Breaking down a clash of two Top-10 SEC teams in Athens.
1. If you haven't heard, Georgia's going to be back in black. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt is calling for a "Blackout" and will have his team sporting black jerseys for just the third time -- in a year. The first time it had some bite. The captains came out for the coin toss vs. Auburn in red and tore off their jerseys to show the black underneath, giving the team an emotional lift in a pivotal game. Georgia wore the blacks for a second time during its Sugar Bowl shellacking of Hawaii. Richt is obviously looking to add even more electricity to the proceedings, but it's bordering on growing stale. And in the end, isn't it just laundry?
There's still the matter of how Georgia's young line will handle Alabama's dominant defensive front (more on that later), something UGA's uniforms will have no effect on. And don't think that Nick Saban hasn't been discussing the "Blackout" with his players ad nausea . But since Georgia's uniform choice seems to be the national obsession heading into what will be a major litmus test for two teams with designs on winning the SEC, here's another clothing tidbit: The Crimson Tide will be in white. Tell your friends.
2. The Tide can prove without a doubt that they're back. The season-opening victory over then-No. 9 Clemson, Top-10 ranking and 49 points against Arkansas (the most Alabama has scored against an SEC opponent since 1990) all look good on the resume of The Four Million Dollar Man in just his second year in Tuscaloosa. But beating Georgia between the hedges would really show Saban has completed his rebuilding project faster than a house in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
To get that signature win, Saban may have to abandon the offensive script that has led the Tide to a 4-0 start. Behind junior Glen Coffee and freshman Mark Ingram, Alabama has rolled up 236.8 yards per game on the ground, averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored nine rushing touchdowns. But up against Georgia's third-ranked rush defense -- which has allowed just 45.8 yards per game -- 'Bama may have to open up the passing game.
Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson hasn't had a completion of more than 36 yards this year and his last 300-yard passing game came against Tennessee last season, but he does have a wealth of talent -- albeit unproven talent -- with a receiving corps led by Julio Jones.
Alabama's ability to throw the ball should be key, but it's not as important as ...
3. 'Bama's D-line vs. Georgia's O-line -- the one matchup that will determine the game. The Bulldogs' offensive line has been in transition since sophomore left tackle Trinton Sturdivant was lost in the preseason with a knee injury, and while its performance against Arizona State last weekend was strong (Georgia totaled 461 yards and allowed just one sack), questions remain. The answers will come against a nasty Tide defensive front.
UGA started two freshmen (center Ben Jones and right tackle Justin Anderson), two sophomores (left guard Chris Davis and right guard Clint Boling) and junior left tackle Vince Vance against the Sun Devils, but Richt isn't saying who will start against Alabama. One spot could belong to sophomore left tackle Kiante Tripp, who was out last week with an ankle injury but is expected to play Saturday.
That young group, especially Jones, will face a major test in a Tide D led by mammoth nose tackle Terrence Cody. Alabama has yielded 55 rushing yards a game and 2.2 yards per carry. If the Dawgs can't control the line of scrimmage, Heisman candidate Knowshon Moreno's night could resemble the nightmare experience Clemson's James Davis and C.J. Spiller had versus 'Bama (13 and 7 yards, respectively).
Matthew Stafford and the Georgia passing game have taken advantage of Moreno's ability to open up the aerial attack, but if there are no yards for Knowshon, can Stafford, A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi shoulder the load?
What problems does Georgia pose for its opponents? I spoke to a coach of one of the Bulldogs opponents for his impressions. Here's what he had to say:
"One thing about their offense is that they have so many weapons. Their size and speed at the skill positions is as good as I've seen in a long time. They got playmakers all over the place, and I thought Stafford, when we played him, was as sharp as any quarterback I've seen in quite some time. When you add Moreno in there, you better tackle him on the first time because you're not going to get a second try.
"I think you have to make them one-dimensional. If you can stop their run game and make them have to throw the ball to beat you, even though they throw it very well, I think you have a chance to beat them. They're going to try to run that football at you and you gotta stop that and make them one-dimensional where those play-action passes aren't really as effective.
"Their defense is outstanding and that often gets overlooked and that's why they win, because they play great defense."
Georgia 24, Alabama 21. If the Dawgs have a weakness, it's that offensive line. They haven't faced an opponent that's been able to limit Moreno and put pressure on Stafford. Alabama showed against Clemson they can do both, and if it turns into a smash-mouth battle in the trenches, the Tide may have the edge ... But Georgia's offensive balance should be enough to keep 'Bama on its heels and, most importantly, keep UGA perfect in those black unis.