Before you get all worried that I'm in Doomsday mode, I'll highlight where I think Georgia has a few advantages later in the week. I'd figure while I'm puking in trashcans all week I'll throw out some reasons that give me a little scare before I take my seat in the Dome. One is statistical, and one of course is just an opinion.
I really think from an X's and O's perspectives the teams are very evenly matched. Certainly there are aspects of each team's units where one may have an advantage, but schematically we play the same brand of football, and it will come down to who can impose this style with more success. This being my opinion of the matter from a matchup standpoint, I look to a couple X-factors that could determine the difference and I'll highlight two that scare me.
With two evenly matched teams, this game could come down to who can control field position and get those hard earned points when needed. We're all familiar with Georgia woes on special teams at certain points this season, particularly with some negativity concerning Marshall Morgan's woes at points. One thing I've been harping on as well is Georgia's lack of a return game particularly in the punting area. I don't think this game will come down to an extra point, however I'll delve a little bit into some stats comparing both teams. Thanks to cfbstats.com
Bama ranks first in the conference in kick-off return average, and even more concerning is they really don't get that many opportunities given their defense. Bama averages 25.53 yards per KO return, while Georgia is only at 23 yards per return which ranks 5th. While Georgia has had 29 opportunities, the Tide has only mustered 15, meaning they usually have half the opportunities as Georgia, yet still out perform.
Our punt return game has been pretty non-existent through the year. While we do have some explosive playmakers, it seems we've resorted to the fair-catching secure hands of Rhett McGowan as our favorite returner. This is probably due to a few miscues and strange fair catch decisions by Malcolm Mitchell early in the year, and the lack of any explosive returns. Georgia ranks 12th in the conference in punt return average only putting up 6.65 yards per return (probably due to all the fair catching lately). While Bama isn't increasingly better at 7th in the conference they do average over 10 yards per return. In a game where field position will be very important, they have somewhat of a threat and Georgia seems content to merely catch the ball and not try to flip the field.
Marshall Morgan certainly has had some woes, but seems to be improving. Obviously they outmatch us in PAT conversions at 60/61 versus our 54/58, but Morgan has been pretty consistent of late. As far as field goals go Bama comes in at 5th in the SEC with a 77.8% conversion percentage when Georgia comes in at 10th with a 66.7% conversion percentage. Jeremy Shelley is Bama's main FG kicker and he's actually 10/10 on the season. He's a senior as well which makes you think Bama certainly has the advantage in converting in the kicking game. The only field goals they have missed all year have been from Cade Baxter who is their long kicker from 40+. Shelley has a flawless sheet.
Obviously this is an easy one to note if you listen to ESPN or anybody who buys into the Bama machine. While UGA may have more starting upperclassmen, Bama players seem to have a few more miles in their years. Furthermore, Bama as a program is proven, while UGA seemingly has to still justify itself.
Two key people that really have to prove themselves in this scenario are Mark Richt and Aaron Murray. Look I love Aaron Murray and I said since his freshman year that this guy has the kind of heart that will be necessary to get the job done, but it's no secret he's struggled in big games. Andrew over at DudeYouCrazy provides a good breakdown of Aaron's stats in lesser versus big games. He's a damn good quarterback seemingly putting up 4 TD stat lines with ease, yet has never really single handedly gone out and won a big game or had the validating performance like AJ McCarron did last year in the National Championship or his game winning drive versus LSU this year. Even in our biggest win of the year this year versus Florida it was probably one of poorest performances. Likewise the struggles versus South Carolina. He's definitely got the tools and now it's time to go out and prove it.
The program has climbed back from some pretty dark places under Mark Richt. We all can end the debate at this point that he's got what it takes and dreaded argument can subside for a little bit. However, it's time to get back one of those keystone games that solidify our comeback. When Alabama comes into a big game, you know what they bring to the table. This business like machine doesn't go out and lose 35-7 in big games. It's not necessarily the players, but the program that has proven itself as knowing how to be prepared for this type of scenario. It's now time for Richt to go out and prove he can do the same.
It's an opportunity for Georgia's program to end all arguments against it since 2007, and it's the perfect stage to do so. It culminates with the biggest opponent, in the biggest game, and the biggest prize laying afterwards. While both of these areas may seem disadvantages, I keep in mind that they are merely outliers in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully we end both of these notions on Saturday.