Despite Alabama’s recent mastery of Georgia, Alabama players downplayed Wednesday any role the Crimson Tide’s dominance in the series might play Monday night in their College Football Playoff national championship game matchup.
A month ago, Alabama beat then No. 1-ranked Georgia convincingly, 41-24, in the SEC championship game, and the Crimson Tide also beat the Dawgs in the CFP national championship game to cap the 2017 season. Alabama has won seven straight games in the series, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart is 0-4 against Alabama’s Nick Saban.
“Georgia’s going to come out and play their hardest game. They’re a great team, and I don’t think they have any mental or kinda something blocking them mentally from winning,” Alabama linebacker Henry To’oTo’o said. “I think Georgia’s going to come out and play hard, fast and physical as they usually do. They’re going to play their game. Georgia’s a tremendous team, and it’s up to us to answer the bell, how we respond, how we execute, how we play. We’re excited for the challenge.”
This will be To’oTo’o’s fourth game against Georgia after transferring from Tennessee a year ago, and he knows what to expect from the Dawgs.
“Georgia’s always been big, fast and physical … try to punch you in the mouth every single down,” said To’oTo’o, Alabama’s leading tackler with 106 total stops. “Like I said before, it’s a huge challenge for us, being able to answer the bell. My fourth time playing them now, I’m excited. It’s always one of those games that I mark on my calendar, to be able to execute. I’ve got to put my best foot forward. That’s every single game, but Georgia’s got that extra fight in them, that dog in them that they’re never going to back down and always keep punching.”
Alabama senior defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis shrugged off any talk that Alabama might be in Georgia’s head.
“They come to play their best game, and we do, too,” Mathis said. “So I really don’t think about all the past stuff. I’m just real about what’s in front of us now. I can’t really speak on the past things we’ve done against those guys. It’s the new year, new team that we’re playing.”
Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams had seven catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC championship game win over a Georgia team that had given up just seven touchdowns total on defense in its 12 regular-season games.
“… I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on both teams,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of pressure on those guys to get the ‘W.’ There’s a lot of pressure on us to beat a team two times.”
Alabama is third nationally with 52 quarterback sacks, and Georgia is fourth with 45 sacks. But in the first matchup, the Dawgs didn’t sack Alabama quarterback Bryce Young once, and Young finished with 421 yards passing, three touchdown passes and no interceptions.
“I think Bryce does a really good job of understanding and processing, but it’s a whole different ball game on Monday night,” Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “It’s a tremendous challenge. Coach Smart, Coach (Dan) Lanning, Coach (Will) Muschamp and those guys are at the top of their game when it comes to defensive coaching, and then they have the players to make it happen.”
Alabama’s defense forced Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett into three interceptions in the first game, and one of those was returned 42 yards for a touchdown by Jordan Battle. Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding pointed out that NFL teams play each other twice every year in their own division, so a rematch isn’t necessarily an advantage or disadvantage for either side of the ball. Golding said both sides would tweak things, while not completely overhauling anything.
“I think the big thing is, with any quarterback, what they see is not what they need to get every snap,” Golding said. “And I think you’re trying to make him make the decision of what coverage it is, what front it is, what pressure is it — once he’s got the ball in his hand. I think the key is, in a pre-snap read, he thinks he’s getting this look and then the ball turns over now and it’s a different coverage or it’s a different pressure, a different front. And, now, he’s got to think.”