ATLANTA — The most important game in decades for the Georgia football program kicks off at 8:17 p.m. The national championship. Alabama. In the lead-up to the game, check here for updates, analysis and observations as the two teams prepare to square off.
Taking awhile …
For fans to get inside the stadium. Most of the seats are unfilled with 36 minutes until kickoff.
There are many reports from outside the stadium of long lines and people being prevented from getting in because of security related to the presidential visit.
Georgia stars aligned
Name a big-name former Georgia player and it’s likely he’s here.
Todd Gurley, A.J. Green, Matt Stafford, Hines Ward and Herschel Walker have all been spotted on the sideline.
As expected, the sophomore tight end will miss the game. Woerner was listed as very doubtful by Kirby Smart on Saturday, and Woerner is still on crutches and not dressed out as the team takes the field 50 minutes before kickoff.
The Georgia inside linebacker will not play in the game, but he is on Georgia’s sideline, wearing gray warm-ups, according to DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell. It’s the first sighting of Patrick since he entered substance treatment last month.
Georgia postgame plans
Win or lose, the Bulldogs will be remaining in Atlanta tonight, with plans to return to Athens on Tuesday morning. What time they return may depend on the outcome of the game.
If Georgia wins, Kirby Smart and two players will appear at a press conference in Atlanta on Tuesday at 9 a.m. That’s the standard procedure for the national champion.
All gates open, after …
A an apparent delay in opening all of them, creating a backlog of fans, based on social media and other reports from outside the stadium.
That must be just lovely, on a cold and rainy day.
There are a lot of empty seats as I look out at the stadium with 72 minutes until kickoff. That assuredly will change soon.
Springing a leak
The roof at Mercedes-Benz Field is leaking, as I and others noticed while down on the field a couple hours before the game. It’s not a gusher, but it’s definitely a steady set of drops, landing around the 21-yard line near the end zone that says Georgia. It’s about halfway across the field.
It’s hard to tell if it’s creating any sort of dampness created by it. Georgia receivers were running drills in pregame warm-ups and nobody was slipping. Mecole Hardman went over and stepped down on what appeared to be the spot where the drops were landing. He said something to Kenneth Towns, the student assistant who works with receivers, then moved on.
At one point Georgia operations director Josh Lee came out to inspect the area with a College Football Playoff official. Kevin Butler, who had noticed the leak during Cam Nizialek’s punting warmups, pointed to the spot. Lee and the CFB official briefly inspected the situation and then got on their phones.
The former Georgia cornerback is uniquely qualified to analyze the match-up, having spent the 2013-15 seasons at Alabama before following Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker to Athens.
Smith is in town for the game, and will be in the stands. But whose colors will he be wearing? Neither.
Here’s a story on Smith’s divided loyalties and how he’s handling it.
An overrated stat?
It’s been mentioned often in the past week that Nick Saban is 11-0 against his former assistants. So does that bode badly for Kirby Smart and Georgia tonight?
As Saban and Smart have both pointed out, Alabama’s been favored in all of those games, which have tended to feature head coaches trying to build programs, whereas Saban has been coaching his powerhouse team.
That included three wins over Derek Dooley at Tennessee, one win over Jim McElwain when he was at Colorado State, and two when McElwain was at Florida (both in the SEC championship), and two wins over Will Muschamp at Florida.
There were only really two games that would seem to be a bit more evenly-matched heading into it: The Citrus Bowl in 2011, when Alabama entered only 9-3 and ended up throttling the Mark Dantonio-coached Michigan State, 49-7, and the Florida State game earlier this season, when Saban beat Jimbo Fisher’s team, 24-7. But that FSU team also ended up going 7-6 (after losing its starting quarterback in the fourth quarter of the Alabama game.)
So generally Alabama should have won those games. It’s not like there was some secret juice that Saban used to spring a surprise over his proteges.
But one thing that does back up the narrative is that those games weren’t close: When Alabama beat Florida in last year’s SEC championship, it was 54-16. That win over Michigan State was lopsided. In fact, if Georgia even keeps the game within single digits, that will be a first for Saban against a former assistant.
That said, all the evidence would point to this being the most closely-matched such game for Saban. A theory behind why Saban has so dominated his former assistants is they’ve tried to build their teams the same way: Physical teams that win with defense and a strong running game. And when two teams with similar styles meet, then talent wins out. And Alabama has always been more talented than those teams.
It’s not every game that the Secret Service is handling the security gate, but it’s not every game that the President of the United States is expected to attend. Media members, as well as fans and others with the team, were encouraged to get to the stadium early. So this reporter was among many who got on a 2 p.m. media shuttle, arriving just over five hours away from kickoff.
The weather around the stadium could also lead to some congestion. But public institutions around Atlanta, whether it be schools or the government, are tending to close early, so that could alleviate any potential bottlenecks trying to get in.
It will be a crew from the Big Ten that will call this game. The referee is Dan Capron, who a quick Google search shows headed a crew that last year ticked off Jim Harbaugh, but that doesn’t necessarily make him unique.
It appears that if Georgia wins that will benefit the casinos in Las Vegas.
The heavy money is being put on Alabama, based on reports. David Payne Purdum, a gambling expert, tweeted on Monday afternoon that 65 percent of the bets at Caesars Palace and 54 percent of the money is going on Alabama. Purdum also reported that six of the seven largest bets as of Monday morning were on Alabama.