Alabama vs. Georgia
January 7, 2018
By Brian Edwards
Alabama is in the College Football Playoff finals for the third consecutive season. Nick Saban’s dynastic run at the storied program continued with last week’s revenge win over Clemson in the semifinals, setting up a showdown with SEC rival Georgia that could net the Crimson Tide a fifth national championship in Saban’s 11-year tenure.
As of Sunday afternoon, most betting shops had Alabama (12-1 straight up, 6-7 against the spread) installed as a four-point favorite, although there were a number of 3.5’s available as well. The total was 45 and UGA was +160 on the money line (risk $100 to win $160).
The All-SEC finals will fittingly take place in Atlanta at the new Mercedes-Benz Dome, the same location where Alabama started its season with a 24-7 victory over then-third-ranked Florida State. Kickoff is scheduled for Monday night at 8:10 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
Alabama avenged last season’s last-second loss to Clemson in the CFP finals by smothering the Tigers in a 24-6 victory as a 3.5-point favorite at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans this past Monday night. The Crimson Tide’s defense dominated from start to finish, limiting Clemson to 188 yards of total offense while also forcing two turnovers.
Mack Wilson’s 18-yard pick-six with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter extended Alabama’s lead to 24-6 and basically put the game on ice with more than 20 minutes left. Da’Ron Payne’s interception of Kelly Bryant that he returned for 21 yards set ‘Bama up for a short TD drive in the third quarter. Payne, playing fullback in a goal-line package, scored the TD himself on a one-yard catch from sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Hurts completed 16-of-24 passes for 120 yards and two TDs without an interception. He also rushed for 40 yards on 11 attempts. Damien Harris ran 19 times for 77 yards, while Calvin Ridley had four receptions for 39 yards, including a 12-yard TD grab that gave the Tide a 10-0 advantage late in the opening stanza.
‘Bama senior LB Rashaan Evans had nine tackles, one sack and one pass broken up against Clemson. Raekwon Davis recorded five tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss.
Alabama is ranked No.1 in the nation in total defense, run defense and scoring ‘D,’ limiting opponents to an average of 11.1 points per game. The Tide is third in the country in pass defense. Only Auburn (26), Mississippi State (24) and Colorado State (23) produced a point total in the 20s.
Junior safety Ronnie Harrison has contributed 70 tackles, three interceptions, four PBU, 2.5 sacks and one TFL. Evans has 66 tackles, six sacks, 5.5 TFL’s, one forced fumble, three PBU and seven QB hurries. Davis has a team-best 7.5 sacks, while Wilson has a team-high four interceptions. Junior safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is a future first-round pick who has 55 tackles, eight PBU, one interception, 1.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL’s, three QB hurries, one forced fumble and one blocked kick.
Hurts has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 2,125 yards with a stellar 17/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Hurts has also rushed for 808 yards and eight TDs, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Harris has a team-high 983 rushing yards, 11 TDs and a 7.6 YPC average. Bo Scarbrough has run for 573 yards and eight TDs while averaging 4.8 YPC.
Ridley might be the nation’s best receiver. He has 59 receptions for 935 yards and four TDs. Henry Ruggs III has nine catches for 200 yards and a team-best five TDs.
Alabama has been a single-digit ‘chalk’ three times this year, compiling a 2-1 record both SU and ATS. The Tide beat FSU and Clemson as a single-digit favorite and took its only defeat at Auburn (26-14) in the regular-season finale at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Already without LBs Dylan Moses and Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama lost two more starters to injuries in the win over Clemson. LB Anfernee Jennings and offensive guard Lester Cotton are ‘out’ vs. UGA. Jennings had five tackles, one sack and two TFL’s against the Tigers. For the season, he had 41 tackles, one sack, five TFL’s, two forced fumbles, four QB hurries and a pair of PBU. Also, reserve RB and key special-teams player Joshua Jacobs is listed as ‘questionable’ with a hamstring injury. Jacbos has 276 rushing yards, a 6.4 YPC average, 14 catches for 168 yards and three TDs (one rushing, two receiving).
Georgia (13-1 SU, 10-4 ATS) fans haven’t tasted a ‘natty’ since Herschel Walker led the Bulldogs to the 1980 championship. UGA beat Notre Dame by a 17-10 count in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1981 to win the title.
