Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is pretty clearly concerned about how Alabama’s offensive line might look on Saturday. He’s made reference to the group multiple times during the week and often praised them.
Certainly more so than how he spoke of the much-hyped Tennessee unit that Georgia tormented a week ago.
“It’s just a big group. They can swallow you up,” Smart said. “They can move you; they can mash you. They’ve got experience. It’s certainly a really good group of veteran offensive line guys that help them be successful offensively.”
The Bulldogs do have one counter though for the size in massive nose tackle Jordan Davis. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound defensive tackle should have no problem holding his own. There’s a reason he’s First Team All-SEC after all.
Davis isn’t adding any extra hype to the game this weekend, as he knows each contest presents its own difficulties.
“I always take into consideration on how well they’re coached, how they push and it’s an amazing challenge,” Davis said. “Every game is a business trip, so I want to focus on us this week, going to Alabama and doing our thing.”
Davis is a big reason the Bulldogs have held teams to 38 rushing yards per game, by far the top mark in the SEC.
Smart and company are confident in the Georgia defense as it readies to face Najee Harris, the league’s leading rusher. But the Georgia head coach wishes he had a few more players of Davis’ massive size to match-up against the Crimson Tide front.
“If I had about three Jordan Davises, I’d feel a lot better, because we need to be able to match up with [Alabama players] Evan Neal and [Alex] Leatherwood and all the big guys they’ve got,” Smart said. “But we’ve got some guys who will go in there and fight, and we’ve got some depth, so going to try and use those guys all we can.”
Some of those guys include the likes of Malik Herring, Travon Walker and Devonte Wyatt. Slowing the Alabama ground game could go a long way to determining the winner on Saturday.
And if Davis plays as big as his size, he’ll go a long way in helping Georgia’s chances.
“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,” Davis said.
Quarterback: This weekend will obviously be a huge test for quarterback Stetson Bennett IV.
He’s done everything that’s been asked of him to this point, leading Georgia to 20-point wins over Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee.
But beating Alabama would elevate Bennett to another level. If he’s able to do so, it would be something that neither Jake Fromm or Aaron Murray were able to do in their successful Georgia careers.
Bennett has already been a great story for the Bulldogs. Winning against Alabama would turn him into a borderline great player for Georgia
Running back: Georgia’s running backs aren’t just getting it done on offense, they’re also playing a big role on special teams for Georgia.
Last week, we wrote about Zamir White continuing to make positive plays across a variety of special teams units for Georgia. But the running back gaining far more attention for his special teams play is Kenny McIntosh.
McIntosh has been a full-blown weapon for Georgia when he’s returned kicks. He’s returned four so far this season. The shortest return he’s had came in the Auburn game, when he got 38 yards. At the moment, he ranks third in the country in average kickoff return with 42.75 yards per return.
“I feel like kickoff is a lot more space and I just run with my eyes. I see the hole and I hit,” McIntosh said. “I feel like running between the hedges, you know you got to stay low and drop your knees. You have to expect contact running between the hedges. That is the difference for me.”
Special teams play will likely loom large on Saturday, due in part to the man directing them for Georgia. Scott Cochran will be returning to Tuscaloosa, Ala., after serving as the school’s long-time strength and conditioning coordinator.
So far this season, Smart has been impressed by what the first-time on-field coach has brought to the team.
“I like Scott [Cochran]’s energy, his enthusiasm. He does a good job in his meetings,” Smart said. “The kids enjoy playing hard for Scott. Scott has a lot of assistance in terms of decision making and scheme. We have good players. The commitment to playing good players on special teams is a big part of being successful at it.”
Wide receiver: When Georgia lost wide receiver Dominick Blaylock to a preseason ACL injury, many wondered who would step-up at wide receiver.
Through three games this season, Kearis Jackson has just 10 fewer receiving yards than Blaylock had in the entire 2019 season.
Jackson has had his own injury struggles. to get to this point. But now healthy, he’s finally showing the ability he always believed he had.
“I I never have had so many injuries before in my life until I got here,” Jackson said. “It was just something that was new to me but I was able to fight through adversity and was able to respond the way I have and just knew that I wanted this opportunity at Georgia. I just wanted to ball and be able to show my skills.”
In addition to his 19 catches for 300 receiving yards, Jackson has also played a key role on special teams. And Smart gave Jackson some high praise for his role as Georgia’s punt returner and helping them the team’s field position by some heady play.
“I was proud of Kearis [Jackson]. He fielded three balls that would have rolled for 20 more yards, and we lost ground on punt return,” Smart said. “What they will never show is he gained 20 yards by fielding the punt on the bounce. He did it three times, and we dropped—no telling how far in punt return rankings, but I was extremely pleased that he did it.”
Tight end: Tre McKitty made his debut last Saturday against Tennessee. He finished the game with two catches for 47 yards, showing some of the playmaking ability that made him such a key addition to the Georgia roster.
McKitty met with the media on Monday. He revealed that he spoke with former Georgia wide receiver Lawrence Cager — who himself was a graduate transfer — before making the decision to come to Georgia.
