I'm up very late writing this preview because I couldn't help but sit in awe as I watched USC (the real one) get a visit from "Mr. Unexpected Loss." From where I sit, there's not a bigger Oregon State Beaver fan in the world than me.
However, USC's loss tonight changed EVERYTHING and the pressure...well it falls squarely on us now.
More on that later, but be forewarned, this will be quite the long preview. I'm going to knock the X's and O's out of the way and then the "What I Think Will Happen" section should be pretty lengthy. So strap in, it's going to take a minute.
As always, you can see Jody's write-up on the game here
and Doug's here
. It's also worth noting that PWD has great posts up here
(which is a must read on Saban's Defensive Philosophy) and here
When Bama has the ball:
It's all going to start up front for Alabama. After a seemingly slow start, the Defensive mindset for UGA has shifted to "pressure, pressure, pressure" and that's not a bad thing. However, Alabama has a great O-line that is anchored by LT Andre Smith. He is a flat out hoss and is going to push some people back. He's big, quick and mean, and really opens up things for the Alabama ground attack. However, he's just one of many great starters on the Bama O-line who have a plethora of experience. While pressure may be our philosophy, the first thing we have to do is stop the ground attack.
Speaking of which, that ground attack for Bama is the best we've seen so far this year, as 3 of the 4 teams we've faced have ZERO commitment to the run, and the other team is South Carolina, who is as offensively bi-polar as your local crackhead. So, while this will be Bama's first test against a stout running Defense, this will be our first test against a team that thinks about establishing the run first.
Bama's rushing attack is led by Glen Coffee, who reminds me running-wise of Brandon Jacobs, the starting RB for the New York Giants. They both run very tall and have able bodies and speed to either fall forward for more yardage or break one open if given a seam. Coffee's looked good this season compared to last, but I'd be able to bust 100 yard game running behind that line as well.
What we have to do is absolutely dominate the Bama rushing attack by stuffing as many in the box as possible without leaving the WRs too open in zone coverage. We did really well against ASU in this regard in all areas excluding Bryan Evans' side of the field. Granted, he was told to play with a very large cushion, but there were also ample opportunities for him to make tackles and he whiffed.
With the current LB play we're getting out of Curran and Ellerbe, I fully expect us to be fine against the run, as our D-line is stout and our LBs are playing good ball. Where I'm most concerned about is the play of our Secondary.
While John Parker Wilson is not considered one of the "elite" when it comes to SEC QBs, he's still a respectable talent that is yet to have that statement game that propels him into being a true gamer. He is decent with his accuracy and he runs as fast as I do (not a compliment), but he does move in the pocket well enough to find ways to get rid of the ball and avoid sacks.
Currently Wilson's favorite target (and rightfully so) is Julio Jones, the OTHER badass freshman WR not named A.J. Green. Jones is already Bama's leading WR in receptions and TDs, but in my opinion, he'll soon become the leader in yards as well. He's a monster at 6-4, 220 and he runs pretty damn fast as well.
Our dichotomy is going to be which CB to put on him and who will square up with him over the top. My natural suggestion would be Asher Allen for his covering skills, but he's going to get killed in any jump ball situations due to a near 6 inch difference in height. That leaves us with Bryan Evans, which if ASU's game is any indication, means that Jones could see a lot of situations that are favorable for a guy with his size and ability to break tackles.
What I see us doing is playing a lot of Cover 2 in the Secondary with Asher stuck on Jones and Evans watching over Mike McCoy (Bama's other receiver that they throw to) with Reshad Jones floating on Julio Jones' side and C.J. Byrd shadowing McCoy. We won't abandon the zone in this game because we need to create situations where our CBs are in positions to make plays on the ground game should it creep into the Secondary. Playing man coverage severely limits tackles on RBs that break into the third layer.
The only problem with this scenario is what happens with Earl Alexander (WR) as well as Travis McCall (TE) and Nick Walker (TE) who all possess large frames. The WR part will work itself out in our Nickel formation (though Prince Miller is still very undersized at 5'-8"), but when the TE is in the game, we're going to have to get great coverage play from our LBs, which is an area that could use some improvement after seeing the South Carolina game.
My thoughts on this are that UGA needs to rush only about 4-5 guys at a time and hope we get pressure that way. Even if we don't get pressure, we still need to focus on clogging up that ground game because while Coffee is fast, he's not fast enough to hit the corner like Knowshon can. His yards will be hard fought through the Tackles, so if we can get about 7 in the box, I think we're fine there and it will be up to J.P. Wilson and his WRs to win the game. Aside from our undersized, sometimes inept-at-tackling DBs, I think if this game rests on the shoulders of Wilson, we should be fine.
When UGA has the ball:
Well it all starts up front with "Mount Cody," as in Terrence Cody, the HUGE Nose Guard for Bama. Bama runs a 3-4 as opposed to our 4-3 Defense, so the key for them is to clog as much of the O-line gaps with Cody and the DEs as much as possible, and use a combination of LB blitzes to confuse the QB. They've been effective doing this for much of the year as well, with their most impressive showing against Clemson, followed by what they did to Arkansas last week.
