Oct 30, 2021; Jacksonville, Florida, USA;  Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Derion Kendrick (11) and linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) react after a play in the first half against the Florida Gators at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive matchups among key storylines for No. 1 Georgia-No. 3 Alabama clash

For the past eight weeks, there has been no debate as to who’s the best team in college football.

The No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (12-0) have been a unanimous selection atop the AP Top 25 Poll since Alabama lost to Texas A&M 41-38 on Oct. 9. The Bulldogs are a week away from tying Alabama’s record of nine straight weeks of garnering every first-place vote, which they did in 2017-18 season, when they lost to Clemson in the national title game.

The Bulldogs have been the only team atop the College Football Playoff ranking this season, but that’s doesn’t mean they can’t be knocked off their perch — and Alabama might be the team to do it.

After all, the Crimson Tide (11-1) have beaten Georgia in six straight meetings dating to 2008.

Though Georgia is a 6.5-point favorite entering the teams’ meeting in the SEC Championship game on Saturday in Atlanta, if the Bulldogs struggle in the following three matchups, the Crimson Tide could roll to their second straight conference crown and third in the past four years.

Alabama receiver Jameson Williams vs. Georgia’s secondary

Georgia has given up five passing touchdowns this season and is ranked second nationally in passing yards allowed (151.9 per game). But the Bulldogs’ secondary, which is led by cornerbacks Derion Kendrick, Latavious Brini and Kelee Ringo, and safeties Christopher Smith and Lewis Cine, haven’t faced a receiver who’s as good as Williams, who might be the best in all of college football.

Williams has filled the void left by the departure of Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.

The transfer from Ohio State has 61 receptions for 1,261 yards — an average of 20.7 yards a catch — to go along with 13 touchdowns. Williams has shown the ability to single-handily take over games, and if Georgia has busts in coverage, he’ll make the Bulldogs pay.

“He’s elite. He’s really good. The guy comes out and dominates at gunner,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s a weapon out at wideout. He does a tremendous job.”

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. vs. Georgia’s offensive line

The Crimson Tide’s defense has regressed from last year. Their opponents are averaging 19.92 points per game this season after holding the opposition to 16.8 points per game during the regular season last year en route to winning the national title.

The gap would likely be much wider if not for Anderson, who has emerged as the next great linebacker at a school that served as an NFL pipeline at the position for decades. Anderson leads the team in tackles for loss (30.5), sacks (14.5), quarterback hits (8) and is second on the team in tackles (86), behind Henry To’oTo’o’s 93.

If Anderson can stop Georgia running backs Zamir White (691 yards, 10 TDs) and James Cook (581 yards, seven TDs), not to mention get to quarterback Stetson Bennett, the Bulldogs could struggle moving the ball.

However, Georgia allowed just eight sacks this year, which ranks second in the country behind Army’s six.

“He’s a great player. He’s a game wrecker, watching his film and just seeing him, he’s explosive. He’s definitely one of those guys you have to make sure to keep contained,” Georgia nose guard Jordan Davis said. “We just have to make sure that we game plan for him and that we protect well up front on the offensive side and give (Georgia quarterback) Stetson (Bennett) some time to throw.”

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young vs. Georgia’s defense

Where would the Crimson Tide, who have been inconsistent running the ball all season, be without their Heisman hopeful at quarterback?

Young has thrown for 3,901 yards, 40 touchdowns and just four interceptions on 289-of-419 passing (69.0 percent). He ranks second nationally in passing touchdowns, fifth in passer rating (176.96), sixth in passing yards, seventh in passing yards per game (325.08) and eighth in yards per attempt (9.33).

“It’s going to be a great matchup for both sides,” Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker said. “We have to continue doing what we have been doing all season, and everything will go as planned. That being said, we just got to keep rushing the passer, and it will all fall in place.”

The Bulldogs have made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks this season. Opposing quarterbacks have the lowest passer rating in the nation (94.72) when they face Georgia, which also has 12 interceptions and 41 sacks.

“Georgia’s secondary is an area that pops on defense when you watch the film,” Young said. “They’ve made a lot of plays. They’ve done a really good job on the back end. With corner safeties, everyone, it’s a really good unit. So we understand that. We see that on film, and we know what it is going to the game.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) talks with players along the sidelines during the first half against the LSU Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Alabama tries to keep pace in CFP race vs. No. 21 Arkansas

Second-ranked Alabama looks to maintain its dominance of No. 21 Arkansas when the Southeastern Conference foes battle on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Crimson Tide (9-1, 5-1 SEC) are in a must-win situation if they want to be part of the College Football Playoff. A loss this week to the Razorbacks likely would knock them out of the top four heading into the regular-season finale at Auburn.