McKitty went on to explain why he ended up picking Georgia the second time around.
“I always liked Georgia growing up [and] took an official here coming out of high school and just wasn’t the time then, but everything happens for a reason,” McKitty said. “I came into the portal at the beginning of this year and had some great conversations with Coach Smart and Coach Hartley, and I knew Coach Monken was coming in with the NFL style offense, and it was something I wanted to be a part of.”
Offensive line: The Alabama defense did not have a great outing last week as it gave u 48 points to Ole Miss.
While Matt Corral had a great day for the Rebels, perhaps what was most concerning was how Alabama’s rush defense played. The Rebels had multiple running backs finish with over 100 rushing yards and on the day, the team rolled up 268 yards and four rushing touchdowns against Alabama.
But Georgia isn’t expecting to have it that easy on Saturday. For one, Smart doesn’t expect to play at the same pace that Ole Miss did. That’s due in part to the way Lane Kiffin runs his team.
The Alabama run defense didn’t play well last week, but it is still stocked with former blue-chip recruits. And because of that, offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer is expecting a challenge on Saturday.
“Big, athletic guys just like us. They play a physical brand of football. [Georgia and Alabama] are two very similar programs,” Salyer said. “They get after it, we get after it, so it’ll be fun to see that competition.”
Outside linebacker: The Georgia pass rush has been much improved so far this season, with the Bulldogs racking up 10 sacks in the first three games.
The Bulldogs have also gotten big production from multiple outside linebackers. So far this season, Azeez OJulari, Adam Anderson, Nolan Smith and Channing Tindall all have multi-sack games for Georgia.
Because Georgia has such great depth at the position, it makes things difficult for opposing offenses to key in on just one player.
“It’s not like we have one dominant player. Azeez [Ojulari] has done a good job to put himself in that position,” Smart said. “There’s one on ones up there that is usually two or three one on ones at each third down or pass rush situation. You have to try and win more of those than you lose so you can get pressure.”
Georgia is also expected to get Jermaine Johnson back for this game on Saturday. The senior outside linebacker has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury. He will play a big role in making things difficult for Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
Inside linebacker: In all likelihood, Georgia is probably going to face the best running back it will see all season on Saturday in Harris.
Harris had a monster day against Ole Miss, as he racked up 248 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. Through three games, he leads the conference in rushing and is perhaps Alabama’s best weapon.
“He is fast, physical, receives the ball well out of the backfield—it makes it much harder to defend,” Smart said. “Najee creates an issue because he is hard to tackle. They get him in space. If they are successful with Najee, it makes it really easy on the quarterback in terms of play-action game.”
Given how Georgia likes to have its linebackers make plays, much will fall on the likes of Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker in this game. Especially now since starting linebacker Monty Rice is a game-time decision due to a lower leg injury. If Georgia’s inside linebackers are able to limit what Harris does in both the run and passing game, that will greatly help the Bulldogs.
Related: The latest on Monty Rice
Since the start of the 2017 season, Georgia is 29-0 when giving less than 130 yards rushing. When an opposing team goes over that mark, Georgia is just 10-7.
Defensive back: Much like how Harris might be the best running back Georgia sees on Saturday, Georgia might also see the best wide receiver it will see all season suit up for the Crimson Tide.
This would be Jaylen Waddle. He was Alabama’s leading receiver the last time these two teams met, as he had 113 yards on four catches. In 2020, he ranks third in the SEC in receiving yards with 396 on 19 receptions.
He is as dynamic and electric as I have seen. He touches the ball—you can see it on tape—it pops off,” Smart said of Waddle. “They give him touches, every way you can. 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 tough. He runs the ball tough. He is physical.
“There are a lot of challenges there for us with him. He creates a lot of issues.”
One of the defenders who will be tasked with slowing Waddle is Eric Stokes. He’s gotten off to a strong start this year, as he’s recorded an interception in two of Georgia’s first three games.
He played well against Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship Game and is looking forward to the opportunity to play well again on Saturday.
“We’re going against some great wide receivers in Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith,” 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.”
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- Numbers game: Georgia offense on schedule, but not up to pace
- Riley: What the Alabama-Georgia football game means to me
- WATCH: Examining the impact of Nick Saban’s potential absence for Georgia-Alabama
- DawgNation Happy Hour: UGA fans debate how Nick Saban’s coronavirus news impacts Saturday showdown
- Amarius Mims: The 2021 class weighs in on how big that 5-star commitment was for Georgia
- Georgia-Alabama: Game Time, TV Channel, odds, how to watch for Week 7 game
- 5 questions with Alabama beat writer, where Tide is most susceptible
- Everything we know about the status of Georgia-Alabama following Nick Saban’s positive COVID-19 test
- Social media reacts to Georgia football landing 5-star offensive tackle Amarius Mims
- What Georgia football is getting in 5-star OT Amarius Mims
- Andrew Thomas catch and conversion leads top moments for former Bulldogs in the NFL