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Alabama Football vs Georgia SEC Championship Preview: When the Tide has the ball

The Georgia defense is mortal for the first time in two years. Can Alabama take advantage?

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

After giving up 10.2 points per game in all of 2021, the Bulldogs have fallen all the way to 15.8 points per game this year, good for 6th in the country. With Glenn Schumann returning for his 5th year as defensive coordinator after starting his career at Alabama under Nick Saban and Kirby Smart and then following Smart to Georgia, Schumann is a true disciple of Saban and Smart with no other influences to his defensive scheme. It is a 3-4 defense in the same mold of Alabama back before 2016 that typically operates more as a 3-3-5 in nickel than a 4-2-5, like how Saban runs the defense at Alabama these days.

At the center of it all is nose tackle Nazir Stackhouse, a mammoth 320 pound man who plays a true nose, trying to stand up opposing centers and put a wall up in the middle. He’s flanked by 5-tech Zion Logue and the smaller hybrid DT, Mykel Williams, a former five star recruit who’s tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks.

For the most part, these guys are tasked more with soaking up as many blocks as possible moreso than making the plays themselves, and for that task, they do fine.

At linebacker, Smael Mondon Jr. is another former 5-star with elite athleticism, even if his production hasn’t quite caught up to it so far in his career. CJ Allen and Jamon Dumas-Johnson round out the other middle linebackers. It hasn’t been the most impressive group for Georgia, compared to say, 2021, but they’re still a solid enough crew. Jack linebacker Chaz Chambliss has.... 0 sacks.

As a whole unit, the entire UGA front seven has all of 21 sacks. Some of that is schematic, as Kirby Smart has always preferred the “mush rush”, but the pass rush is definitely the most lackluster part of the entire team.

The secondary, though, is as good as any in the country. The safety tandem of Malaki Starks and Javon Bullard might be the best in the country. Starks is likely a top-20 draft pick in a year and a half from now, and Javon Bullard is a veteran player who was the MVP of the National Championship last season after starting out his career at cornerback.

At nickel, Tykee Smith is a transfer portal addition from West Virginia who was a freshman All-American back in 2019 and a 1st team All-American in 2020 before transferring to Georgia. He struggled with injuries in his first season with the Dogs in 2022, but is a full-time guy now and leads the team in tackles (63), tackles for loss (7.5), and interceptions (4). At 205 pounds, he’s almost a hybrid linebacker and is extremely active in the run game.

For the outside corners, Kamari Lassiter returns as one of the top CBs in the country and will likely be a 1st round draft pick this year. He’s a very sticky cover corner who leads the team with 8 pass deflections, and his running mate on the other side, Daylen Everette, has been solid in his first year as a starter.

The UGA secondary is going to be a tough matchup for Alabama’s receivers. While I think Isaiah Bond and Jermaine Burton are as good as any duo in the country, this will be the best grouping of defensive backs they see this season. So I think each group will win some and lose some.

Georgia’s run defense has been relatively spotty this year, but Alabama’s rushing game also hasn’t been particularly impressive, so I expect moderate, but not great success there.

The biggest mismatch will come with Georgia’s lack of pass rush and speed along the defensive front. Jalen Milroe’s scrambling ability is the biggest strength of this offense, and Georgia’s defensive front is not well suited for that.

I think Alabama can definitely hit 28-32 points or so in this one (for reference, the most the Bulldogs have given up in a game is 23 points) due to that specific mismatch. Whether the Tide can find more downfield success in the passing game or not will be the determining factor on if they can win in a high-scoring game.