But in Year 2 under Kirby Smart, the former UGA player out of Bainbridge, GA, has the Bulldogs on the cusp of winning it all. During its 38-year drought without a national championship, UGA has seen five other SEC schools win rings. Georgia will seek to become the sixth SEC school to win a ‘natty’ since Tennessee won one by beating FSU at the Fiesta Bowl in January of 1999.
Smart’s team advanced to the finals with an epic double-overtime victory over Oklahoma at this past Monday’s Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It was an Instant Classic, one that definitely ranks in my Top 10 and perhaps my Top Five of greatest college football games in my lifetime.
Lincoln Riley’s offensive play calling in the first half was spectacular. When Baker Mayfield caught a two-yard TD pass from CeeDee Lamb on a trick play with six ticks left in the second quarter, Oklahoma had a 31-14 lead and all the momentum going into halftime.
However, Riley called for a squib kick that was disastrous, going only 12 yards to give UGA the ball at OU’s 47. Jake Fromm hit Terry Godwin for a quick nine-yard completion to set up Rodrigo Blankenship for a 55-yard field goal that was good. Therefore, Georgia got a gift three points, trimmed the deficit from three possessions to two and thwarted OU’s momentum.
Trailing by 14 at intermission, oddsmakers made UGA a three-point ‘chalk’ for second-half wagers. I jumped all over this to get the Bulldogs at +11 adjusted. Georgia forced a quick three and out and on its first offensive play from scrimmage in the second half, Nick Chubb busted a 50-yard TD run to make it 31-24.
On OU’s next possession, UGA got back-to-back sacks of Mayfield by Jonathan Ledbetter and D’Andre Walker to force a punt. Then the Bulldogs marched 71 yards on six plays with Sony Michel tying the game with a 38-yard TD run. Three plays later, Dominick Sanders intercepted Mayfield and returned the pick 39 yards to give his team first and goal at the OU four. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Fromm found Javon Wims on a four-yard scoring strike to give UGA a 38-31 lead.
Both teams traded three and outs to set OU up at its own 12 with 10:30 remaining. The Sooners went 88 yards to paydirt on six plays that took less than two minutes. The drive was triggered by Mayfield’s 22-yard run and a 36-yard pass to Lamb. On second and six from the UGA 11, Mayfield hit Dimitri Flowers for a TD pass to pull even at 38-38.
With UGA on the move at its own 46 on the ensuing drive, Michel coughed up a fumble that Steven Parker scooped up and raced 46 yards into the end zone. Next, Georgia went three and out and appeared to be in trouble when OU took over at its own 23 with 5:00 left. But the Bulldogs ‘D’ stepped up for a huge three and out, stuffing Rodney Anderson’s run for no gain on a third-and-three play.
With all three timeouts remaining, Smart inexplicably took his first with 3:22 remaining. I first guessed this baffling decision at the time and it nearly proved to be costly. That’s because Georgia indeed executed a game-tying scoring drive, but it left 55 seconds on the clock for Mayfield and Co. to respond. Chubb provided the tying score on a two-yard TD dash two plays after Fromm connected with Godwin on a 16-yard pass on third and 10.
With the score knotted at 45-45, Mayfield found Marquise Brown for a 12-yard pass and a first down to the OU 37. After an incompletion, Anderson ran eight yards to the 45 and the Sooners burned a timeout with 29 ticks remaining. But on third and two, Mayfield threw incomplete to Anderson. OU punted and UGA kneeled on it to send the game to OT.
In the first extra session, both teams traded field goals. With OU getting the ball to start double OT, it earned a first down and advanced to UGA’s 15 when the Bulldogs jumped offsides on third and five. But the Sooners came up five yards short of the marker on a 3rd and 12 play, so they settled for a 27-yard FG attempt by Austin Seibert, who missed.
After D’Andre Swift lost two yards on a first-down run, Michel busted off tackle left for a 27-yard game-winning TD to lift Georgia to a 54-48 win for the ages. Michel finished with 181 rushing yards and three TDs on just 11 carries, while Chubb ran for 145 yards and two TDs on 14 attempts. Fromm completed 20-of-29 throws for 210 yards and two TDs without an interception. Wims had six receptions for 73 yards and one TD, while Godwin had five catches for 51 yards. Michel also had four grabs for 41 yards and one TD.
Smart made outstanding halftime adjustments defensively. Roquan Smith played great in the final 30 minutes, finishing the game with 11 tackles and one TFL.
