Kevin C. Cox
Making the right comparison, the three key players, and why UGA won't score more than 24 points.
Alabama is understandably the favorite in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, so many previews I've seen have been focused on how Georgia can pull in elements of Texas A&M's offensive game plan. It's only natural, given that the Aggies are the only team to have defeated the Crimson Tide this year while also putting up the most points Bama has given up on the season.
While I get where that approach is coming from, it's not the best thing UGA could be doing with its time. Georgia's best chance is to dance with the one who brung it. Aaron Murray does have some wheels, but he's not Johnny Manziel. With Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown out for the season, it wouldn't be wise for the Bulldogs to suddenly start lining up in four- and five-wide sets nearly every play. We won't be seeing Mike Bobo bust out the diamond formation either. Georgia is a pro-style team, with lots of running out of the I-formation and most formations having at least one tight end on the line.
And while Texas A&M scored the most points on Bama, LSU is the one that gained the most yards. LSU was also the only SEC team to hold the Tide under 400 total yards at 331 on the game, while Bama outgained the Aggies in their contest. The Tigers had Alabama beat until A.J. McCarron led a furious two-minute drill in which the Bayou Bengals' defense inexplicably fell apart. Had LSU cashed in on some opportunities better earlier in the game, we'd be previewing a rematch of last year's SEC Championship Game right now.
Replicating LSU's success will heavily rely on Murray and Todd Gurley. Murray will have to be sharp like his former teammate Zach Mettenberger was, as the latter picked Bama apart with a controlled passing game. Gurley, who has been more consistent than his backfield mate Keith Marshall, will need to do a good Jeremy Hill impression to keep the chains moving. LSU had a time of possession lead of 19:30 over Alabama, a big factor in how the Tigers controlled the game. A team like Oregon doesn't care about time of possession, but teams like Alabama, LSU, and Georgia certainly do.
I ran a score projection for this game using my usual method (which excludes I-AA action). It came out with a 30-20 Alabama win with the Tide outgaining Georgia 390-311. That outcome would make a ton of sense, and I'll stick with it for my pick. It's true that UGA has a fantastic offense, but relative to opponents' season averages in total yardage, the LSU game is the only bad game Bama's defense had. Every other opponent got held to more than 100 yards under their typical rate. Every team also scored at least 12.5 points under their season averages for points scored. Using the latter heuristic and UGA's 37.36 points per game rate, UGA's maximum point total is right at about 24.
I don't know if 24 points is enough for Georgia to beat Alabama. While it's true that the Bulldogs' defense has finished strong, it's also true that Ole Miss, Auburn, and Georgia Tech don't make up a murderer's row. They're going to need Jarvis Jones to take over the game like he did against Missouri and especially Florida, but Alabama won't be doing stupid things like running sweeps to his side or having a quarterback-turned-tight end try to block him. He's the best singular defensive talent in this game, a dominant force the likes of which Alabama doesn't have. Bama's tackles are big, but they might not be fast enough to contain him.
I certainly do give Georgia a chance to win this game. It would make for a fantastic story about persistence for Mark Richt and mean that Nick Saban would, believe it or not, have only one conference championship in his first half dozen years in Tuscaloosa. It's not what I'm picking, but it could happen.
Alabama (-7.5) over Georgia 30-20