You may be thinking: “Oh here we go again. An all-SEC National Championship that features Alabama. Boo!”
I can’t blame you for thinking that. But I would blame you for boycotting the College Football National Championship all together. Yes, the College Football Playoff games lacked drama, but the 2022 National Championship is more than just another 'Bama appearance or SEC parade.
The Tide and their opponent, the Georgia Bulldogs, have history, and all heavyweight battles need a sequel. We all remember what happened last time these two teams faced off in the National Championship in 2018. Down 13-0 at half, Nick Saban benched starter Jalen Hurts for Freshman Tua Tagovailoa, and the rest was history. The Ewa Beach, Hawaii native threw for 166 yards and 3 touchdowns including a walkoff in overtime to future Heisman trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
Now all know Alabama gave Georgia a good shellacking in the SEC Championship a month ago, but this game is different. That was a win-or-go-home game for the Tide and the loss may have actually level-set Kirby Smart’s team; a hard smack was perhaps what Georgia needed to get back to playing at an elite level.
Here are the details and the best storylines going into the game. To stream the 2022 College Football National Championship on ESPN, sign up for Sling Orange using the link at the bottom of this page.
Who: No. 1 Alabama vs No. 3 Georgia
When: Monday, January 10, 2022 - 8pm ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
How to watch: ESPN (Watch with Sling Orange)
Odds via DraftKings: Alabama -3, O/U 52
Nick Saban vs Kirby Smart
We’ll start this off by stating that former Nick Saban assistants are 1-25 against him. That only win came from Jimbo Fisher earlier this season when Texas A&M knocked off Alabama in College Station. For those keeping score at home, Kirby Smart is 0-3 vs Nick Saban since becoming the head man at Georgia.
Coaching-wise, in-game adjustments will be massive in this one. In 2018, Saban made the switch to Tua, which sparked Alabama to a victory, while Kirby Smart was unable to adapt. The next thing to keep an eye on is how these two coaches approach this game compared to the previous bout in the SEC Championship. Alabama threw the ball 44 times with heavy success against Georgia on December 4. But against Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff, the Tide rode to victory behind running back Brian Robinson’s 204 yards and stout defense. I don’t foresee Robinson having the same success against Georgia's run D, which shut down Michigan's powerful ground game. The first couple drives in the Championship will be key, and then the adjustment battle will begin.
Can Georgia's Defense Rebound vs 'Bama?
As mentioned above, Brian Robinson and the Alabama run game struggled in the previous meeting. Georgia’s defensive front is so fast and physical, that Alabama elected to test a Georgia secondary that didn’t face much all season, and it worked. I don’t see the Tide running game picking up in Indianapolis, which leaves the pressure on Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and the offensive line protecting him. Alabama will be without explosive reciever John Metchie in this edition as Jameson Williams will pick up the slack. But remember folks, it’s 'Bama, they have depth, so be on the lookout for freshman Ja'Corey Brooks to step in seamlessly. Georgia’s secondary didn’t face much versus Michigan, in part due to the pressure on the Wolverine QBs. The same formula applies here: The Georgia defense must do anything possible to disrupt Bryce Young. If the Dawgs secondary can keep everything in front of them, they can force dump-offs and rely on their speed and tackling to limit big plays.
Speaking of big plays, they're synonymous with college football. That doesn’t change for the National Championship: If you can limit explosive plays in College Football, you typically have a good chance to win (this isn’t the NFL). So which team is more explosive? Offensively, you have to go with Alabama. Jameson Williams gave Georgia fits and can score anytime he touches the ball. The Georgia offense doesn’t have elite WR’s like Alabama, but they do have tight end Brock Bowers and a stable of backs that can cause matchup problems. Defensively, both teams can cause problems and be explosive. They both can get after the quarterback, ranking third (Bama) and 10th (UGA) nationally in team sacks. Alabama’s Will Anderson will garner most of Georgia’s attention, but the bigger question is which offensive line can hold strong, and who will avoid making mistakes?
It could very well come down to the kickers in Indianapolis, and Alabama has had a rough history when it comes to the position. Despite his missed 44-yarder in the Cotton Bowl, Will Reichard has been decent for the Tide; he’s 11/12 inside 40 yards and 6/9 between 40-49 yards. UGA kicker Jack Podlesny is much of the same; 16/18 inside 40 yards and 4/7 between 40-49. Because their offenses were rarely slowed down, neither team had to punt often throughout the season. With that said, I expect more punts in this game, which could be an X-factor, as the teams aren’t as experienced in covering punt returns or heavy block attempts. Don’t be surprised if special teams are a big factor in this one.
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