ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart outlined the challenge: get pressure on Alabama Tua Tagovailoa without giving up big plays.
No one has been able to do it yet, including the Bulldogs, who were Tagovailoa’s first victim last January when he rallied the Tide from 13-0 at the half to a 26-23 overtime win.
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“He’s improved tremendous, I mean he was really good in that half, but you have to remember, they had two really young linemen in the game,” Smart said. “They had a lot of receivers that were playing at that point that were really young that have grown up.”
Alabama has dominated college football like no other team in the modern era, running up a 12-0 record with all if its wins by 20 points or more, a feat not seen since 1888 Yale. The 8-0 league mark particularly impressive in a season the SEC has eight teams ranked in the CFB Playoff Committee’s Top 25.
“I don’t see the weaknesses,” Smart said. “When they get on top of you they know how to finish. They attack teams. They’re constantly attacking. I mean the pressure’s never off.
“That’s Alabama. They’re just really, really good on putting pressure on you, whether it’s offensively or defensively or special teams. There’s so many ways they can win the game.”
Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy favorite, the nation’s pass efficiency leader and the Tide’s record-breaking quarterback, is at the root of it.
“Getting pressure, affecting the quarterback – absolutely that’s critical,” Smart said. “But not giving up big plays is, too.”
Georgia leads the nation in that department, giving up only 25 plays of 20 yards or more.
“I think if you can disrupt the pocket and get him out – to do that you have to take a lot of chances, and there are some good players back there behind those chances you’re taking,” Smart said. “.They also have the ability to expose you when you’re not balanced up on the run.
“The challenges are to be able to cover people, be able to affect the quarterback, be able to tackle people in open space, and take advantage of mistakes.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart