TUSCALOOSA, ALA. — If Nick Chubb gets his 13th straight 100 yard rushing game Saturday against Alabama, he will have earned every inch, and Herschel Walker himself should hand Chubb some sort of oversized championship belt at midfield.
Running against Alabama is like, well, swimming against the (lower case) tide. That team is like the marshal at Augusta National or the lifeguard at the neighborhood pool in its fanatical enforcement of a strict no-running policy.
Chubb’s pursuit of Walker’s consecutive 100 yard game record is a footnote to the larger storyline that figures to be decisive: Georgia’s well-stocked running game vs. Alabama’s deep and determined front seven.
Crimson Tide linebacker Reggie Ragland wished Chubb all the luck in the world (not really). “If that’s one of his goals, I hope he gets his goal,” he said, “but it’s going to be very tough against our front. If he gets it, he gets it. If he don’t, he don’t.”
What we have here is a very simple confrontation, the kind of clash of strengths that makes for easy armchair analysis and some of the most watchable kind of collision sport.
The Alabama defense certainly is not complaining.
“I think we really like that — going back to the basics, really, is what I think this game is going to be all about,” Crimson Tide and former Buford linebacker Dillon Lee said. “They got great running backs, a seasoned offensive line, they are going to be running the ball a lot.
“We’re going to go back to playing blocks, getting off blocks, running to the ball and tackling. Tackling is a big point of emphasis this week because their backs are powerful and break a lot of tackles.”
Alabama this season, even in its loss, has yet to allow triple digits rushing to any team, let alone individual. Only 10 opposing runners have cracked 100 yards against ‘Bama in the eight-plus seasons since Nick Saban left the NFL in pursuit of fame and his own statue in west-central Alabama.
Against Georgia’s 14th-best rushing attack in the nation (258 yards per game) Alabama will hurl the sixth best rushing defense (57 yards a game).
Numbers like that practically ensure a pandemic of welts and bruises later. “It’s going to be a very physical game and we’re going to be ready for it,” Ragland said.
Before the first tackle this season, Alabama was being measured for an extra stout defense. It had five returning starters among the front seven, and a wealth of other thick bodies to plug in as needed. This has bred a certain sense of conviction throughout all levels of the D.
“I have the utmost confidence in our front seven; it goes without saying how good they are,” cornerback Cyrus Jones said. “We just have to be ready to go out and play. We can’t make this more than what it is. It’s a football game, we have to go out there and execute. And match their physicality.”
The Crimson Tide is counting on the fact that it can match the waves of Georgia runners with its own kind of Lego-like interchangeability along the defensive front. Of course, it’s the Bulldogs’ desire to wear out defenses with the firm of Chubb, Michel, Marshall and Douglas. And it’s Alabama’s hope to rotate in enough fresh human speed bumps to counter.
Preparing for a rushing attack like Georgia’s has Alabama savoring a good, old-fashioned battle of wills.
You know, get back to the basics, the three Rs: Readin’, Reactin’, ‘Reckin’ the run.
Practicing every day against its own offensive line should give Alabama some taste for the work to be done Saturday.
“I think we have a pretty good matchup against them because our offensive line is pretty aggressive and they come off and try to knock us out every day,” said defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson, a Henry County fellow who crossed state lines. “I think we’re going to have a great matchup against the offensive line. Our defensive front, we like the physical-ness. We don’t like all the elusiveness, we like being physical throughout the game.”
It was Tomlinson who summed up what he had seen to date of the Georgia attack thusly: “Pretty aggressive, they come off the ball aggressively trying to knock the defensive line’s head off, pretty much.”
Not a pretty picture, but no one is expecting this game to be a fruit and flowers still life.