Gary Danielson: ‘Right now Georgia looks more like Alabama than Alabama’
A lot of people probably don’t realize that Gary Danielson actually began his broadcasting career even before he had finished playing football. He was a part-time anchor at WDIV-TV during the off-season while he was still playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions in the early 1980s. And he was co-hosting a sports-talk show in Cleveland when he went to play for the Browns after that.
The point is, he’s been at it for a long time.
Today, Danielson is best known for providing color commentary for CBS Sports’ telecast of the SEC national game of the week, which he has done alongside Verne Lundquist since 2006. That means he’ll be calling the game Saturday when No. 8 Georgia plays host to No. 13 Alabama. He also did the Bulldogs’ game against Vanderbilt on Sept 12th and he’ll do their game at Tennessee next week and the Florida game on Oct. 31 in Jacksonville.
So obviously CBS likes the Dogs and Danielson is going to see a lot of Georgia this season.
“Oh, yeah. Georgia, number one, is a national franchise,” Danielson said as relaxed at home in Bonita Springs, Fla., on Wednesday. “People like to watch them play football. They’ve got the star quality players, they’re undefeated, they’re playing a good football team, so we’re going to have them again. I look forward to watching them. I always have. They’re a good team to cover.”
Danielson hasn’t covered Alabama yet this season, but he has studied up hard on both the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs in preparation for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff. Following are some of his thoughts on what we might see in that 3:30 p.m. matchup:
Q: Well, let’s cut right to the chase. What do you expect from the matchup of Georgia’s run game versus Alabama’s run defense?
Danielson: “That’s where I’m starting on this game. These two teams in design and program-wise are really mirror images of each other. In fact, you probably could trade some of the players from Georgia’s defense to Alabama’s defense and they would be familiar enough in terminology and style that they could fit right in. Their roots are both in a Nick Saban defense and Jeremy Pruitt and Kirby Smart have built almost mirror-image defenses. And they both have great players. Georgia’s a little different because they have edge rushers that are kind of the face of their football team. Alabama’s is kind of up the middle with defensive tackles and inside linebackers. They both are playing similar styles.
“What jumps out at me is they’re both NFL-structured teams. Both have offensive coordinators with NFL roots in Brian (Schottenheimer) and Lane (Kiffin) and they begin their offense with the tailback and the quarterback. It most likely will be a third-down determining game. The style of this game will closely resemble an NFL-style football game.”
Q: You say you expect a third-down game. Do you think Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert and the Bulldogs are versatile enough on offense to have success on third down?
Danielson: “Everyone is zeroing in on Greyson’s competition this year, and that’s true. They haven’t played the greatest competition so far. However, Greyson didn’t wake up yesterday. He faced a comparable Florida State defense when he was at Virginia and he’s been roughed up and sacked and pressured and harassed by the best. I think that there’s nothing that Alabama is going to bring to the table that Greyson hasn’t seen before and hasn’t withstood before. He understands what it takes to play quarterback in a game like this.
“Another side of it, Alabama and their defense and their fans and their backers have always had excuses or an explanation for why the Alabama defense has had the ball moved on them. Either it was a hot quarterback or a dual quarterback or a scrambling quarterback or a spread quarterback. There was always a reason why Alabama couldn’t shut them down. This game, the pressure for Alabama is that there is going to be no excuses. The guy who gets the ball is seven yards behind the quarterback in the middle of the formation. The quarterback can’t run out of his shadow; they’ll know exactly where he is. It’s an offense Nick Saban prides himself on stopping. So it’s going to be right in front of them and we’ll see. And I don’t think Brian Schottenheimer is going to be surprised with anything he sees either. I think he understands with all his NFL experience how to protect his quarterback and run game by keeping that defensive off balance. So I think we’re going to have a real chess match.”
Q: Alabama already has a loss. Obviously another one will effectively knock it out of the playoff picture. How does the desperation factor play into this, in your opinion?
Danielson: “These are two elite coaching staffs and nobody grinds better than Georgia and Alabama. All the players that go to those schools understand what’s at stake. Their sights are set on playing in the SEC championship and making a threat to play in the playoff. Both squads are that way. There is going to be some talk about Georgia having been in this position before and not coming through and being so close in the SEC Championship. I don’t think any of that creates any unique pressure going into the game.
“But I do think for both teams, at the end of games, when they try to close, I do think those things start to creep into the minds of coaches and players. I just saw it with Tennessee twice. They cared so much about getting rid of that past history of not being able to win the big game against Oklahoma and trying to end the streak against Florida, I think players and coaches started looking at that end-of-game scenario and didn’t handle it well. And I can see the same thing happening with Alabama. It means so much to Alabama not to be the team that kind of ends their streak. At the end of games, that pressure starts to creep in. And Georgia doesn’t want to read in the papers afterward that they, quote-unquote, ‘Georgia’d it’ again and that they beat the teams they could but can’t beat the real competition. So, yes, I think it’s a factor. But at the end of games. And it’s not just players. It creeps in with play-calling, conservative decisions, questionable substitutions.”
Q: Maybe this is related, but it seems the Bulldogs have worked hard to downplay the magnitude of Saturday’s game by saying it’s just another game. Will that help them?
Danielson: “That’s not the case. It’s not just another game. They know it, the fans know it, the programs know it, the boosters know it, CBS knows it. This is what they signed up for. You go to N.C. State and nobody has that kind of pressure. You go to Georgia and you go to Alabama and this is what you sign up for.”
Q: What do you think it will come down to?
Danielson: “I think the two key players are (Georgia’s) Sony Michel and (Alabama’s) Kenyan Drake. Basically, they’re third-down backs. Both teams have a back they like to use to keep the defenses off-balance. Yes, the quarterback and the offensive line always have to play well and, yes, a corner can fall down and give up a cheap touchdown. But I think in the design of this game, if the coordinators are able to utilize they’re off backs it will be easier for Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb to be able to be effective in the game.
“But there are a ton of storylines. And remember, last time they played, Alabama was rubbing Georgia’s nose in it by playing physical football in the third and fourth quarter. They ran the ball left like 12 out of 15 times and Georgia could not take the physical play of Alabama. But Alabama couldn’t close it. At the end of the game, Aaron Murray brought them down and it was almost one of those games where they stole it from Alabama. I thought they should have won the game pretty handily. I think this has the makings of one of those really good decision football games that we were used to seeing in the 80’s and 90’s. This will be different from the modern game of spread football where whoever has the ball last wins.”
Q: What’s your opinion of quarterback Jake Coker and the Alabama offense under Lane Kiffin?
Danielson: “It is a little bit of Lane’s style to try to probe and finesse and get his offense in the best play possible for what he sees. That’s a little bit different than Alabama used to be where they’d dare you to stop them. There may be a couple of reasons for that. They don’t have the best blocking tight ends. They worry about certain aspects of their offensive line. I am surprised they haven’t gone back a little bit more of the ground-and-pound and then finesse off of that. I actually think right now Georgia looks more like Alabama’s style than Alabama.”
Q: Who do you think is going to win?
A: “Obviously I don’t know. I don’t know what Alabama says if they don’t win this game. Georgia you could say ‘we’ve got a new quarterback and we’re still transitioning.’ But Alabama was built to beat the type of offense that Georgia is playing. They believe they have one of the best defenses they’ve had in a long time. If Georgia moves the ball on them, I think this will be a big turning point for Alabama. I don’t know who’s going to win, but I love that I don’t know who’s going to win. We get games like this because they seem pretty even, and they seem pretty even to me.”