INDIANAPOLIS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked if he hears or feels the talk about a national championship drought for the program that extends back to the 1980 college football season.
Smart delivered a matter-of-fact answer at the coaches teleconference on Sunday.
“No, I do not,” Smart said. “What I feel is how do we stop Bryce Young and how do we control their front and how do we run the ball, how do we throw the ball with efficiency, how do we convert third downs and stop them in the red area.”
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Suffice it to say, Smart is locked in on No. 1 Alabama (13-1) ahead of the College Football Playoff championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday. In order to break that national championship drought, No. 3 Georgia (13-1) needs to break a seven-game losing streak to Alabama that dates back to 2008.
Smart is on point, too. If Georgia wants to win, then the focus starts with Alabama’s quarterback. Here are three keys to victory for the Bulldogs:
Young clinched the Heisman Trophy in a 41-24 victory against Georgia in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4. He hit 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns, adding three carries for 40 yards and another score. Alabama rolled up 536 yards of total offense against a unit that allowed 258.3 yards in its first 12 games.
“We talk about him as Houdini because he can make people miss,” Smart said. “He gets rid of the ball. People don’t even account the number of times this guy has avoided sacks and thrown the ball with no intention of anybody catching it. But he knows where to throw the ball to not take a sack.”
Georgia did not have a sack in the first meeting, so the key will be landing on pressures with Nakobe Dean and Devonte Wyatt, who had two hurries apiece in the first meeting. Will Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning use Dean in a spy role more often? That is another trend to watch.
Alabama receiver John Metchie III is out with a torn ACL, and now Georgia can focus on stopping Jameson Williams, who had seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting.
Dean said the Bulldogs are looking at all possible options.
“Everything, basically,” Dean said. “We’re looking at every little thing from the scheme that we use, the scheme that they used to how we can possibly take advantage of some things that we did.”
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Stick with the running game
That is a common adage for any championship game, but Smart said there is a different level of that when dealing with Alabama.
“You can actually win the line of scrimmage and you could possibly lose the game because of explosive plays,” Smart said. “That’s what you’ve got to be careful of.”
Georgia limited Alabama to 115 rushing yards in the first meeting. That needs to be replicated, given Crimson Tide running back Brian Robinson busted loose for 204 rushing yards in a 27-6 Cotton Bowl semifinal victory against Cincinnati. Here’s a look at the rushing totals in the last seven matchups:
* CFP championship game
** SEC championship game
Those numbers suggest Georgia needs to run the ball around 40 times with the trio of Zamir White, James Cook and Kenny McIntosh. That would limit the number of Alabama’s chances on the offensive side.
That would also take the pressure off Stetson Bennett, who finished 29 of 48 for 340 yards and three touchdowns in the SEC championship game. He also threw two interceptions. Georgia wants this game played in the high 20s.
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Big-time players show out
Georgia tight end Brock Bowers — who had 10 catches for 139 yards and a score in the first meeting — is a mismatch for Alabama’s back seven, and he should see favorable coverage in sets with receiver George Pickens. Bowers has six touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ last four games.
All-American defensive tackle Jordan Davis is another key. Can he disrupt the Crimson Tide offense from the interior? He had four tackles in the first matchup, and needs to be a factor on early downs. In the end, Georgia needs to set the tone with that nasty defense that has allowed just 9.6 points per game. Davis said that he expects the Bulldogs to adjust the second time around against Alabama, too.
That’s the one that was on display in a 34-11 domination of Michigan in the Orange Bowl semifinal.
“Our defense is what you’ve seen for the last 12 weeks in the regular season,” Davis said. “Alabama, they gave us a little fit. They threw a lot of haymakers and we couldn’t really respond like we wanted to.
“But with time, you get better,” he said. “You learn more about yourself as a defense. You learn more about Alabama this time going into the game. So definitely this time around definitely will be different.”