What Alabama's offense must do to have a chance against Jordan Davis, Georgia's defensive front
Alabama left tackle Evan Neal was standing behind the lectern when he shook his head.
He had just been asked about Georgia’s defensive front.
“Shoot, you don’t need me to say it, but they’re a really, really talented group up front,” Neal said. “The whole nation knows that. We have a great challenge ahead of us.”
That challenge includes facing the nation’s top scoring defense, allowing just 6.92 points per game. The defensive front has fueled that success. Georgia has eight players who’ve tallied five or more tackles for loss. And that doesn’t even include colossal defensive tackle Jordan Davis, whom Nick Saban called one of the most dominant players in college football.
And that Georgia front will face an Alabama offensive line that has been less than stellar at times in Saturday's SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide has given up 36 sacks this season. The three-per-game average ranks 112th in FBS.
Just this past weekend, Alabama gave up seven sacks to Auburn.
“We’ve got to play more physical,” Saban said. “We’ve got to be more aggressive in terms of how we come out of our hips, play with power, whatever it is.”
No defense will expose more cracks in protection and run blocking than Georgia’s.
What can Alabama do to stand a chance? Cole Cubelic, an SEC Network analyst and former offensive lineman, shared a few options with The Tuscaloosa News.
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Be creative in play calling
Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will need to call his best and most creative game of the year to counteract Georgia's front.
Strategic play-calling can help when winning one-on-one is difficult or not possible.
Quick throws, elements of misdirection and designed quarterback runs to add an extra blocker are a few options, Cubelic said. Anything that gives the offensive line an advantage such as gap or slide protection also could help.
“I would expect a little bit more window dressing,” Cubelic said. “Some motions, shifts, some unbalanced looks. You’ve got to try and steal yards against this group. It’s one of the only ways to be able to do it.”
Create space for playmakers
Tennessee had the most relative offensive success of any team against Georgia this season, scoring 17 points. The Volunteers also had a lead at the end of the first quarter.
Tennessee still lost 41-17, but there are a few points of success worth replicating.
In addition to using quick tempo, the Volunteers strategically lined receivers out wide to empty the box and help create space.
“Alabama’s got guys that if they can get them in space, they can still be dangerous,” Cubelic said. “I don’t think they have faced a collective group of linebackers that runs like this group does, though.”
Even quick throws and screens, Cubelic said, will be more difficult against Georgia.
Make good personnel decisions
Alabama isn’t likely to make any drastic changes as to who starts on the offensive line. If there was someone else available who the coaches saw as a significantly better option, those changes would have likely been made by now.
However, there are a few choices to be made at right tackle and center, which are somewhat related.
Center Darrian Dalcourt had to exit the Auburn game because of a nagging ankle injury. Seth McLaughlin replaced him with Chris Owens already in the game at right tackle. Alabama had inserted Owens in place of Damieon George.
“Chris coming in at right tackle against Auburn, he actually did some nice things,” Cubelic said. “A little bit better than Damieon George had done in that game, so (Owens) might be needed at right tackle.”
In one half, Alabama gave up five pressures, two sacks and one hit, according to Pro Football Focus’ charting. Owens gave up four pressures and two hits but no sacks.
If Dalcourt can’t play, it might be in Alabama’s best interest to keep Owens at right tackle and McLaughlin at center.
“It’s a little bit of a chess match up front with that offensive line with who you want to be where,” Cubelic said.
Use Bryce Young’s mobility
Young isn’t a running quarterback. His 40 passing touchdowns prove that. He sure can make people miss, though.
Cubelic anticipates some sprint-outs, rollouts, bootlegs as Alabama tries to move the pocket some to take advantage of Young’s mobility. The Crimson Tide can also get him on the perimeter so Young has the opportunity to tuck the ball and run if he sees fit.
“I think his mobility would be valuable,” Cubelic said. “I would anticipate a few more things that are designed with that.”
Take advantage if Georgia brings pressure
If the Bulldogs decide they want to take the Auburn, LSU route and be aggressive with blitzing, Alabama must take advantage.
“If you find yourself in some one-on-ones,” Cubelic said, “then I think those can be situations where I think Jameson (Williams) can probably win a few of those.”
There are several "ifs" involved, though. If Georgia brings pressure, the Crimson Tide has to pick it up. That, of course, has been a struggle of late.
Also, Georgia probably doesn’t have to blitz. It’s not as likely the Bulldogs bring pressure and put the defensive backs in precarious situations.
And if Georgia doesn’t bring pressure, it’s going to be difficult for Alabama to hit Williams on a big play.
“The one other way you could see happening a little bit is just how Bryce creates on his own,” Cubelic said. “He’s elusive. He can evade the rush. He does an excellent job of keeping his eyes down field and trying to find plays to create once he does move.”
Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.