However, a victory would keep Alabama rolling as it would clinch the SEC West and earn a spot in the conference title game against top-ranked Georgia.

Alabama crushed Arkansas 52-3 last season, but the Razorbacks (7-3, 3-3) aren’t the same pushovers who lost the past four matchups by an average of 39 points. The Crimson Tide have won their past 14 meetings with the Razorbacks, though one of those victories was subsequently vacated.

Sam Pittman’s Arkansas team has won its last three games, including a 16-13 overtime victory at LSU last weekend.

“Sam Pittman has done a fantastic job, I think, with his team in the two years that he’s been there,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “They’re probably improved as much from last year to this year as anybody in the country. They’ve had some great wins over some very good SEC teams.

“And they’ve got really good players. They play well together. They play winning football. … They really do a good job all the way around, so we’re going to have to be at our best and certainly prepare that way this week for this game.”

Alabama has won its past four games, including an easy 59-3 win over visiting New Mexico State last week.

Quarterback Bryce Young completed 21 of 23 passes for 270 yards and five touchdowns. He completed 91.3 percent of his passes, marking the second time this season he has set the school mark. He hit on 90.9 percent against Southern Miss on Sept. 25.

Young has passed for 3,025 yards and 33 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He is the sixth Alabama quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season.

Receiver Jameson Williams caught three touchdown passes and had six receptions for 158 yards against New Mexico State. He has 51 receptions for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Alabama defense has allowed 14 or fewer points on six occasions with star linebacker Will Anderson Jr. leading the way.

Anderson leads the nation with 12.5 sacks, an amount that ranks third in school history behind College Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas, who had 18 in 1987 and a stunning 27 in 1988.

“I think Will’s done an outstanding job,” Saban said. “He’s a good player. He plays hard.”

Dealing with Anderson will be part of the deal for the Razorbacks as they look to reach the eight-win mark for the first time since 2015.

Arkansas also would remain in the mix for the SEC West with a victory.

“To be alive in Week 11, it’s hard to do and I’m happy we have that opportunity,” Pittman said.

One thing Pittman has preached is to not worry about the record with the program playing in arguably the toughest division in the nation.

“It’s not necessarily about the number of wins over what’s the expectations,” Pittman said. “To me it’s about how you’re playing. Is the team playing hard? Do you have a chance to win? Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your direction and you played a good football game.”

Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson has passed for 1,990 yards, 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has 474 yards and five scores on the ground.

Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool has been superb with 100 tackles, his second straight season of reaching that figure. He has posted 10 or more stops six times this season and 15 times in his career.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) prior to the game against the New Mexico State Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Alabama gets 5 TDs from Bryce Young in blowout win

Bryce Young passed for five touchdowns and Jameson Williams caught three as second-ranked Alabama rolled to a 59-3 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday afternoon in nonconference action at Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Brian Robinson Jr. rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries for the Crimson Tide (9-1). Young became the first Alabama quarterback to open a game with 13 straight completions and he finished 21 of 23 for 270 yards.

Williams had six receptions for 158 yards and had touchdowns of 50, 32 and 7 yards. He fell two yards shy of the career-best 160 he had against LSU last week.

Alabama outgained the Aggies 587 to 138 while notching its fourth consecutive victory. The Crimson Tide had a 247-9 edge in rushing yardage.

Jonah Johnson completed 19 of 30 passes for 129 yards for New Mexico State (1-9), which fell for the sixth straight game. The Aggies lost by 20 or more points for the fifth time this season.

New Mexico State’s lone points came on Ethan Albertson’s career-long 50-yard field goal with 5:35 left in the first quarter before Alabama ran off 59 unanswered points.

The Crimson Tide got on the scoreboard 44 seconds later when Young connected with Williams on a 50-yard scoring pass. Alabama made it 14-3 when Young hit Cameron Latu on a 12-yard touchdown throw with 14 seconds remaining in the quarter.

A blocked punt by Christian Leary set up the next Alabama score. Jaylen Moody recovered it and returned it 20 yards to the Aggies’ 4-yard line. Three plays later, Robinson scored from the 1 with 13:15 left in the half.

