The SEC championship is a big game for Alabama football and Georgia but the Bulldogs must cope with the most pressure to win.
Alabama football players are built to thrive in pressure situations. Still, the impact of facing pressure can be both a boost and a burden. Since the 2009 season, Crimson Tide struggles have come more frequently when the Tide faced little pressure going into a game.
On Saturday in the SEC Championship game, the Georgia Bulldogs will face more pressure than the Crimson Tide. Given last season’s national championship, overtime loss to Alabama football, Georgia seeks more than a Playoff final four slot. The Bulldogs seek vindication and redemption.
Losing to the Crimson Tide in a second straight big game will write a Bulldogs story. Even with last season’s loss, the current script favored by Bulldogs’ faithful is Kirby is rapidly building to overtake Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Kirby’s recruiting success last season fueled that claim.
But another loss on Saturday and it will be harder to claim the Bulldogs are ascendant. Instead, Georgia could become just another SEC East Division team striving to catch up to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Bulldogs have not beaten an Alabama football team since Nick Saban’s first Tide season in 2007. And it took overtime to win that one against a Crimson Tide team that would win only seven games. The 2018 National Championship game has not been the only heartbreak for Georgia. 2008, 2012 and 2015 were also crushing blows to a program and a fan base desperate for championship credibility.
Who specifically will feel the most pressure Saturday?
It will clearly be Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker. The two men got a glimpse of the explosive Alabama football offense in the national championship game. Nearly a season later the Alabama Crimson Tide offense has developed more weapons, become more complex and is even more explosive.
The biggest reason for that offensive improvement is Tua Tagovailoa. Tua is a far better player than he was in January 2018. All of Tua’s many skill sets have expanded. Defensively, Georgia has fewer weapons this season to counter Tua.
Even if Georgia is credited with having the best cornerback in the game, Deandre Baker, the UGA secondary is vulnerable. The other Bulldogs’ corner will be redshirt freshman Eric Stokes, a recent starter for benched true freshman, Tyson Campbell. The Bulldogs’ Star CB, Tyrique McGhee is capable but under-sized at five-feet-nine.
The bigger problem for Kirby and Tucker is getting QB pressure. Poor sack production has been the biggest weakness for the Bulldogs’ defense. An only lightly pressured Tua can light up the Bulldogs. Adding to the pressure on Smart and Tucker will be the need to devote extra numbers to rushing Tua. Heavy blitz dependency may be a necessity but it will leave openings for Tua.
Matt Hinton wrote Alabama “is playing for history” while Georgia is playing “for a chance” to move on in the CFB Playoff. To the extent the Alabama Crimson Tide is playing to be considered one of the best teams in CFB history, that history will not be written Saturday. Neither Tide players or coaches will feel pressure over such a goal. Georgia, however, will face pressure, not unlike survival. Win and move on or lose as the ascendancy claim crumbles.
Who buckles first under Saturday’s pressure. Our guess is it will be Kirby rather than Mel Tucker.