ATHENS — Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has seen this Alabama defense up close before, and there have been hours of film study ever since that last meeting on Dec. 4.
“They’re going to be a great team, just like they were the first time,” Bennett said. “I think the key to it is who comes out and executes better. Like I said after that game, I thought I played all right in the SEC Championship Game.
“I made a few mistakes that you can’t do against a good team.”
It’s Pete Golding’s job to make sure Bennett makes a few more when the teams meet at 8 p.m. on Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in the CFP Championship Game.
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The Alabama defensive coordinator shared that the plan is to confuse Bennett, like Nick Saban indicated the Tide did last time, by “changing the picture” on him.
“The big thing is, in any quarterback, what they see is not what they need to get every snap,” Golding said this week. “And I think you’re trying to make him make the decision of what coverage it is, what front is it, what pressure is it once he’s got the ball in his hand.”
Golding made it clear Georgia presents a lot of challenges, especially with a talent like Brock Bowers at tight end.
“They got a lot of weapons at a lot of different spots that create some matchup issues,” Golding said. “They’re going to move this tight end around and try to create the matchups they want with him. They’ve got really good backs that are an issue covering out of the backfield.
“You’ve got to pick your poison sometimes. You’re not going to get everybody doubled or the person you want on them based on their formation. Our guys will have to cover well and play well.”
That was key in the SEC Championship Game, as Alabama safety Jordan Battle recorded one of the Tide’s two second-half picks, returning his for a pivotal touchdown.
“I think the main thing in this game was our disguises; we put in a lot of disguises this week,” Battle said. “That was the big thing. Just have his eyes wandering around before the play.
“I think we did a good job on the back end and linebackers stemming and disguising. So I think that was a big part of the game.”
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Saban said much of the same.
“I think that you try to change the picture as much as you can, and make the quarterback try to make decisions after he gets the ball in his hand,” Saban said.
“Pass rush always helps you. If you get a good pass rush. We affected him in the pocket. He scrambled some, which is -- you hate, but you’re also affecting a guy when you do that because you’re not throwing the ball on time.”
Alabama, like Georgia, makes its first priority stopping the run.
The Bulldogs had 109 yards on 30 carries in the last meeting, the longest run a 14-yard scramble from Bennett.
The Tide and Bulldogs are very close in the run defense statistics. Georgia allows 81.4 yards per game and 2.65 yards per carry, and Alabama gives up an average of 82.1 yards per game and 2.53 yards per carry.
Golding explained how important the Bulldogs’ run game is to Kirby Smart’s offense.
“Their shot plays and their priority passing game come off the run plays,” Golding said. “So they challenge you from an eye-control standpoint.
“That’s going to look like run, and I’ve got to see my secondary key because it’s going to be the same look, and then out here is the shot play off of it.”
Alabama was successful against Georgia in the last meeting, particularly in the second half, because of its ability to put the Bulldogs in obvious pass situations.
Five times, the Bulldogs faced third-and-7 or longer in the second half, scoring just 7 points on six drives over the last 30 minutes.
“You’ve got to be able to try to take the run game away, (and) I think that’s hard to do versus these guys, but you’ve got to eliminate the explosives,” Golding said. “You’ve got to make them drive the field. We’ve got to create some turnovers. We’ve got to play really well. Critical situations in the game, being third down, which was a big piece of this game last time.
“And win the turnover battle. I think that was a big piece to this game last time as well with the interceptions.”