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Before every Georgia game, I like to take a look at the five players to watch from the opposing team, and the National Championship Game will be no exception. But picking just five is a bit more difficult when the opponent is Alabama, which has a roster chock-full of 5-stars and All-Americans. It would probably be just as effective to list all 22 starters below as well as a big handful of backups if I wanted to make the most accurate list possible of Bama players to keep an eye on. But ain’t nobody got time for that, so here are the five you should watch more than all the others.
Jalen Hurts, QB — Hurts isn’t just dangerous because he’s a threat when passing and running. (The sophomore has 2,125 passing yards and 17 passing touchdowns to only 1 interception as well as 808 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground.) He also has National Championship Game experience. His 30-yard touchdown scramble with just over two minutes to go in the title matchup last year with Clemson almost won the Tide the game. Then Deshaun Watson happened.
Rashaan Evans, LB — Evans, a senior, is the Tide’s do-everything linebacker. He’s second on the team in total tackles (66), first in tackles for loss (11 1/2) and second in sacks (6). He’ll be called on to be a jack-of-all-trades once again against Georgia, pinning his ears back and going after Jake Fromm in pass-rushing situations and tracking down one of the Dawgs’ supremely talented tailbacks in others. He also has 3 passes defended to his name, so he can be tricky to deal with when he drops into coverage as well.
Calvin Ridley, WR — Ridley, the older brother of UGA sophomore wideout Riley Ridley, is Hurts’ top target, and it isn’t close. He leads the Tide in receptions (59) and receiving yards (935) and is second in receiving touchdowns (4). No other Alabama player has more than 16 receptions or 259 yards receiving. Which is all to say, if Hurts is going to pass, he’s probably passing to Ridley. The Dawgs will have a big opportunity to limit what the Tide can do through the air if they can lock down Ridley.
Levi Wallace, CB — Minkah Fitzpatrick receives most of the plaudits and attention from Alabama’s secondary, but most teams have learned not to throw his way by now. That plays right into the hands of Wallace, who has 3 interceptions, including a pick-6, and 14 passes defended this season. If you want to try to pass on Alabama, the Tide are going to make you pick your poison.
Da’Ron Payne, DT — Payne is a space-eater in the middle of the line, and he doesn’t show up on the stat sheet much because it ain’t his job to show up on the stat sheet. He has 47 tackles and a single sack this year. But he does have his moments, like in the Sugar Bowl, when he snagged an interception and caught a touchdown in a four-minute span. It’s highly unlikely he does anything like that against Georgia, but he’s still dangerous battling for space on the interior line and creating lanes for Bama’s pass-rushers. If he isn’t effectively managed, Fromm is going to have a long night.
Da'Ron Payne : 2 tackles, an INT & a 2-yard TD catch pic.twitter.com/L9KJ6lPEnz
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life25) January 2, 2018
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Happy UGA Football Day!
In accordance with a proclamation signed by Governor Nathan Deal, Jan. 5 is officially UGA Football Day in the state of Georgia. Deal sent a Tweet encouraging folks to wear red and black Friday in support of the Dawgs. Here is the part where I would tell you to go home and change into some red if you’re not wearing any, but knowing you Dawgs fans, you probably haven’t worn anything but red since the Rose Bowl.
— Governor Nathan Deal (@GovernorDeal) January 4, 2018
The film room
If you’re still hankering for a breakdown of how Georgia was able to switch gears and make its Rose Bowl comeback, Oliver Connolly has you covered. In this excellent film room post for DawgNation, Connolly uses GIFs and diagrams to explain how Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker’s use of the “rain blitz” helped the Dawgs turn the tide after being lit up by Oklahoma in the first half .
Essentially: The linebackers take their cue from the center. Whichever way the center (or the protection as a whole) slides, the opposite linebacker blitzes – classic “you go here, I go there” stuff. The other linebacker – be it a true linebacker or money linebacker – drops into a hole coverage, sitting in a middle-of-the-field zone and reading the quarterback or the release of a back.
Oklahoma didn’t figure it out until the damage was done: 5 drives, 20 plays, 37 yards, 2 first downs, zero points. [Lincoln] Riley’s juggernaut ground to a halt.
The Sooners’ center and backside guards failed to recognize who was coming. And even when they did, Smart and Tucker sent guys from different angles – sometimes it was a loop, sometimes a safety firing down from a deep starting position.
And if that isn’t enough film for you, you can also check out this post from Ian Boyd of SB Nation that explains how the Dawgs won a shootout against the best offense in college football.
Georgia unveils National Championship Game jersey
As the higher-ranked team, Georgia will wear its home reds in the National Championship Game. On Thursday, Georgia gave us our first peak at what it’s NCG duds, including a spiffy new patch for the title game and a special Nike swoosh.
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) January 4, 2018
Dawgs on Twitter
Putting in work. 💪
— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) January 5, 2018
ONE OF THE MEN IN BLAZERS IS WEARING A HOT ROD BUTTON pic.twitter.com/1xOAmCYyX4
— CAPS LOCKA FLAME (@matt_T) January 3, 2018
Florida is going the young route and is hiring former Mississippi State graduate assistant Christian Robinson to coach its linebackers. Robinson, who is 27, played LB at Georgia with current Florida DC Todd Grantham serving as his DC. He also helped… https://t.co/7hpq6JcRiX
— Edward Aschoff (@AschoffESPN) January 5, 2018
C O O L E S T B O Y E ❤️ pic.twitter.com/A3dWIQS1g1
— roozu 🌹 (@roozu_GG) January 4, 2018
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