NCAA Saturday Night Football: Alabama/Georgia Preview

by Alec McMordie

Saturday night features the most-anticipated game so far in this college football season the Georgia Bulldogs traveling to Tuscaloosa to play the Alabama Crimson Tide in a battle of the third and second-ranked teams in this week’s AP poll.

As if this showdown needed more drama, the status of Alabama head coach Nick Saban remains a question mark after he tested positive for COVID earlier in the week. Saban has not been symptomatic and reportedly tested negative for the virus on Thursday. Protocols require three successive negative tests along with the individual being asymptomatic as prerequisites to return to normal football activities, so Saban may get cleared to be with his team for this game. The Crimson Tide opened as a 7-point favorite, but that number dropped by a couple of points after the news of Saban’s positive test. That line movement could have been the market’s assessment of the head coach’s value on the sidelines for his team and/or that some Alabama players may also test positive.

Alabama looked rather un-Saban-like last week in their 63-48 victory Ole Miss. The Rebels made mincemeat of the Crimson Tide defense by accumulating 647 yards of offense in what may have been the worst defensive performance in Saban’s 14-year tenure at Alabama. Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin may have had some insider knowledge he was able to deploy as Saban’s former offensive coordinator at Alabama. However, Saban extended his record against his former Crimson Tide assistant coaches to a 21-0 mark.

Quarterback Mac Jones has seamlessly taken over the Alabama offense. After making four starts last year for an injured Tua Tagovailoa, including the final two games of the year against Auburn and Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, Jones is completing 79.5% of his passes this season for 1101 passing yards with eight touchdown passes and one interception. He ranks second in the nation in Quarterback Rating while leading an offense that is scoring 51.0 points per game while averaging 560.3 rushing yards per game. He is complemented in the backfield by senior running back Najee Harris, who has 347 rushing yards on the season after gaining 206 yards last week against Ole Miss while reaching the end zone five times.

Georgia followed up their victory over Auburn two weeks ago with a 44-21 win at home against Tennessee. The Bulldogs seem to have settled on former walk-on Stetson Bennett as their starting quarterback despite two highly-touted freshman recruits and USC transfer J.T. Daniel on the quarterback depth chart. Bennett has been efficient under center while making few mistakes. He completed 16 of 27 passes against the Volunteers for 238 yards with two touchdown passes. He has five touchdown passes without an interception on the season.

Mistake-free football suits Georgia head coach Kirby Smart given his outstanding defense that may be the best in the country. The Bulldogs are holding their opponents to only 12.3 points per game and 236.7 yards per game.

Alabama has won the last five meetings between these two teams, with the most recent two games played on a neutral field for the SEC Championship and the 2017-18 National Championship. Three of the last four showdowns between these two teams have been decided by 7 points or less.

Which unit prevails in this clash between the potent Alabama offense and the elite Georgia defense? Will Smart snap the 21-game losing streak former Alabama assistants have against Saban’s Crimson Tide teams? Will Saban even be on the sidelines for this game?

BetOnline has the Crimson Tide as a 4.5-point favorite with the total set at 58. CBS has the broadcast at 8 PM ET.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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