From ‘electric’ Jaylen Waddle to one of ‘the best backs in the country’, Alabama skill players will test UGA defense
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Georgia football defense faces its toughest task against Alabama
There’s a scene in the 2007 film Superbad where Michael Cera’s character is running away from a cop played by Seth Rogen. Cera is successfully able to evade Rogen’s character, leaving Rogen winded and gasping for air. When Rogen’s partner asks what happened, Rogen declares that Cera is, “the fastest kid alive.”
Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle might not leave defenders wheezing like an out of shape cop, but he’s certainly got the skills to be the fastest player on the field when Georgia takes on Alabam on Saturday.
“He is as dynamic and electric as I have seen. He touches the ball—you can see it on tape—it pops off,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Shame on them if they don’t because he is electric when he touches the ball. He is just a really, really good football player.
He is physical. There are a lot of challenges there for us with him. He creates a lot of issues.”
Georgia has first hand experience of unsuccessfully trying to chase down Waddle, as the junior wide receiver zoomed through the Georgia secondary in the 2018 SEC Championship Game.
Confirmed: Jaylen Waddle is incredibly fast. pic.twitter.com/p6TgHkBVsa
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 1, 2018
Waddle was only a freshman at the time, but he finished with 113 receiving yards on just four catches combined. Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, two players who were just taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, had only 73 combined receiving yards in that game.
Waddle isn’t the only dynamic playmaker for Alabama though. They’ve also got Najee Harris, who is fresh off a five-touchdown game against Ole Miss this past weekend. He earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the performance.
“They’ve got one of, probably the best backs in the country if not one of the best backs in the country,” Smart said. “Najee [Harris] runs the ball really hard, and they are massive upfront. They can go up-tempo and they do tempo well, but they are really big, they can take shots down the field with explosive wideouts they have. They make you defend the entire field.”
Through the first three games of the season, Harris leads the SEC in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards.
It helps when you have the likes of offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and monster offensive line opening holes for you in the ground game. Smart made sure to praise that unit as well when speaking with reporters on Monday.
“It’s just a big group. They can swallow you up,” Smart said. “They can move you; they can mash you. [Alex] Leatherwood played against us in the national championship game. He came in and played, and I thought he played really well in that game for a freshman.
“They’ve got experience. It’s certainly a really good group of veteran offensive line guys that help them be successful offensively.”
That’s all before even mentioning the name Devonta Smith. Yes, the same Smith who caught the 2nd-and-26 pass from Tua Tagovailoa in the aforementioned national championship game to beat the Bulldogs. He’s still at Alabama and all he’s done this season is catch 27 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.
Not only do all those aforementioned players have big-time NFL futures — Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller had all four players pegged as potential top-20 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft — they all have experience in big games against Georgia. That will matter when the two teams meet on Saturday night.
So how can any team be expected to slow down such a potent offense? Well if there is any unit that could possibly be up to the task this season, it figures to be the Georgia defense.
“We have to make sure we take extra reps in the weight room, extra reps in the film room, extra reps on the field and just do everything right,” defensive tackle Jordan Davis said.
The Bulldogs have been perhaps the SEC’s only stout defensive unit so far to start the season. The Bulldogs have given up just 37 total points so far, with one of those touchdowns being the offense’s fault thanks due to a bad snap.
Georgia has given up just an average of 12.3 points per game so far, tops in the conference. The gap in points per game allowed between Georgia and the second-place SEC team is wider than the second-place team and the ninth-best team.
The Bulldogs also lead the conference in rushing defense and passing defense and sits second in sacks with 10.0 and turnovers forced with seven. Not only is it a stout group, it’s a destructive one as well. That hasn’t always been the case since Smart took over as the head coach in 2016.
It will be the best and most talented offense in the SEC going up against the best defense in the conference.
The Georgia defenders know this and what kind of task they have on Saturday.
“We’re going against some great wide receivers in Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith,” Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes said. “We have to be prepared to stop them just like had to do last week. We have to do anything and everything to slow them down.”
Stokes, like a number of Georgia defenders, played significant snaps in the 2018 loss to Alabama. So they do have first-hand knowledge of how good the likes of Waddle, Harris and Smith are.
But one key difference between this contest and those prior two is that Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts won’t be taking snaps at quarterback.
Instead, it will be Mac Jones. While he might not have the NFL ceiling that some of his teammates do, Jones has helped put up huge numbers so far as he’s thrown for 1,101 yards and eight touchdowns while just tossing a single interception.
“He’s a tremendous quarterback. We have to be on our P’s and Q’s. We cannot bust in the back end,” Stokes said. “I know for a fact we just have to watch film, do all the little things we’ve been doing.”
It’s worth noting that respect goes both ways between these two units. Harris was asked about facing the Georgia defense, which has given up an average of 38.33 yards per game and zero rushing touchdowns.
“They have a really amazing defense, one of the best in the nation,” Harris told reporters. “That should just motivate me more … because you know when you line up against them, it’s straight dudes out there.”
Smart too did add something positive about his defense after praising the Alabama offense.
“I thought in all three games they became more energized in the most important moments of the game in the second half,” Smart said. “They’ve increased the intensity and played really hard.”
When the Alabama offense takes on the Georgia defense, it will be the closest a college game will come to looking like an NFL game. There will be a lot of talent on both sides. And whichever manages to one-up the other, probably stands a really great chance of winning the game.
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
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- Georgia-Alabama Tale of the Tape: How Bulldogs and Tide stack up
- Possible Game time, TV channel announced for Georgia football-Kentucky game
- Georgia football beginning Alabama prep by looking back at Tennessee errors
- Georgia stock report: Super sophomores soar, buy-in alert on veteran
- Georgia football gains ground on Alabama in Week 6 AP and Coaches Poll
- Report Card: Georgia aces adjustments and defense in 44-21 win over Tennessee
- Kirby Smart updates Georgia football injuries, talks running back rotation
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