Smith is a force on the UGA defense. The first-team All-SEC selection has 124 tackles, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble, eight QB hurries, two PBU, 5.5 sacks and six TFL’s. Walker also had 5.5 sacks and eight TFL’s. Senior LB Lorenzo Carter has produced 57 tackles, 4.5 sacks, three TFL’s, nine QB hurries, three forced fumbles and one blocked kick.
Georgia is ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, eighth in pass defense, 20th in run defense and fifth in scoring ‘D,’ limiting foes to an average of 15.7 PPG. As for the offense, the Bulldogs are eighth in the nation in rushing yards and 17th in scoring with a 36.3 PPG average.
Fromm became the starter early in the first quarter of the season opener when returning sophomore starter Jacob Eason sustained a sprained knee. The true freshman has completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 2,383 yards with a 23/5 TD-INT ratio. Wims is his favorite target, hauling in 44 receptions for 704 yards and seven TDs. Godwin has 34 catches for 591 and six TDs, while Swift has 15 grabs for 146 yards and one TD.
Chubb (6.4 YPC) has 1,320 rushing yards and 15 TDs, while Michel has rushed for 1,129 yards and six TDs with an eye-popping 8.0 YPC average. Swift, a true freshman, has 603 rushing yards for three TDs with a 7.8 YPC average.
UGA won its first nine games with eight of those victories coming by margins of 14 points or more. However, the unbeaten record was destroyed on the Plains where Auburn won a 40-17 decision as a 2.5-point home underdog. The Bulldogs responded with back-to-back blowout wins vs. Kentucky (42-13) and at Georgia Tech (38-7) to set up a rematch with Auburn at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta at the same venue where Monday’s game will take place.
They say that revenge is a dish best served cold but for UGA, it tasted great when it was only three weeks old. The Bulldogs scored 28 unanswered points in the final three quarters to coast to a 28-7 win over AU as two-point favorites. Fromm threw a pair of TD passes without an interception against the Tigers. In the last six games, Fromm has 10 TD passes compared to only one interception.
The 45-point total is tied for the second-lowest that Alabama has seen this year. The ‘under’ has cashed in three straight games to improve to 8-5 overall in the Tide’s games, which have averaged combined scores of 49.0 PPG. The ‘under’ has hit at a 6-2 clip in Alabama’s past eight outings.
The ‘under’ is 8-6 overall for UGA, but the ‘over’ is on a 6-3 roll in its last nine outings. This will be the fourth-lowest total for the Bulldogs this season if the number stays at 45. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 52.0 PPG.
These teams have only faced each other three times since 2008 and four times since Saban took over in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has won three in a row over UGA, going 2-1 ATS in those three encounters. The Tide blasted Georgia 38-10 in a 2015 meeting in Athens. In the 2012 SEC Championship Game, Alabama held on for a 32-28 win thanks to a late interception, but the Bulldogs covered the number as eight-point underdogs.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- The interception thrown by Aaron Murray in the final seconds of the 2012 loss to Alabama came after former coach Mark Richt made perhaps the most inexplicable clock-management decision in college football history. Murray had completed a long pass to give UGA the ball at about the Alabama 10 yard line with 15 seconds left. Without a timeout remaining, this is a no-brainer decision to immediately spike the ball. However, as Murray sprinted to the line of scrimmage looking at the sidelines while motioning that he about to spike it, Richt waved off that notion and told him to run a play. If you spike it with 13-14 seconds left, you’re going to get at least two shots at the end zone and probably three. That’s undoubtedly the play to make, but Richt wanted to run a play instead and it predictably resulted in an interception.
-- The ‘over’ had cashed in five consecutive Alabama-Georgia games until the 2015 game saw the 48 combined points dip ‘under’ the 51-point tally.
-- Saban is 5-1 in national-title games. He has never lost to a former assistant coach. Smart spent nine years on Saban’s staff at ‘Bama and recruited many of the players on the Tide’s roster.
-- Saban is 3-1 vs. UGA during his tenure at ‘Bama. In his first season (2007), UGA’s Matthew Stafford threw a 25-yard scoring strike to Mikey Henderson to lift his team to a 26-23 overtime win at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
-- Georgia has only been an underdog once this season, winning 20-19 at Notre Dame in Week 2 as a 5.5-point 'dog.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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