teams. Guys from both sides know each other and the staffs due to some intense recruiting battles. McKitty mentioned how his former high school teammate Dylan Moses plays for the Crimson Tide and is looking forward to playing against him.

When Georgia signed the No. 1 recruiting class in 2020, Alabama had the No. 2 class. In the 2019 cycle, the two teams were flipped.

There’s a pretty good reason why these are two of the only four teams that have won a College Football Playoff game dating back to the 2015 season. And even if there isn’t a title of some sorts on the line, it’s still going to resemble those titanic clashes of 2018.

The biggest difference the Bulldogs are hoping for this time, is that they’re able to finish off Alabama and come out with a win.

“Alabama is always a tough, challenging game. I always take into consideration on how well they’re coached, how they push and it’s an amazing challenge,” defensive lineman Jordan Davis said. “Every game is a business trip, so I want to focus on us this week, going to Alabama and doing our thing.”

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart previews physical game against Alabama

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