SEC heavyweights throw down in Tuscaloosa
The first titanic matchup of the college football season is here, featuring a pair of quarterbacks looking for the biggest victory of their careers.
The stakes and the storylines will be plentiful when No. 2 Alabama hosts No. 3 Georgia on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, but much of the pregame hype figures to spin on the season starts of Tide quarterback Mac Jones and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett. Both teams are 3-0, all in SEC play.
Jones is the national leader in passing efficiency with a rating of 220.3, having completed 66 of 83 passes for 1,101 yards, with eight touchdowns and one interception. Jones has thrown for 852 yards in the past two games, leading the Crimson Tide to a total of 115 points vs. Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
Jones, a junior, was at least something of a known entity heading into the season, starting four games last year for an injured Tua Tagovailoa. Bennett, however, has been nearly a complete surprise.
The 5-foot-11 junior was probably the Bulldogs’ fourth choice at quarterback in the offseason. But then Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman opted out of the season, USC transfer J.T. Daniels wasn’t medically cleared for the opener, and D’Wan Mathis lasted only 17 passes as the starter before Bennett got his shot.
He’s hitting 63.1 percent of his passes (53 of 84) for 689 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I honestly think he’s just himself. He doesn’t try to be someone else. He doesn’t try to artificially lead or fake it. He never did that while he was trying to compete for the job and he hasn’t done it since he got the job,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
“I think the skill players on offense, the offensive line, they all trust him and rally around him because they know he understands what we’re trying to do offensively and he can put them in good situations.”
Much of the same is true for Jones, who isn’t an athletic marvel but takes advantage of great personnel around him, including future first-rounders on the offensive line, speedy wideouts DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, and dangerous running backs Najee Harris (10 touchdowns this season) and Brian Robinson Jr.
Alabama leads the nation at 51.0 points per game, but its defense is far from coach Nick Saban’s standards. The Tide gave up a school record 643 yards last week in a 63-48 win over fast-paced Ole Miss.
“We’ve had some guys that have made multiple mistakes; either have to get that fixed or replace them,” Saban said. “And we’re going to work in every endeavor and try to get better. Believe me, there is no one satisfied with the way we played.”
Georgia has the rare SEC defense satisfied with its play this season.
The Bulldogs are first nationally in rushing defense (38.3 yards per game), second in total defense (236.7) and tied for fifth in scoring defense (12.3 points per game). Georgia has allowed just six points in the second half this season.
“Maybe the best defensive team in the country all the way around when you talk about stopping the run, having good pass defense, getting off the field on third down,” Saban said.
Alabama has won the past five meetings, including two over Smart — in an overtime thriller in the 2017 national title game and in the 2018 SEC championship game. Smart was an Alabama assistant under Saban from 2007 to 2015, almost all as the defensive coordinator.
Saban is 21-0 against his former assistants.
–Field Level Media