Friday, November 30, 2018

Finally, a real test for Alabama

300px-Alabama_Crimson_Tide_logo

The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 11-game streak of wins by 20 or more points could come to an end Saturday.

No team in the history of football as we know it has done this. The last time it happened (Yale, 1888), neither the forward pass nor the football helmet had been invented. The streak is in serious jeopardy, and the team that threatens to derail Alabama’s train to the title is the same one that Bama hadn’t led through four quarters of last year’s College Football Playoff championship game.

Both the Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs have seen roster changes since January 2018. The most notable change has been at QB for Alabama. Heisman shoo-in Tua Tagovailoa took over at halftime against UGA last time, but now he’s had a jaw-droppingly good season with more 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-, 60- and yes 70-yard passes than anyone else. He’s had more touchdown passes than incompletions in more games than anyone else on the planet. He reads defenses like Evelyn Wood read Dr. Seuss books and he’s as deadly running the ball as he is throwing it.

UGA has reloaded on a defense that sacked Tua last January and created the now Glorious 2nd and 26.  The strength of the Bulldog defense is the linebacking corps in Kirby Smart’s Sabanesque 3-4 over/under scheme. This defense will attempt to do the same thing LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn tried to do: get pressure on Tua, make him throw a second or so before he wants to and try to pick up a turnover here or there.

Offensively, QB Jake Fromm is a year older and better. He’s not Tua, but he has two very good running backs in Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift. These are guys that could legit start for Bama. And, he’s still got the “other Ridley,” Riley. Georgia has a fine football team that has shamed many good opponents and lost only to an LSU team that played way over its pay grade for one day.

Alabama’s defense is still getting better each week and looks like there’s still room to grow. A lot of speculation rumbles about LB Terrell Lewis returning, but even if he does play (I’ll be mildly surprised if he does), his time away from big-time college football will limit his impact. At the start of the season, the Tide defense lacked only experience. That box has been checked. Bama is at or near the top in every defensive statistic. The team is hard to run on consistently and the secondary has grown into an elite unit.

What gives Bama the edge is a solid and tested offensive line that is just a bit better than UGA’s defensive front, and a defensive front of its own that is at worst a tossup against UGA’s blocking crew.

That, and Nick Saban, who is winning his way into becoming the best college football coach ever.

As this is being posted, Alabama is about a 12 point favorite. I think this will be a good game through mid 4th quarter, with Bama icing it with a late TD.

Alabama 35, Georgia 17

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