After a thrilling week of shoot-outs, blowouts and crazy finishes that came down to the final tick of the clock, Week 5 of college football has just as much to offer, if not more.
The game of the week was extremely difficult to choose from, considering Notre Dame is going to Death Valley this week for a top-25 showdown, not to mention an under-the-radar West Virginia team is set to take on the Oklahoma Sooners. Through hours of deliberation, I finally decided to take a trip down to Athens, Georgia where the Bulldogs look to put an end to Nick Saban’s dynasty and “black-out” the Crimson Tide’s playoff chances.
The Alabama Crimson Tide are going into Athens ranked No. 13 in the AP poll, sliding down a spot after Utah jumped into the top-10 following their shellacking of Oregon. The Tide’s movement in the polls certainly wasn’t for their performance against Louisiana-Monroe as they shutout the Warhawks, 34-0.
In what many considered to be virtually a bye-week before the meat of their schedule, it appears Alabama settled on their starter at quarterback in senior Jake Coker. Coker started the game and took the majority of the snaps on Saturday.
After starting slow in the first half, he finally got things going a little bit in the second half. While Coker continued to play inconsistently, he threw for three touchdowns and one interception on the day.
Derrick Henry was the only back to rush for a score as he finished with 13 touches for 52 yards and a touchdown, while Kenyan Drake led the team in rushing yards with 65 on 10 carries.
The defense shined against ULM, not only pitching a shutout but getting 6 sacks and forcing two interceptions. This was a good sign for the Tide defense after not forcing Ole Miss to turn over the ball once the week before.
Georgia, ranked No. 7 in the AP poll, looks to defend their home field against the Tide on Saturday for the first time since 2008. Just like in that meeting, the Bulldogs have announced their plans to “black-out” to try to intimidate the Tide, but their offensive attack has already done that.
If anyone was wanting to know what a balanced offense looks like, just turn on the tapes of Georgia in their last four games. Mark Richt and the Bulldogs have arguably the most efficient and balanced attack in all of football, with their early Heisman candidate running back Nick Chubb running over all of their opponents, while senior transfer quarterback Grayson Lambert not only manages the offense but executes it to near-perfection.
In the Bulldogs’ last two games, Lambert has missed only two passes out of 35. Over the same span, he’s thrown five of his seven touchdowns this season. Although his opponents were a struggling South Carolina team and Southern, flirting with perfection that closely is impressive.
As Lambert runs the offense with ease, Chubb runs over everyone with ease. Right now he is tied for a record 12-straight games of rushing over 100 yards. The guy he’s tied with is Herschel Walker — who won a Heisman or something like that — no big deal. If not for the dominance of LSU’s running back Leonard Fournette, Chubb would be the clear front-runner for the coveted Heisman Trophy.
Georgia’s defense is no slouch either. After hiring former Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt last season, the Bulldogs’ defense is finally the way Pruitt wants them. This season, Georgia has not allowed over 20 points through their first four games.
This week against the Tide, Georgia’s offense and defense will face their first true test of the season.
Keys to the Game
Alabama’s Pass Protection
In the last three games, the pass rush against Alabama’s offensive line has been pressuring the quarterback without much of a fight. Most significantly against Ole Miss, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche practically lived in the backfield as he was a force to be reckoned with, and the Tide had no answer for him.
An important key to the game is how Georgia attacks and applies pressure on Alabama, and whether or not the Tide can protect Coker long enough to make the throws. The Bulldogs will be relying on the pressure of their two dominate edge rushers to make the difference on defense.
Against Ole Miss, Alabama turned over the football five times, yet only lost by six points. Taking care of the football is important and after the loss against the Rebels, there’s no doubt Nick Saban gave the team an ear full for the last two weeks.
On the other hand, Georgia doesn’t turn the ball over. Lambert, as mentioned before, is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation and will manage the game with precision. Between him and Nick Chubb, they only have one turnover, a fumble from Chubb against South Carolina.
Whichever defense can force the most turnovers will have the best chance to win, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.
Players to Watch
Kenyan Drake, Senior Alabama Running Back
I’ve been waiting all year for Kenyan Drake to have his break-out game after starting last year so fast and explosive. This will be the week that Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is going to utilize Drake all over the field, drawing up explosive plays and getting him touches.
Against Ole Miss and ULM, Drake did not record a single reception which is almost crazy to think about considering in the offseason he was taking reps as a receiver. If the Tide want to win, Derrick Henry can’t do it by himself. Drake is the more elusive back that has tremendous speed that will make your head spin and Alabama needs to take advantage of it.
Nick Chubb, Sophomore Georgia Running Back
Twelve straight games of 100 yards rushing and one game away from breaking Herschel Walker’s record. All of that could mean nothing if the highly-praised defensive front seven of Alabama have anything to say about it. Alabama has not allowed a single opponent to run for 100 yards this season.
If Chubb and company can combine for 100 yards rushing, consider that a major accomplishment. If Georgia can stay balanced and get Chubb the football consistently, the sophomore running back has potential to bust out a few big plays against the Tide. If the Heisman hopeful can play up to the billing, this game will belong to the Bulldogs.
The last time these two teams met, they played in Atlanta for an SEC Championship in 2012, in what most considered to be a national championship play-in game to face Notre Dame. Georgia caught a pass down around the five yard-line and before they could snap the ball, the time ran out, punching Alabama’s ticket to the BCS National Championship.
Before that, the two were pitted against each other in 2008. Georgia was the top-ranked home favorite, once again sporting the decision to “black-out” for the big night-game, while Alabama, coming in as an underdog, was picking up steam as they were undefeated and the ‘Saban Dynasty’ about to begin.
At halftime, the score was 31-0 Alabama as the Tide went on to upset the Bulldogs.
This time around, there’s no doubt that both teams have something to play for and that’s why this will be a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish.
Right now the spread is -2.5 in Georgia’s favor and for the first time since 2009, Alabama isn’t favored but I have to agree with guys out in the desert.
Because I don’t trust Alabama’s offense, due to their lack of consistency and ability to protect their quarterback, I give the slight edge to Georgia in a game that could, and most likely will, come down to the final possession.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports