Monday’s National Championship marks the pinnacle of the 2017 college football season. It is a moment when the best and brightest of the college football world do battle as they seek to create a legacy and make history. Alabama were ranked No.1 in the preseason AP poll and their performance to date comes as no shock as Nick Saban has built a consistent winner in Tuscaloosa.
Georgia on the other hand entered the season ranked 15th and have road the tails of a dominant run game and vaunted SEC defense, led by unanimous All-American and Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith.
Alabama defeated Clemson in the Sugar Bowl as they harassed QB Kelly Bryant while their offense made the most of excellent field position to win 24-6. Georgia beat Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield in a classic shoot-out at the Rose Bowl. Georgia’s strong run game was apparent as they put up 317 rushing yards and their RBs contributed SIX TDs! Below is a preview of the upcoming National Championship and where Georgia vs Alabama is likely to be won or lost:
The Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide first went head-to-head in November 1895 as Head Coach Pop Warner led the Bulldogs to a 30-6 thrashing of the Crimson Tide. Alabama leads the series 38-25-4 and currently enjoy a three game winning streak. ‘Bama are looking to win their 16th National Champions (most in college football history) and their 5th since 2009. On the flip side, Georgia has just two championship banners from their 1942 and 1980 winning teams.
Student vs Teacher
Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban will be going head-to-head with former disciple Kirby Smart who took his talents across state lines to Athens, Georgia after running Saban’s defense for eight seasons and four National Championships. Smart fields a strong all-round football team as he will look to make it back-to-back championship losses for former mentor Saban.
Kirby Smart’s connection to Nick Saban goes back further as he joined Saban’s LSU staff in 2004 as a defensive backs coach before joining him for one season in the NFL as the Miami Dolphins’ safeties coach.
Smart played defensive back for the Bulldogs between 1995 and 1998. During his time their Saban was the head coach at Michigan State and will likely have seen Smart in action when watching film on common opponents.
The student vs former teacher aspect makes for an interesting narrative and dynamic. However, it is unlikely that either side will have an advantage with both teams likely to break tendencies in an effort to out coach the other.
Georgia’s run game vs Alabama’s front seven
Georgia’s senior running back duo went berserk against Oklahoma with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combining for 326 rushing yards on 25 carries (13 yard average). The five touchdown performance from the tandem broke an FBS record with the duo combining for the most career rushing yards in college football history. Michel and Chubb have been a thunder and lightning backfield as Chubb has broke tackles, pounded opposing front sevens and wore down opponents; with Michel then using his breakaway speed and elusiveness to break off big runs and catch passes out the backfield.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that the Oklahoma front seven UGA saw in the Rose Bowl is anywhere near the elite level of Alabama’s talented defense. The Crimson Tide allowed an FBS-low 11.5 points all season and gave up just two field goals against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. ‘Bama have been impressive with a revolving door at linebacker as Shaun Dion and Dylan Moses have missed the majority of the season. The latest test will be the loss of OLB Anfernee Jennings who played tremendous and was everywhere vs Clemson.
Despite losing Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams to the NFL Draft, Nick Saban has reloaded and his current group look just as dominant as previous reincarnations. The key match up in this game will be whether Georgia can establish themselves on the ground and ease the burden on true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. ‘Bama will hope for big game from their strong and dominant D-Line trio of Raekwon Davis, Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne. Saban will also hope for a big game from senior linebacker and leader Rashaan Evans who has played well this season.
True freshman Jake Fromm vs Minkah Fitzpatrick
With his victory over Oklahoma, Jake Fromm became the first true freshman to win the Rose Bowl – let that sink in. Fromm was effective in moving the football as he went 20/29 for 210 yards, 2TDs and crucially no turnovers.
Having Chubb and Michel certainly helps as it forces teams to load the box. So far the true freshman has not been dazzled by the lights and showed that he can be an effective part of a Georgia offense centered around a strong rung game. At just 19 years old, going up against Alabama’s defense represents a monumental task for the young signal caller. Remember, Fromm flipped his verbal commitment from Alabama to Georgia – another interesting dynamic at play.
Fromm’s main concern in the National Championship game will be keeping an eye on where Minkah Fitzpatrick is at all times. Fitzpatrick is a ball-hawking defensive back who can line up at corner, safety or in the slot. He’s amassed 9 interceptions in his time in Tuscaloosa but his physical and aggressive play in run support is something that should not go unnoticed. Saban and his staff will try to confuse the freshman quarterback and except plenty of movement and masking pre-snap in order to force Fromm into errant throws. Turnovers could be a key X-factor in this one.
Alabama’s offense vs Georgia’s strong defense
Finally, Alabama’s offense led by sophomore QB Jalen Hurts and a staple of backs will look to test themselves against Georgia’s dynamic linebacking corps. Hurts and the ‘Bama offense did enough to propel themselves over Clemson, yet Georgia will be a different beast with the game expected to be fought and won in the trenches – classic SEC football.
For the Bulldogs it all starts with their linebackers and Roquan Smith is a punishing run stuffer who at times struggled in coverage against Oklahoma – something the Crimson Tide will likely have taken note of. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts is more of a RB playing QB but he does have a weapon in Calvin Ridley and a host of other receivers who have chipped in throughout the season.
The junior duo of Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough alongside freshman Najee Harris will likely see plenty of action in this one as ‘Bama are likely to pound the rock. Georgia did give up significant yardage against Oklahoma, yet most of this was due to the Bulldogs compensating in attempting to shut down Mayfield and Oklahoma’s passing attack. Again this one could come down to the turnover battle.
This is likely to be a tense and edgy affair. My prediction? I’ve got the Bulldogs coming out on top in this one – no one is better at in game adjustments than Kirby Smart (look at the Rose Bowl) and the Bulldogs were able to fluster Mayfield while imposing their will on the ground. Georgia wins a close one 24-20.
Follow Tom Like on Twitter, @TomLikeNFL.