The goal of the Bama Defense is going to 1) contain Knowshon and 2) confuse our young O-line. As mentioned earlier in PWD's post on Saban's philosophy, he likes to protect the middle of the field and work outward. However, as PWD also pointed out, if the outside edges and go routes are what they're going to give us, then we have the speed in the RB corps and the WR corps to make that happen. On top of that, we have a QB who probably has the strongest arm in college football and he can get those deep out routes exactly here they need to be...on a rope.
So we're looking at an experienced D-line, a good LB corps and a decent Secondary. I say that with as balanced as our Offense has been, I think we sit in pretty good shape here. At worst you should see deep passes to keep the Secondary honest with toss sweeps and screens to keep pressure off of our young O-line. That being said, I really wouldn't be surprised to see us toss sweep it to Moreno about 4-5 times before he opens it up and throws a pass to MoMass or A.J. Green like we did last year against Auburn. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised at all.
I hate to keep using the word "balance" but that's what all great teams have. There will be nights where we can't throw the ball and have to run to win. We're covered there. There will be nights where we can't run the ball and have to throw to win. We're covered there as well. This Offense is very capable of taking Alabama's best shot and coming up with a plan to deal with it. The real key here is giving Stafford enough time to throw because Alabama WILL bring the blitz and bring it often. If he starts feeling enough pressure where he begins throwing off his back foot AND Knowshon has a poor night running the ball, then at that point we'll be in trouble.
This is an area where I'm worried about as well. Alabama has a dangerous return man in Javier Arenas, who wants you to see his highlights. I'm not suggesting that you should, but when posed the question about whether or not he's seen Knowshon play, he quipped right back "well have you seen my highlights?" That's all well and good for him to be a cocky piece of sh*t, but truth be told, he can be dangerous in the return game.
For the first time this season, I'm more scared about our ability to cover kickoffs and punts adequately than I am about Walsh kicking a 55-yard field goal. My money would say that special teams has been a large focus at practice this week, and Fabris has been up in a few players' grits making sure they are where they need to be. We played well last week against ASU, but the coverage could still use a touch of work.
As far as kicking and punting, you and I know that we're fine in those areas. Kickoffs still leave more to be desired sometimes, but we did have a great second half against ASU in that area, so I'll just say "more of the same, please" and move on.
What I think will happen:
I've very encouraged by the glimpses of Evil Richt throughout the week. When Richt is quipping, we're practicing with the proper intensity for sure. He's flat out said himself that this week has been the easiest week as far as trying to motivate guys since he's been at UGA. There's something good about that.
What scares me is how "pressure breaks pipes." I'll be honest, I've really enjoyed being in the #3 spot in the polls. Hell, I WELCOMED it. Let all the pressure be on #1 and #2 right now. I only care about being in those positions after the SEC Championship. Now, the pressure to perform rests on the shoulders of our team more than any other team in the nation. Oklahoma has been there before and they've been able to coach through that kind of pressure. Sometimes teams can and sometimes they can't (see: WVU & Cal last year). I know we have the talent to do it, but I certainly don't want our players to know, think or feel anything about USC's loss tonight and focus solely on beating Bama.
You see this game is the biggest of our year so far and may be the game that defines our season. We're on national TV with everyone watching. We're resorting to what our critics call "gimmicks."
We've become a resident whipping boy over Knowshon's leap at ESPN. This game is about putting a bully back in their place and not just with the national media, but with Alabama as well.
You see if we win this game, convincingly or not, UGA is a contender. A serious one. So far, we've gotten the Ohio State treatment from 2002. "Yeah, they're a good team, but they're going to drop one sooner or later." Sound familiar? It should. This game is about our chance to go out and get ourselves some respect.
Win for Munson, win for fame, win to make history, win to shut everyone up. I don't care how you do it, but this team needs to go out there and just win, damn it.
And I think we're more than capable of that. If UGA shows up with the focus it had against ASU last Saturday or Auburn of last year, there's no way Bama leaves with a win. No way. The only team that can beat us on Saturday night is going to be the ones in the black jerseys.
But we have to do our part. I've got my two tickets and even though I'm on the alumni side, you won't find me sitting at any point during the game. The older fans can get pissed if they want, but I'm a student of UGA football and I'm going to stand and cheer. When Alabama has the ball, you'd better be collapsing lungs with me brother and sisters or you don't deserve to even be at the game, much less sit in those seats that are going for hundreds of dollars a pop.
We can't capture the same "Holy Sh*t" moment that we witnessed last year when the team ran out in black, but we can make Sanford Stadium the toughest place in America to play football. I fully intend to do my part and I expect our team to feed off of that and just go absolutely apesh*t over it.
Bama is a good team and they will probably challenge for the SEC West. Depending on how they play against us, I could see them possibly making an appearance in Atlanta, but that's in December.
On Saturday, Bama is the next in line and we're now serving #5.
Until next time kids.
Be safe (and Go Dawgs!).
Labels: College Football, Game Previews, UGA Football