Lambert, Coker could be keys to Alabama-Georgia showdown
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) They are viewed as nothing more than caretakers, a pair of quarterbacks who mainly need to get their teams in the right play, avoid big mistakes, and let all those talented players around them shine.
In a game that is essentially must-win for the Crimson Tide, the Coker vs. Lambert matchup could go a long way toward determining which team comes out on top Saturday in this Southeastern Conference showdown.
''The quarterback has got to play well in games like this,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
Alabama (3-1, 0-1 SEC) is coming off an upset loss at home to Mississippi two weeks ago, a game in which the Crimson Tide committed five turnovers. Coker threw three touchdown passes but also had a pair of interceptions. He's been picked off four times already this season, hardly providing the sort of stability that coach Nick Saban was hoping to get out of the 6-foot-6 transfer from Florida State.
But Saban insisted that Coker's numbers are better than they appear.
''It's more `Did you do what you were supposed to do on the play? Did you throw the ball where you were supposed to? Did you manage the team?''' Saban said. ''I think in all those areas he has gotten better and better and better.''
Georgia (4-0, 2-0) didn't decide on a starting quarterback until a week before the opener, but Lambert - a transfer from Virginia - has justified his selection by completing 33 of his last 35 passes, including a 24-of-25 showing against South Carolina to set an NCAA record.
Of course, this might be the toughest defense he faces all season. Alabama has the top-ranked run defense in the SEC, allowing less than 57 yards per game, and will look to make things tough on Nick Chubb, who has rushed for 100 yards in 12 straight games and ranks second in the league to LSU's Leonard Fournette with 599 yards this season.
Even Chubb thinks Lambert will have to play a leading role against the Crimson Tide.
''Being able to pass the ball will be key,'' Chubb said.
Then again, Richt doesn't want his quarterback to feel like he has to win the game all by himself.
''Sometimes making the right play is just doing what you always do,'' Richt said. ''Rarely do guys have to do something acrobatic or beyond the call of duty. Do the job, do it well. That's what gives you a chance.''
Some other things to watch when Alabama takes on Georgia between the hedges:
FAMILIAR FACES: Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was the secondary coach at Alabama from 2010-12, and he's not the only familiar face that Saban will see on the opposite side of the field. Rob Sale (offensive line), Kevin Sherrer (linebackers) and Mark Hocke (strength and conditioning) are former Tide assistants, as well. ''They know a lot about what you do and how you do it, so that's not something that makes you comfortable,'' Saban said.
NOT YOUR ORDINARY BACKUPS: Chubb and Alabama star Derrick Henry figure to get the bulk of the carries, but don't forget about their change-of-pace backups. Georgia's Sony Michel has rushed for 223 yards and is also dangerous as a receiver, with eight catches and three touchdowns. Kenyan Drake has 215 yards rushing and seven catches, including a 69-yarder.
TWO-LOSS TAKEDOWN: Since the SEC went to a divisional alignment in 1992, only three teams have won the championship after losing at least two conference games during the regular season. LSU, in 2001, is the only team during that span to bounce back from a 0-2 start in conference play to capture the title. So, while Alabama can still recover from another loss, history would be heavily against the Crimson Tide - especially with three more ranked opponents left on the schedule.
GO-TO RECEIVER: Lambert has left little doubt that senior Malcolm Mitchell is his favorite receiver. He already has 20 catches for 306 yards and three touchdowns, more than twice as many receptions as the next guy on the list. If Alabama clamps down on Mitchell, can Reggie Davis, Isaiah McKenzie or Terry Godwin step up to fill the void?
GETTING THEIR KICKS: A game between two closely matched teams might come to the kickers. Georgia would appear to have a big edge with Marshall Morgan, a senior who has made 50 of 65 field goals in his career. Alabama's Adam Griffith is just 3 of 7 on the season, though he has connected on his last three attempts. It will be interesting to see how Morgan bounces back after being involved in a play last week that left Southern University player Devon Gales with a severe neck injury.
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AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.