Rivals meet again in the 2023 SEC Championship Game when the two-time defending National Champions Georgia Bulldogs meet the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Alabama slipped early, losing at home to Texas, and appeared to be heading towards a lost season amidst quarterback controversy. However, the team has won nine straight games and appear poised to give the Bulldogs, who have been rarely tested all season, a run with a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line.
Alabama is an underdog, but oddsmakers are wise to recent run of form from this team's offense, giving them more than a puncher's chance on Saturday.
Can the Crimson Tide potentially bounce the champs from the CFP before it even starts? Here's everything you need to know for this titanic matchup.
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Is Alabama's Offense Fixed with Jalen Milroe?
After being benched in Week 3 against South Florida, Milroe has this Alabama offense humming once again, but is it sustainable against Georgia?
The key to the Crimson Tide offense has been its evolution of the deep pass. Milroe may not be a traditional pocket passer, but he has been money on the shot plays, completing 55% of his passes of 20 or more yards (comprising nearly a quarter of his dropbacks) for 15 touchdowns with only one interception. Milroe has 23 big time throws on deep passes with zero turnover worthy plays.
Alabama's offensive line continues to be an issue, outside the top 100 in sacks allowed and the team is outside the top 50 in terms of yards per carry, but the team has become dangerous at creating big plays, top 25 in explosive play rate this season.
While the team is unable to generate much success down-to-down, the offense is outside the top 40 in success rate on the year, the team has been able to turn games with Milroe's big play ability.
Will that work against Georgia?
The Bulldogs have pros on the defensive line, but the unit is bottom half of the country in terms of sacks and outside the top 50 in Pro Football Focus' pass rush grade. The numbers may not be as eye-popping as the last two title teams, the unit is still among the best in the country, especially in the secondary.
Georgia is seventh in EPA/Play and top 20 in limiting explosive passes. Overall, the unit is nails against the pass with the likes of Javon Bullard and Malaki Starks patrolling the back seven at safety.
However, the run game has been prone to giving up big plays, evident on the first play against Tennessee when Jaylen Wright took it 80 yards to the house. The defense has allowed more than five yards per carry and is 63rd in EPA/Rush.
It's worth noting that Alabama's lead running back Jase McClellan is questionable with a foot injury suffered last week. He was spotted after the game in a boot and using crutches. He is averaging less than five yards per carry, and his absence could pave way for the likes of Roydell Williams to have more of an impact, who is averaging north of five yards per carry.
Can Alabama find its ground game in this one?
That will likely determine the matchup as Georgia's secondary may be well equipped to limit the deep passes. Milroe has proven to be a devastating rusher with his legs, but the Crimson Tide offense hasn't been overwhelming on the ground.
Georgia's Offense is Outperforming Defense
As I mentioned above, the Georgia defense is still elite, but it's not dominant like it was in the past. However, as the season has gone on, Georgia's offense has turned into the best in the country.
The unit has dealt with injuries around first year starter Carson Beck all season, but over the last month we have seen the team look like a National Championship favorite when it possesses the ball.
Georgia has scored 30 or more in every game since Oct. 7 (seven straight) and has scored 40 or more in three of them. That includes matchups against ranked caliber teams such as Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee.
This unit is third in EPA/Play behind a balanced attack. There aren't many flaws in the Bulldogs offense, the team is top of the country in many statistics, including yards per play (7.25), points per drive (3.91) and success rate (fourth). Beck has emerged as an incredibly efficient passer, completing more than 72% of his passes for 3,503 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Georgia doesn't rely on chunk passes as much as Alabama because the team has a far sturdier offensive line that is constantly pushing forward. The offensive line has allowed 47 tackles for loss this season (11th in the country) and is averaging more than five yards per carry (13th).
UGA is 97th in explosive pass rate, which could make for an interesting battle against Alabama's secondary which checks in second in coverage grading per PFF. Beck has been clinical on short passes, completing 84% of his passes between zero and nine yards, but hasn't been asked to go deep with it.
He is passing the ball more than 20 yards on just 12 of his attempts and completing only 41% of those passes. He's more than capable, it's just not part of the UGA game plan.
Georgia should be able to dictate this game on the ground and open up deep passes in a timely fashion. Alabama's defense is middle of the nation in terms of EPA/Rush and the team has posted sub 70 grades (below average) against the two best SEC run games the team has faced in Tennessee and LSU.
Alabama vs. Georgia Odds, Spread and Total
Alabama vs. Georgia Prediction and Pick
Alabama's offense has come on over the last few weeks, but it's worth noting who the team has played. The unit scored 42 against one of the worst SEC defenses in LSU, 49 on an overrated Kentucky defense and 66 on FCS Chattanooga, before struggling in The Iron Bowl against a sturdy Auburn defense.
With that being said, I do believe offensive coordinator Tommy Reese can scheme up some openings for Milroe and the Crimson Tide offense to get the ball moving dow field. Yes, Georgia has an elite secondary, but the run defense has had holes and Milroe has been on point on his deep passes this entire season. It's no longer a fad, he's surgical at getting the ball down field to the likes of former Bulldogs wide receiver Jermaine Burton.
I don't trust Alabama's offense to stay consistent over the course of the game, to beat outduel Georgia, who possesses too much firepower on offense to move the ball at will, but I do believe the team can score a bit.
Georgia has been scoring with ease despite injuries all over during the course of the year, and I see no reason not to side with the Bulldogs offense yet again.
I think Georgia's efficiency on offense is too much for the sometimes prodding Alabama attack to keep up and that the Bulldogs pull away and punch its ticket to the CFP. With that being said, I see some fireworks in store for Alabama and prefer the over as my favorite bet in this one.
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.
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