How Georgia Wins the SEC: Stop Alabama’s Running Game
A.J. McCarron is not going to beat the Georgia Bulldogs. I don’t know that A.J. McCarron is going to beat any team in his lifetime at this level and beyond. He’s a fine player – no doubt – but just as I said he didn’t lost the game for the Tide against the Texas A&M Aggies a few weeks ago, I’m telling you: he won’t win the game for the Tide against the Georgia Bulldogs.
McCarron leads a high-powered offense with a lot of weapons, but Alabama is a better football team when they run the ball. With a stable of backs led by Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake the Crimson Tide has racked up over 2500 yards rushing this season, all while threatening 5.5 yards per carry as a team.
Accordingly, I think Alabama will need to rely on their running game for two reasons:
- They are better when running (more on that in a moment), and
- McCarron will face more pressure than he’s seen on Saturday.
Nick Saban is as disciplined of a professional as you will find in any field – athletic or otherwise (yeah, he’s probably really annoying to be around). Everything is down to a T with Saban. Accordingly, he doesn’t often stray from game plans and his game plans rarely vary from his big picture schematic outlook. In light of that it might not surprise you that Alabama has attempted between 20 and 26 pass attempts in eight of their eleven FBS games this season. That’s incredible precision. It probably won’t surprise you either that Alabama has averaged nearly 43 points per game in those outings.
What might surprise you, however, is how Alabama has fared when throwing the ball more often than 26 times. In those three games (Ole Miss, LSU and Texas A&M) Alabama has averaged just over 30 points per game.
The graph below shows how the Tide’s offensive production decreases as passing attempt increase.
Why is that? It may be as simple as recognizing that pass attempts take away from the running game. And as I stated earlier, Alabama’s offense is better with more running as evidenced by this chart.
This may seem coincidental, but Alabama’s points scored and rushing attempts have not varied by more than 7 in any game this season. That’s pretty refined correlation.
Alabama has 419 points on 434 rushing attempts. Which is almost as interesting as how unessential the ever-efficient A.J. McCarron may actually be. McCarron is considered the second most efficient passer in the country (behind only the Murr-Man), but if we take all of Alabamas 267 pass attempts on the season and let him throw each one at his current 9.46 yards per attempt clip he’d account for 2647 yards and 26 Tds (given his current 10:1 pass:TD ratio). On the other hand if Alabama decided only to run the ball and split carries only among Alabama’s four backs who have 30+ carries this season the Tide’s 434 rushing attempts would yield 2767 and an astounding 37 carries.
I’d say the stable of backs is more vital to Alabama. And when the Tide sticks to the horses they are a better team.
Alabama will need to run the football against Georgia, and I think that is a good thing if you are a Dawg fan. When looking at this year’s football season there seem to be two distinct eras: Before Shawn Williams Spoke (B.S. Era) and After Shawn Williams Spoke (A.S. Era).
The defense has been completely transformed since his tirade following the Kentucky game – and it has yielded good results – especially in the run defense.
The chart below shows the correlation between what Georgia allows on the ground (as a percentage of what the opposition averages on the season) and what Georgia allows on the scoreboard (as a percentage of the opponent’s scoring average). As you can see the Bulldogs have held three of their last four FBS opponents below 50% of their season rushing average and below 50% of their season scoring – and frankly I think Georgia Tech’s gimmicky run-only offense qualifies the Yellow Jackets as an outlier.
Todd Grantham’s defense will need to keep Alabama in this 50% range (the gorgeous aqua-marine color) to give Georgia’s offense a fighting chance. I like Georgia’s offense better than Alabama’s if they both play against the air or against an average opponent, but I don’t think Murray and Co. can expect to score 40 on Kirby Smart’s defense. Something in the 20’s, however, may be doable.
The other transition brought forth by Williams was an increase in pressure behind the line – both on passers and on runners. When I look back at Georgia’s stellar defensive performances this year I think of the shutout against Auburn (a shutout is always noteworthy), the three-point Vandy game, the upset of Florida and the stopping of Georgia Tech. In each of those games (as well as the Ole Miss game) Georgia forced more than 20 yards in losses from tackles for loss. Interestingly enough: four of the five games I just mentioned happened A.S. (After Shawn).
Alabama has a stellar offensive line led by seasoned big-man Barrett Jones, but I expect Georgia to bring pressure and bring it often. And, if Georgia’s pressure is having an impact on the overall productivity of the defense, then I have to believe Georgia has become one of the nation’s best defenses at getting after folks behind the line. Because, Georgia has become one of the best defenses in the nation.
Consider this: over the last four FBS games (the A.S. Era) Georgia has surrendered only 29 total points against four offenses whose season averages (outside of games against Georgia) have combined to equal 114. Georgia has, in other words, only allowed 25.46% of opponents’ scoring averages over that time period.
Over the same time frame Alabama defense, which on the entirety of the season is the nation’s best, has surrendered 53 points to four offenses who have averaged a combined 121 points per outing against non-Bama competition. That’s 43.75%.
Georgia is outperforming the best of the best as a defensive unit.
Alabama’s ability (or if you’re a Georgia fan like me, inability) to run the football against Georgia’s rejuvenated defense will be the key to this football game. I’d sure love to see McCarron passing a lot.
Be Sure to Read this Coverage of Conference Championship Week as well:
- Weekly Recap
- SEC Coaching Carousel
- Manti Te’O would be a backup for Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree
- Data Dump: White and Nerdy Statistical Analysis on the SEC and the BCS Top 3
That’s all I got/