Young tossed a 32-yard scoring pass to Williams to make it 28-3 with 11:25 left. Just 3 1/2 minutes later, Robinson broke loose for a 63-yard touchdown run.

Young threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Williams with 5:28 left in the half and later connected with Jahleel Billingsley on a 5-yarder to make it 49-3 with 15 seconds left in the half.

Trey Sanders added a 5-yard scoring run in the opening minute of the final stanza and Jack Martin booted a 24-yard field goal.

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban looks on during the first half against the LSU Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban, No. 2 Alabama not taking NMSU lightly

Second-ranked Alabama takes a break from the rigors of Southeastern Conference play on Saturday, but coach Nick Saban is adamant it doesn’t equate to a needed breather.

Saban is bullish on this rationale despite the fact the Crimson Tide (8-1) will be hosting one of the worst programs in the nation, New Mexico State (1-8).

“I think that your opponent should be faceless in terms of what you want to try to accomplish and what you want to try to do in terms of individually improving and getting better and individually and collectively as a team getting better,” Saban said. “I think we certainly need to do that. We’re not where we want to be, so it shouldn’t be like … this is a good break for us.”

Alabama remained in the No. 2 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings despite a lackluster 20-14 win over LSU last weekend.

Saban isn’t worrying about the rankings, as he couldn’t wait to make New Mexico State sound like a carbon copy of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Yes, the same New Mexico State squad that lost 35-13 to Utah State last week for its fourth setback by 20 or more points this season.

“I think New Mexico State is a dangerous team because they’re one of these teams that are going to pass the ball,” Saban said. “They’re one of the Top 25 passing teams (23rd at 278.4 yards per game) in the country. Their quarterback’s efficient. They’ve got good skill guys. They’ve got a pretty good runner.

“They play a lot of pressure-type stuff on defense, which we’re going to have to do a good job against. But again, I think the focus needs to be on what we need to do individually and collectively as a group so that we get things right moving into this week.”

Aggies quarterback Jonah Johnson has passed for 1,975 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He knows the Crimson Tide rate as a huge test for his club.

“You cannot afford to make mistakes against a team the caliber of Alabama,” Johnson said, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News. “Offensively, we can’t afford to turn the football over. We can’t afford the costly penalties and we can’t afford blown assignments.

“Moving the football against Alabama is already hard enough when you are not shooting yourself in the foot.”

The Aggies average 23.1 points per game and allow 38.1, with the latter figure ranking fourth worst in the country.

New Mexico State scored the first 10 points and led 13-7 at halftime against Utah State before getting outscored 28-0 in the second half.

“We really could not play much better than that in the first half on both sides,” New Mexico State coach Doug Martin said. “There’s a talent gap with us right now and other teams, and that’s obvious. You’ve got to be able to get players here that can compete for 60 minutes. Our guys wear out after a while, both mentally and physically.”

That doesn’t sound like a good formula for dealing with an Alabama squad that averages 43 points per game and allows 19.9.

Quarterback Bryce Young has been solid with 2,755 yards and 28 touchdowns against just three interceptions.

On defense, linebacker Will Anderson Jr. has been superb and has 10.5 sacks among his national-best 19.5 tackles for loss.

Anderson recorded a career-best 12 tackles and had 1.5 sacks among four stops for loss against LSU.

“The guy had an outstanding game for us,” Saban said. “He has played extremely well all year and certainly didn’t disappoint anybody in this game.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) crosses the goal line to score a touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Looking like powerhouse again, No. 3 Alabama faces LSU

Alabama is getting back on track as it prepares to host LSU on Saturday night.

The third-ranked Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) rolled past Mississippi State and Tennessee since Texas A&M knocked them from the top spot in the polls on Oct. 9.

Alabama is coming off a bye week, as are the Tigers (4-4, 2-3).

“We had a really good bye week,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “I think we got some players rested up. We got some guys healed up. We also got three good workdays in where the players responded really well. I was pleased with the way last week really went.

“This year’s team has sort of steadily, I think, improved, improved their maturity, improved their consistency in performance, and that’s something that we still need to continue to work on so that we aren’t complacent about who we play, what we’re doing, how we’re improving.”

Saban said he has been pleased with the improvement shown by Bryce Young, his first-year starter at quarterback.

“I think his confidence and experience and playing with the new players that we have on offense, all of those things have contributed to that development,” Saban said. “I think one of the things that we have improved on is our ability to throw the deep ball, but I think it’s a work in progress that we need to continue to work on.”

