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SEC Championship Game Preview 2012: Alabama Holds Off Georgia

The national semifinal game, er, SEC Championship Game is upon us and we’ve put together our final game preview of the year.  Below you’ll find our take on college football’s biggest game this weekend.

Good luck to all you Alabama and Georgia fans out there…


#2 Alabama (11-1) vs #3 Georgia (11-1) at Atlanta


4:00pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  UA -7.5

Current Line:  UA -7.5

Storylines:  To paraphrase a line from “Deliverance,” it ain’t nothin’ but the biggest frickin’ game in football.  The winner grabs the SEC title and a shot at undefeated Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game, January 7th in Miami.  Another national crown would be the seventh in a row for the SEC.  This is Georgia’s second appearance in the SEC title game in two years.  It’s Alabama’s first trip back to the Atlanta game since 2009.  Mark Richt has won two SEC titles in four previous trips to the Georgia Dome.  Nick Saban is 3-1 in four previous SEC Championship Games with LSU and Alabama.

Common Opponents:

Alabama 33-14 over Ole Miss; Georgia 37-10 over Ole Miss

Alabama 42-10 over Missouri; Georgia 41-20 over Missouri

Alabama 44-13 over Tennessee; Georgia 51-44 over Tennessee

Alabama 49-0 over Auburn; Georgia 38-0 over Auburn

Opponents’ SEC Wins:  Alabama finished 7-1 in the SEC and its seven wins came over teams with a combined 18-38 SEC record.  Georgia finished 7-1 in the SEC and its seven wins came over teams with a combined 18-38 SEC record.

Only Defeats:  Alabama lost to 6-2 Texas A&M 29-24 in Tuscaloosa on November 10th.  Georgia lost to 6-2 South Carolina 35-7 in Columbia on October 6th.

Keys for Alabama:  Shore up the pass defense and win the special teams battle.  As we showed you earlier today, Alabama is second in the SEC defensive pass efficiency, a very important statistic when it comes to winning football games.  But the Tide hasn’t been perfect.  Over a four-week span covering games with Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU and Texas A&M, Bama allowed 203, 209, 296 and 253 yards passing.  Against LSU, the Tide needed a last-minute touchdown to squeak out a win.  The next week against A&M, a late interception ended another comeback attempt in UA’s only loss of the season.  Georgia QB Aaron Murray has taken some guff in his career for not playing his best in “big” games, but his team has gone 21-5 over the last two seasons.  There were a few big games among those 21 wins.  UGA is without WR Michael Bennett and WR Marlon Brown and their absence will likely be felt tomorrow.  But the Tide can’t afford to let Murray and the Dawgs start moving the ball through the air.  As for our second key, Bama holds an advantage in the punt return battle, but Georgia has the edge in terms of kickoff returns.  Bama has allowed seven kickoffs of 30 or more yards this season (10th in the SEC).  The Dawgs are fourth in the SEC with six kickoffs returned of 30 or more yards.  The Crimson Tide has slight advantages just about everywhere else statistically, so as long as they don’t give up anything cheap in the kicking game.

Keys for Georgia:  Be stout against the run and play for 60 minutes.  Alabama ranks #1 in the SEC in rush defense (82.8 yards allowed vs SEC foes).  Georgia ranks #5 in the league (127.38 yards allowed vs SEC foes).  That’s a pretty sizable gap.  Add to that the fact that UA averaged 209.8 yards on the ground versus SEC opponents while Georgia averaged “just” 180.2 and you have a distinct advantage for Bama.  But Georgia played a different brand of defense down the stretch following a mid-season call out by safety Shawn Williams.  Todd Grantham’s D allowed just 1.88 yards per carry against Florida (the Gators averaged 4.33 yards per carry against the SEC), just 1.59 yards per carry against Ole Miss (3.08 yards per carry vs the SEC), and 2.11 yards per carry against Auburn (2.59 yards per carry vs the SEC).  Georgia will need for its defenders to wear their big boy pants tomorrow.  Tide QB AJ McCarron is second only to Murray in the SEC in passer rating.  Give him a running game and he becomes very, very difficult to stop.  The second key is a simple one — play a full 60-minute game.  LSU had Alabama on the ropes before allowing a five-play drive to cover 72 yards over a 43-second span in that game’s final two minutes.  The result was a 21-17 Tide victory.  The next week, Texas A&M raced out to a 20-0 first quarter lead and then watched the Tide gradually creep back into the game.  Nick Saban’s team got all the way to the Aggie two-yard-line before McCarron was picked off on fourth-down pass at the goal line with 1:36 to play.  You can’t play Alabama for 58 or 59 minutes.  Georgia will need to play its best 60 minutes of the year tomorrow in the Georgia Dome.

Extra Key for Both Teams:  Protect the football.  On the season — all games included — Alabama is plus-14 in turnover margin.  Georgia is plus-9.  In championship games, turnovers are killers.  UGA is the underdog in this one.  They have to win the turnover battle.  And Alabama can’t afford to get loose with the football and allow Georgia to hang around.

Pick:  Alabama 28, Georgia 20



Nice breakdown of the game, John.  Bama had their toughest games against quarterbacks who played well ( LSU and A&M).  And Murray has played poorly in big games.  If he doesn't play well, it's going to be 31-10.  If he does, Dawgs could win 20-17.  Bama also lost the turnover battle against LSU and A&M.  If Georgia does win, they'll have to win the turnover battle as well.


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