Alabama football fans, National Championship Game check out the Bama Hammer staff predictions for the Crimson Tide’s 2018 National Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs. Could anything be more fitting than an all-SEC national championship game 2018?
Unless one is from the SEC, barely anyone wanted to see this game. From social media flooding hate to college football analysts trashing the Southeastern Conference for being weaker than in previous years, the two best teams in college football ended up from that conference.
In a year where all kinds of hate was spewed around not only the college football world but also the real world around us, the two top teams that made it past all obstacles are the two programs run by the two head coaches who would rather stay out of the spotlight. All Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have wanted to do is play football and keep their players focused on one thing: the national championship game.
They run their programs the same way. Alabama football is ranked first overall in the country for total defense, while Georgia is ranked sixth. Both offenses are run by young quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts and Jake Fromm, whom have helped their teams to 37.9 and 36.3 points per game for their respective teams. Georgia’s running game is ranked eighth in the country with 267.4 yards per game, while Alabama is a close 10th with 255.8 yards per game.
The differences are pretty thin, especially since both teams have only one loss and each one was to the same team, Auburn. That is where the comparisons need to be made. AFC Championship 2018
Even though it appears the embrace started from the other direction, Alabama punter JK Scott insists he initiated the hug. The timing of this photo that spread around the Internet like wildfire gives the impression that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban grabbed Scott on his graduation day and said something to the tune of “Please don’t go. NFC Championship 2018
That might have made for a better story, but it isn’t true. While Saban probably does feel that way about the lanky specialist from Denver who has been one of Alabama’s best players from the moment he set foot on campus (no, really), it was Scott who wanted to show his appreciation to a coach who appreciates the hidden yards a great punter can squirrel away for his team. “Nobody hugs Coach Saban,” Scott said. “I just hugged him. I’m a big hugger.” AFC Championship
Either Scott or his Georgia counterpart Cameron Nizialek could get a bearhug from his coach following Monday’s national title game. The Bulldogs’ defense allows 4.7 yards a play, No. 8 in the nation. The Tide’s defense allows 3.9 yards a play. That’s the best in the country. Yards will come at a premium, and the punter who has the best night might wind up the national title game’s most valuable player. (Or he might be the player who most deserves to win the MVP, which probably will wind up going to a quarterback. NFC Championship
It may seem odd to write a national title game preview about the punters, but this story is critical for two reasons. First, these teams might not have made it to Atlanta without these punters. Second, this column is called Punt, Pass and Pork. It has existed for four seasons. It has featured plenty of words about passing and about pork. But until today, it never had focused on punting. Championship Game
Still, the change in stakes hasn’t bothered Nizialek. He doubts he’ll be nervous for the national title game. He’s already punted once in Mercedes-Benz Stadium—in the SEC championship game win against Auburn—so he knows the sight lines. “You have to treat it like every other game,” he said.
Scott also has punted in the national title game venue. The Tide opened their season there with a win against Florida State. That was the game Scott debuted a new punting style that he hoped would gain Alabama more of those hidden yards.
By the end of his junior season, Scott already had put together a stellar career at Alabama. He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award as a freshman in 2014, and he had averaged 46.3 yards a kick over three seasons with 73 punts of 50 yards or more. But it bothered Scott that opponents had returned 20 of his punts for a total of 213 yards. To him, the net mattered more than the gross, and the opponent’s starting field position mattered most.
In December 2016, Nizialek graduated from Columbia with an economics degree. Nizialek had spent three and a half years on campus and been part of four football teams. But he hadn’t seen the field his freshman season. According to the NCAA, he could play one more year. But the Ivy League doesn’t allow redshirting, so if Nizialek wanted to take advantage of that final year, he’d have to do it elsewhere. The son of two Duke graduates, Nizialek hadn’t concentrated on football prestige when choosing which college he would attend after he graduated from Freedom High in Woodbridge, Va. “Out of high school, my focus was to get the best degree I could,” he said. “I never focused on playing big or playing at the next level. I never thought I could play at the NFL. As I developed my career, I thought that might be a possibility.
Georgia was fortunate to vindicate themselves by beating Auburn in the rematch for the SEC championship; however, even in victory, the blueprint was there for Alabama to exploit. Fromm completed 16 of 22 pass attempts for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed three times for a total of four yards. Fromm’s legs are athletic but rarely used. He never needed to do much else than throw back-shoulder passes to his wide receivers near the sidelines.
Why try throwing it down the middle when one has Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift running the ball? Auburn could not handle Swift and Michel running to the outside, while Chubb was a force up the middle for short yardage situations. These three men allowed Fromm to make safe passes for easy first downs.
Yet, why did Georgia lose that first game to the Tigers? Auburn eliminated Chubb from the equation. When Georgia needed a first down, Chubb could only muster 27 yards on 11 carries. It affected the rest of the game. Michel could only gain 21 yards on nine carries and Swift had 18 yards on a mere four rushing opportunities.
When Chubb kept getting the ball, Georgia could not push for big yardage up the middle. The offense would stall, forcing many third-down-and-long situations that Fromm could not convert. It made Fromm have to pass the ball in the middle of the field, which led to a 13 for 28 night for the freshman. No interceptions to speak of, but he could not make the second and third reads fast enough before the Auburn defense hunted him down for four sacks and six QB hurries.
What about the Oklahoma shootout at the Rose Bowl? One would remember that Georgia’s running game is what helped them survive. That and the fact that Oklahoma’s defense was sketchy at best.
Alabama’s issue with Auburn? It wasn’t the running game so much as it was a lack of running the ball. Rushing studs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough rushed for 51 and 46 yards on just 12 combined carries. For some reason, Alabama’s offensive coordinator Brian Daboll made Hurts run the ball a great deal, if he chose not to throw the ball. Hurts ended up running for 82 yards on 18 carries while completing only 12 of 22 passes for 112 yards.
With many of Alabama’s defensive core much healthier than they have been all season, all one has to do is look at the Clemson game to see how the Crimson Tide will feast tonight. Alabama will slow down Georgia’s running game to a crawl. While Georgia has the potential to do the same thing to Alabama’s rushers, the difference will lay with Hurts.
If Hurts can show the balance in attack that he showed throughout the season, excluding the Auburn game, it will keep Georgia’s defense honest. They will need to worry about the sophomore’s legs and newly improved ability to throw the ball down the middle of the field. Fromm’s freshman vision still needs work, which will be the Bulldogs’ downfall with defensive backs like Minkah Fitzpatrick ready to capitalize on any mistakes.
Prediction: expect Alabama to win the game by getting out to a lead in the first half, which will compound the problem for Georgia. They will have to throw the ball more, which only adds to the confusion and fury that Fromm will be held under.