Alabama vs. Ge­or­gia hype-wor­thy

The Morning Call - - Scoreboard - By C.J. Doon

The big­gest game of the col­lege foot­ball sea­son has ar­rived, and one of the sport’s big­gest names might be forced to sit out.

Alabama coach Nick Sa­ban won’t be on the side­line dur­ing Satur­day night’s game be­tween his No. 2 Crimson Tide and No. 3 Ge­or­gia af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for COVID-19 on Wed­nes­day. Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Steve Sark­isian, a for­mer head coach at Wash­ing­ton and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, will take the reins with the six-time na­tional cham­pi­onship win­ner in iso­la­tion.

Florida’s game against LSU on Satur­day was al­ready post­poned to Dec. 12 be­cause of an out­break among the Ga­tors, while four other games — Ok­la­homa State at Bay­lor, Cincin­nati at Tulsa, Van­der­bilt at Mis­souri and Florida In­ter­na­tional at Char­lotte — will also not be played this week­end be­cause of COVID-19 con­cerns.

While the sea­son con­tin­ues to push for­ward, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 open­ers loom, it’s time to take stock of the big­gest sto­ry­lines from around the coun­try. Here’s what to watch in Week 7:

Best vs. best: What hap­pens when an un­stop­pable force meets an im­mov­able ob­ject? We’ll find out Satur­day when Alabama’s of­fense takes the field against Ge­or­gia’s de­fense. Whether you’re into scor­ing av­er­age (Ge­or­gia is al­low­ing 12.3 points per game; Alabama is scor­ing 51.0 per game), to­tal yards (Ge­or­gia is al­low­ing 236.7 per game; Alabama is gain­ing 560.3) or ef­fi­ciency (both units rank No. 1 in ESPN’s SP+, a tempo- and op­po­nen­tad­justed met­ric), th­ese are the two best units in the na­tion. Alabama quar­ter­back Mac Jones is play­ing lights out, rank­ing first in the coun­try in pass­ing ef­fi­ciency with eight touch­downs and one in­ter­cep­tion through three games. But the Crimson Tide’s first three op­po­nents, Mis­souri, Texas A&MandOle Miss, don’t come close to the Bull­dogs’ tal­ent level on de­fense. Led by star safety Richard LeCounte, edge rusher Azeez Oju­lari and in­te­rior de­fend­ers Devonte Wy­att and Jor­dan Davis, Ge­or­gia has wreaked havoc on op­pos­ing of­fenses, record­ing 10 sacks in three games and pick­ing off five passes. How the Dawgs limit Alabama’s ex­plo­sive play­mak­ers — in­clud­ing run­ning back Na­jee Har­ris and wide re­ceivers Jaylen Wad­dle, DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III — will de­cide the out­come.

Ben­nett’s big break: This game is so big it de­serves a sec­ond look. Stet­son Ben­nett IV was an af­ter­thought head­ing into the sea­son be­hind in­com­ing Wake For­est trans­fer Jamie New­man and for­mer fourstar re­cruit D’Wan Mathis. But once New­man opted out of the sea­son and Mathis strug­gled in the sea­son opener, the for­mer walk-on got his mo­ment to shine. All he’s done is throw five touch­down passes and zero in­ter­cep­tions while calmly lead­ing the of­fense to wins over Arkansas, Auburn and Ten­nessee. He doesn’t have the big arm of his coun­ter­part Jones, but he’s mas­ter­ful at work­ing the mid­dle of the field with pin­point ac­cu­racy. Alabama’s de­fense has taken a step back­ward from its usual spot among the na­tion’s best, but the Tide still boast NFL­tal­ent all over the field, in­clud­ing de­fen­sive line­men Chris­tian Bar­more and LaBryan Ray, line­backer Dy­lan Moses and cor­ner­back Patrick Sur­tain II. If Ben­nett can move the ball ef­fi­ciently, make a cou­ple of big third­down throws and limit his mis­takes, the Dawgs have a shot at knock­ing off the team that has been the big­gest thorn in their side for more than a decade.

Can Mi­ami bounce back? The Hur­ri­canes were hum­bled in Satur­day night’s blowout loss to No. 1 Clem­son, but a de­feat to Dabo Swin­ney’s na­tional pow­er­house, led by stars Trevor Lawrence and Travis Eti­enne and a fe­ro­cious de­fense, is no rea­son to hang their heads. Mi­ami just isn’t on Clem­son’s level, as painful as it might be for some fans who yearn for the glory days of “The U” and its tran­scen­dent star power. How the pro­gram re­sponds to its first loss is the big­ger con­cern. The Canes can’t let Clem­son beat them twice, as the old say­ing goes. Pitts­burgh is com­ing off back-to-back losses af­ter be­ing ranked in the Top 25, and the Pan­thers have a de­fense with nearly as much tal­ent as Clem­son’s. If this is truly a new era for Mi­ami un­der coach Manny Diaz, the Canes need to take care of busi­ness Satur­day. There’s still plenty left to play for this sea­son, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble re­match with the Tigers for the ACC ti­tle.

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