Alabama is a four-touchdown favorite over LSU, which is just two years removed from a national championship. The Tigers previously reached an agreement on a buyout with head coach Ed Orgeron, effective at the end of the season.

The Tigers are missing several key players because of injuries, and Myles Brennan, the presumed starting quarterback before sustaining a broken arm before the start of preseason camp, is the latest player to enter the transfer portal.

LSU thought Brennan might be able to play in November, but his announcement this week that he’s leaving means Max Johnson remains the starter.

Johnson would benefit from a more consistent run game. LSU has had one of the least productive running games in the country for most of the season, though Tyrion Davis-Price ran for a school-record 287 yards and added three touchdowns in a 49-42 upset of then-No. 20 Florida three weeks ago.

Armoni Goodwin is healthy and should join fellow freshman Corey Kiner as complements to Davis-Price. Tre Bradford, who returned to LSU at the start of the season after transferring to Oklahoma in the offseason, has been cleared academically and has recovered from a hamstring injury.

“We’re going to need all four of them to play,” Orgeron said. “We need to rotate those guys, keep them fresh. We have to be 50-50. We can’t get one-dimensional with this team.”

Orgeron said the self-scouting that the coaching staff did during the bye week revealed that the Tigers have been too predictable on both sides of the ball.

“We need to have more variety,” he said. “Not much disguise. This part of the season, you can’t put much new in, but we have not been making good adjustments.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) reacts after a touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 Alabama looks to maintain hold on Tennessee

ESPN college football analyst Tim Tebow said Texas A&M’s 41-38 upset win over Alabama on Oct. 9 effectively “woke a sleeping giant.”

The Crimson Tide looked wide awake last week while routing Mississippi State 49-9 in Starkville, boosting them to the No. 4 ranking in this week’s AP Top 25.

They aim for a second consecutive win Saturday night when they welcome Tennessee to Tuscaloosa.

The once-great rivalry has become totally lopsided since Nick Saban took over at Alabama before the 2007 season.

Saban is 14-0 against the Volunteers as the Crimson Tide’s coach, and aside from a 12-10 victory in 2009 that required Alabama to block a potential game-winning field goal, few of the games have been close. That includes last year’s 48-17 blowout in Knoxville.

Josh Heupel is the sixth Tennessee coach to try his hand at beating Alabama in the Saban regime. He will have to do it with a potentially short deck as quarterback Hendon Hooker (leg) is considered day-to-day after leaving last week’s 31-26 loss to Ole Miss in the final minute.

“I don’t think it’s a long-term injury,” Heupel said. “We’ll see as the week unfolds where we wind up with Hendon.”

Hooker’s injury was barely a footnote in light of all the crazy things that happened over the game’s final minute. Hooker’s 23-yard pass to Jacob Warren was less than a yard shy of a first down on fourth-and-24 with 54 seconds left, enraging a sellout crowd that earlier saw a scoop-and-score touchdown by the Tennessee defense overturned.

A minority of fans threw objects ranging from mustard bottles to golf balls — hitting Rebels coach Lane Kiffin with one — and forced a 20-minute delay. The Volunteers’ band, cheerleaders and dance team all left rather than face potential serious injuries from the bombardment of debris.

On Monday, Southeastern Conference slapped Tennessee with a $250,000 fine for the conduct of its fans. Heupel said that one of his takeaways from the game was how spirited the fans were, even after Neyland Stadium was turned into a veritable trash can.

“I know for some people the story is about what happened (with the fans in the final minute), but our administration has obviously made it clear that that’s not the stance in what we want,” he said. “You know that I feel the same way.”

While the Volunteers (4-3, 2-2 SEC) endured a gut-wrenching loss following the wild ending, the Tide (6-1, 3-1) looked more like their old selves at Mississippi State. Their defense kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone, even supplying a pick-six from Jordan Battle, and their offense displayed good balance.

Bryce Young threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, completing 20 of 28 passes, as the offense rolled up 543 total yards.

“If we continue to play like we played in the last game, play for 60 minutes, play hard, support each other … I think we can develop a really positive identity,” Saban said. “I think we took the first step of that in the last game, and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that in the future.”

Alabama is shooting for its 58th win in its past 60 home games. The Crimson Tide haven’t lost at home to Tennessee since 2003, when the Volunteers pulled out a 51-43 thriller after five overtimes.

–Field Level Media