It's Week 5 in college football, and what a season it has been so far! On paper, it looked like last weekend might have been kind of a quiet one in college football. Man, was I wrong. Saturday was highlighted by #4 TCU miraculously avoiding an upset by unranked Texas Tech, Tennessee inexplicably losing a 12th time in a row to a supposedly rebuilding Florida team, and Utah absolutely destroying 2015 CFB Playoff Runners-Up Oregon. This week, College Gameday heads to Clemson, SC, for #6 Notre Dame vs. #12 Clemson a.k.a the perceived game of the week. Seriously though, the biggest game this Saturday will begin a few hours earlier in Athens, GA.
Athens will play to host to one of the most anticipated games of the season in #13 Alabama vs. #8 Georgia at 3:30 PM EST on CBS. Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide certainly have their backs to the wall after suffering a, 43-37, heartbreaking loss in the third week of the season to then underdog Ole Miss. They can't lose another game as they will essentially be eliminated from reaching the College Football Playoff, and a loss severely damages their chances of winning the SEC West. However, all is not lost for the Tide. They can do exactly what they did last year after losing to Ole Miss - win out and get back to the CFB Playoff. And remember, Nick Saban's teams always seem to be the most dangerous when many count them out.
Make no mistake, Alabama is dangerous. They are supremely talented with NFL guys all over the field. Their front seven on defense is absolutely ridiculous. They are one of the best stop units in the nation. The defense is especially dominant in the run game; (It helps having one of the most intimidating and most talented defensive lines in the country.) They have only given up an average of 56.8 yards per game on the ground. Any team will be hard pressed to run the ball on Alabama and being one-dimensional against the Crimson Tide is typically a recipe for disaster. The secondary is the only soft spot on this defense for the Tide and opposing teams have to try to exploit that.
Quarterback is the biggest question mark for Alabama. Jake Coker has been pretty good at times but has also been very inconsistent. The play of Coker will be critical to how the Tide fares against a good Georgia team. He doesn't have to do too much because of the talent surrounding him. He just has to play smart, limit mistakes, and, above all, not turn the ball over. The Tide's game plan should revolve around Coker's extremely talented backfield mate in stud running back Derrick Henry. Besides not being the size of a normal human, Henry has bruising power and great speed for his massive frame. When he gets started, Henry is beyond difficult to stop.
Kenyan Drake is the lightening to Henry's thunder as he is a speedy, versatile player, who contributes running the ball, as a receiver, and in the return game. The Tide have capable receivers led by ArDarius Stewart, talented freshman Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster, and surprise contributor Richard Mullaney among others. The top receiving weapon this year has been tight end O.J. Howard, who is finally having a season that many thought he was capable of. This Tide team is ultra-talented on both sides of the ball and still appears to be one of the best teams in the country.
Coker's play is one of the keys to a Tide victory.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
The home team is not that bad either. Georgia has not played that difficult of a schedule yet but have still looked impressive. The Alabama game will serve as the perfect test to see if this Georgia team is legit. The offense is loaded, especially in the backfield. If any team can run on Alabama's stingy rush defense, it has to be the Bulldogs. They have a top offensive line paving the way for arguably the best and deepest running back corps in the nation led by one of the best backs in college football in Nick Chubb, who is a perfect blend of power, elusiveness, and speed. His greatest quality has to be his vision. He is backed up by Sony Michel, who might be the best overall playmaker on this offense. He is one of the fastest guys in the team and is a weapon taking handoffs from the backfield, in the slot, and on special teams. Another part of his game that hasn't been talked about much is that he appears to be stronger and more powerful in 2015 after a full offseason in the UGA weight room, and it's evident on the field. Michel might be the most key offensive piece because he not only can run inside but also possesses the speed to break it outside where Alabama is not as dominant.
The group of the receivers is pretty darn good. It is headlined by leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who appears to be finally back to his 2012 self before struggling with injuries for a long time. He has seemed to develop nice chemistry with new quarterback Greyson Lambert. After a so-so game against Louisiana-Monroe in Week 1, to a bad game against Vanderbilt, to a record-setting day against South Carolina, and solid play last week against Southern University, the UGA fans have to feel pretty good about their quarterback play, which was a question for a long while. Then again, Lambert has not faced a defense like Alabama brings to the table.
Georgia knows how to play defense too. Jeremy Pruitt is undoubtedly one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. He commands one of the top defenses in the nation led by a linebacking group that might be the best in college football with the three-headed monster of Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, and Lorenzo Carter. Let's just say, they know how to make an opposing quarterback uncomfortable. The secondary play has improved in 2015 as they boast the #2 pass defense in the SEC. This defense is fast and athletic, and it's one of the best in the country.
The keys for both teams in this game is simple. For Alabama, they need to establish the run with Henry, limit quarterback mistakes, and NOT TURN THE BALL OVER. Kirby Smart's defense has to put pressure on Lambert and force him into bad throws. The defensive line needs to be keying on stopping Nick Chubb and the Georgia run game. Above all, the Tide can't beat themselves.
For Georgia, big games have been a curse as of late. They need to do what they do best - run the ball and feed off of that with play action. They have to be balanced against Alabama if they want to win. The vaunted linebackers of UGA also have to blitz Coker and attempt to make his day miserable, and the defensive unit has to hope to slow down Derrick Henry.
The primetime matchup of the week might be Notre Dame vs. Clemson, but the biggest game in my mind is Alabama-Georgia. A win for the Tide would restore confidence and get them back on track to competing in the SEC. A victory for Georgia would mean a lot to this team. Mark Richt and his staff can not only prove they can win big games, but a nice "W" against Alabama will cement this team as a true playoff contender.