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Alabama Football vs Georgia SEC Championship Preview: When the Bulldogs have the ball

What happens when a top pass rush meets a top offensive line?

Syndication: Online Athens Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK

Alabama is set to meet with the current titan of college football, the Georgia Bulldogs, in an SEC Championship showdown that the Tide won in a similar situation two years ago. This time around, Georgia is more known for their prolific offense than a stonewall defense, though.

The Dogs are 8th in the country, scoring 39.6 points per game. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has returned after Todd Monken left for the the NFL. Bobo wasn’t the most loved OC for Bulldogs during the tail end of the Mark Richt era, but he’s an experienced playcaller and has done wonders with the talent on UGA’s team in 2023.

Their offense is pro-style spread that’s focused mostly on inside zone runs, quick screens/swings, and short-to-mid seam throws across the middle- slants, crossers, posts. The slot receiver and TEs get a huge workload here, while the outside receivers have a diminished role outside the hashes unless they are part of a crossing concept.

QB Carson Beck has been ruthlessly efficient in his first year as a starter. He’s completing 72% of his passes with an insanely quick decision-making and release. Most of his passes are 3-step drop timing routes that would look right at home in the 2011 NFL landscape. Beck’s got the zip and the accuracy to get the ball into tight windows - again, particularly on in-breaking seam routes. If a defender has even a shade of outside leverage, Beck will gun it to the inside and expect his receiver to cut in.

What Beck hasn’t shown much of in his first year (through no fault of his own, really) is the ability to improvise. He’s often getting the throw out so fast that he passes up better opportunities or throws into coverage. And when he’s asked to recalibrate, dodge rushers, etc, things haven’t gone as well. It just hasn’t been very often.

Beck gets first downs better than any QB in college football. But he’s only middle of the pack at getting explosive plays. It’s a very 2000s approach to the passing game, but that is the decade that brought us Brady, Manning, and Brees, so there’s something to it.

His receivers are headlined by TE Brock Bowers. Bowers is, for my money, the best football player in the NCAA right now. He’s big, fast, has great hands, and is nearly impossible to tackle. An injury hampered his numbers a bit this season, but he still leads the team with 51 catches for 661 yards and 6 touchdowns. I can’t wait to see that guy in the NFL.

At receiver, Ladd McConkey returns for what feels like his 10th season. He’s got 1600 career receiving yards for the Bulldogs, but various injuries have hampered him a bit this year, and he’s only got 418 yards in 7 games played. He hasn’t played since the Ole Miss game 3 weeks ago, but is expected back this week. He’s a fast, slippery receiver that can do a lot of damage on screens or getting down the field, though Alabama kept him in check in both of their games in 2021.

Besides McConkey, Dominic Lovett is another small, speedy slot guy who excels on those tunnel screens and leads the group with 552 yards - albeit on only 11 yards per catch. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint is a senior with a lot of experience on the outside, and Rara Thomas is a veteran transfer from Mississippi State who’s got decent size.

And then there’s the run game. While they aren’t otherworldly good at rushing, the Dogs are highly efficient with a success rate of over 50% and are still probably a top-ten rushing team in the country. Senior Daijun Edwards is a smaller guy, but runs with with a whole lot of energy and power. He’s quick on his feet and a master at hitting cutbacks on inside zone runs. He’s got 780 rushing yards at 5.3 yards per carry and another 158 receiving yards.

Meanwhile, fellow senior Kendall Milton is the hammer. At over 220 pounds, Milton reminds me of former Alabama running back Bo Scarborough. He may lack agility, but he makes up for it with a loping straight speed and brutal ability to run through tacklers. Milton’s got 644 yards on a ridiculously efficient 6.5 yards per carry.

What makes all of this work, though, is the Georgia OL. This is probably the best group in the country, as Beck has only taken 8 sacks the entire season while the running backs have had their way with every defense they’ve played.

LT Amarius Mims is likely a first round draft pick, while center Sedrick Van Pran, RT Xavier Truss, and RG Tate Ratledge are All-SEC level players. Seriously, there’s not much I can pick apart here. The whole group is just really solid.

Alabama’s defense’s biggest weakness so far this season has been QB rushes and outside zone, so, fortunately for the Tide, Georgia isn’t immediately set up to attack the Tide’s main schematic weakness.

That said, do we think Alabama’s interior defensive line can get stops in the run game? They have all season as long as the opposing team ran between the tackles, but Georgia’s OL is something different.

In the passing game, I like Alabama’s cornerbacks against Georgia’s receivers. However, much of the UGA passing game will be targeting the TE and slot and trying to isolate them on safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field. I worry that Jaylen Key may find himself the target/victim for a lot of passes all game long. Malachi Moore can hold his own close to the line, but he may find himself speed limited if he has to follow a receiver too deep.

In my opinion, this puts a LOT on the shoulders of true freshman Caleb Downs. He’s the safety with the speed to keep up and the tackling prowess to shut plays down and limit damage. But, again, true freshman. It’s a lot to ask of one person.

Finally, the biggest wildcard will be the pass rush. On one hand, Beck prevents a lot sacks by getting the ball out so fast, so Alabama’s pass rush won’t be anywhere near what we fans hope for. On the other hand, Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell are better edge rushers than anyone Georgia has seen all year, so we don’t know what might happen if they even get a little bit of pressure on Beck.

With all of that, I think Georgia can get 32-35 points on Alabama’s defense. Alabama has a very good defense. But Georgia has a great offense, and they’re going to score.