2022 College Football National Championship – No.1 Alabama Vs No.3 Georgia –Preview by Gareth Evans
You could almost have called it at the start of the season. Georgia, the preseason and through the season, No.1 team in college football up against the perennial champions Alabama in the end of season pinnacle to decide the national championship.
It didn’t always appear to be heading this way. Georgia started strongly and looked unbeatable before their semi-final humbling against Alabama which gave them enormous motivation and a huge chip on their shoulder heading into the final. How did they overcome a potentially season-threatening defeat? “We worked”, said head coach Kirby Smart, after their 34-11 walkover of an impressive Michigan team who had convincingly knocked Ohio State out of the playoff picture.
Alabama suffered a mid-season stumble, losing 41-38 to Texas A&M, but went on a winning streak that put them in pole position, knocking Georgia off their perch to grab the SEC championship in Atlanta almost a month ago.
Of the other contenders, Michigan, as mentioned, emerged from a virtual three-way playoff to edge Ohio State and Michigan State in the race for the Big Ten title. Cincinnati broke records to become the first Group of Five team to make the end of season playoff, succumbing to an Alabama team hitting peak performance, predictably at the business end of the season.
Oregon showed glimpses in their upset of Ohio State but came unstuck, twice, against Utah and Ole Miss, reborn under Lane Kiffin, provided plenty of entertainment but were found wanting when it mattered.
Oklahoma and Texas, anointed as the next invitees to the SEC, disappointed. The Longhorns especially so. Their off-season capture of promising quarterback Quinn Ewers gives them a base to build on, but there is a lot of work to do. Oklahoma, meanwhile, a preseason favourite to make the playoff, appear to have imploded. Lincoln Riley, touted as the next college coach to move to the NFL, bolted for a $100million contract at USC, and appears to have taken many of the Sooners’ highly recruited high school prospects with him. Quarterback Spencer Rattler is off to South Carolina, and freshman sensation Caleb Williams has entered the transfer portal. Incoming coach Brent Venables has his work cut out.
So, with Alabama having convincingly beaten Georgia, they should be favourites to beat them again convincingly, handing Nick Saban his seventh national title in Tuscaloosa. This is a done deal isn’t it?
Not necessarily. Georgia were visibly angered by their SEC title defeat to their bitter rivals and the motivation it has given them to gain revenge and win their first national title since 1980 is evident. Kirby Smart was relatively muted in his celebrations following the Bulldogs’ semi-final win over Michigan, refusing the traditional Gatorade bath. It was a message to his team to look forward. He didn’t feel they should celebrate yet. His scolding of Stetson Bennett when Georgia were 27-3 up at the half, for not being ruthless enough to finish Michigan there and then showed a real desire to finish the job this season.
Despite the twenty-point loss suffered against Alabama, there were signs of opportunity for Georgia. They raced to a 10-0 lead in that game, starting brightly. Against Michigan, Georgia scored on their first four possessions. If they start well, they can typically control the game. Alabama had responded in the semi-final with some haymakers. Jameson Williams and John Metchie were outstanding in the first half, but the Tide have now lost Metchie, playing Williams in the slot for the second half very effectively. Will Slade Bolden and Alabama’s young receivers be enough to support Williams?
For Georgia to win, their defense has to beat the much-improved Alabama offensive line in the trenches and get to Bryce Young. Cincinnati had some success forcing Young out of the pocket. Georgia will have to force him to adapt and shut down Alabama’s rushing threat. Brian Robinson is in the form of his life and will need to be stopped early to negate Alabama’s platform to attack. Nakobe Dean, sensational against Michigan, will be instrumental in Georgia’s success getting to the Alabama backfield.
Stetson Bennett, meanwhile, has to be given the opportunity to mix up the Bulldogs’ offense as they did so efficiently against Michigan. In the SEC title game. Alabama dominated Georgia’s offensive line and stopped the run, forcing Bennett to throw more than he had ever done in a game previously. Tellingly, when the game was too far gone, Bennett found some success with completions to freshman tight end Blake Bowers. If Bowers can find space, he can give Bennett a critical option to freshen his attack. Saban, undoubtedly, will have a plan for the gifted tight end.
History and form suggests this should be a comfortable Alabama win. They seem to have Georgia’s number, winning seven straight against the Bulldogs, and notably in the big games that matter.
Bryce Young, in his first year as the starter, has had a memorable season at Alabama. The Heisman trophy winner broke Alabama records for touchdown passes (46) and passing yards (4,503), with just five interceptions. Brian Robinson has enjoyed an impressive end to the season, pounding out a career-high 204 yards against Cincinnati. He was held to 55 yards against Georgia in the semi-final, which will give Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator Dan Lanning some optimism.
Out is John Metchie, who had 97 yards in the first half of the SEC title game, but Jameson Williams remains a considerable threat to Georgia’s backfield while Jahleel Billingsley and Cameron Latu, at tight end, can also support Slade Bolden as receiving threats. Derion Kendrick could use a repeat of his two-interception game vs. Michigan but Bryce Young is considerably more accurate than Cade McNamara and his quick release and mobility can cause Georgia problems.
In addition to the battle up front, in the trenches, the performance of the respective defenses will be the key to the national championship. Will Anderson, slighted by the Heisman committee, has 17.5 sacks this season, three of which came against Georgia in a game where he also made two tackles for loss. He is the leader of an underrated Alabama defense, one that unsettled Georgia so effectively in their first meeting.
History and form favours Alabama here. Seven straight wins suggests so. Yet the SEC title loss could have come at the perfect time for Georgia. It was a chastening defeat which has given them momentum at the right time and a quick opportunity to exact revenge. Kirby Smart is desperate to finally beat his old head coach and his quarterback Bennett, a lifelong Georgia fan, has displayed considerable resilience and hasn’t let the critics get to him. Famously called out by a team mate this week for using a flip phone, the quarterback decided he didn’t need the distraction that came with a smartphone. His focus, and Georgia’s, are laser sharp on winning their first national title in over forty years.
Everything on paper and in my head tells me otherwise, but I think Georgia will reverse their 2018 overtime loss and beat Alabama by seven points or less, quite possibly in overtime.
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