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National championship preview: Alabama vs. Georgia, the rematch

While some college football fans are upset about Alabama and Georgia playing in the national championship game again, fans in the Southeast know the importance of Monday’s matchup.

For starters, this is the second time that these two programs have played for it all in the last four years. The last time was in 2018.

The Crimson Tide came out on top after being down 13-0 at the half. Head coach Nick Saban decided to put in freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who threw for three touchdowns including the game-winner in overtime to then-freshman wide receiver DeVonta Smith.

That game was a massive win for Alabama in a season that seemed rocky at times, including an Iron Bowl loss that looked like it put a fork in the Tide’s championship hopes.

For Georgia, it may have been a bleak look into the future of Saban versus his longtime assistant and friend, Kirby Smart. Smart has done an excellent job with the Bulldogs, but even with very talented teams, he can’t seem to come out victorious against Saban.

For instance, in two SEC Championship games in which Alabama and Georgia have faced each other with Saban and Smart leading the programs, Saban has come out on top both times in comeback fashion.

The SEC Championship win this year for Alabama came against one of the best Georgia teams in recent time. Former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett had been lighting up teams all year through the air. He has thrown for 2,638 yards so far this season, completing over two-thirds of his passes.

Bennett has been fortunate enough to throw to the emerging freshman tight end, Brock Bowers. Bowers has elite speed to go along with his 6’4” 230 lb. frame. He is averaging over 16 yards a catch and has 12 touchdowns this season.

The running back tandem of Zamir White and James Cook has been the Dawgs’ bread and butter for most of the season. The two backs have combined for 17 touchdowns and even more production in between the two ends of the field.

However, even an Alabama team that hasn’t looked as dominant as usual still ended the dreams of Smart and the Dawgs knocking off Saban and Alabama.

Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young has 46 touchdowns through the air this season. He also has thrown for over 4,500 yards this season, an incredible milestone for a sophomore quarterback.

Yet, today’s game will come down to players like Will Anderson, Jr. on the defensive side of the ball. Anderson is probably the defensive player in the country that should have been invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York. He has been that dominant this season.

Even with a stat line that looks pretty good, the numbers don’t tell half of the story. When most teams like to try to get a matchup on a linebacker for the passing game, Anderson can hold his own in man-to-man coverage. However, in zone coverage, he creates a no-fly zone in the middle of the field.

Linebacker Henry To’oTo’o is the only player for Alabama with over 100 total tackles so far this season. He was a big part of shutting down Georgia’s run game the first time these two teams met.

Phidarian Mathis is a name that you should have been listening out for all season long. Even if by accident, you have most likely heard of Mathis by now. If not, it’s only because he is opening up space for players like To’oTo’o and Anderson.

This war will be won in and out of the trenches on the defensive side of the ball. Everyone thought Georgia’s defense was their strength, including themselves, but the Bulldog offense may actually be the team’s best chance of success vs Alabama.

Bama did a great job on defense of limiting Georgia’s offense last time, but the Dawgs will be looking to play to those strengths more this matchup. Look for defensive back Jordan Battle and the secondary to try and keep the Georgia passing game from ever getting started.

Mathis and Byron Young on the defensive line will need to step up and shut down the run completely. The pass rush should take care of itself after that, if they can limit White and Cook.

The linebackers will look to hold down the rest of the box like they have all season long.

The offense will be held back a little with John Metchie III still out. However, with so many weapons on that side, tonight’s game should be about defense for the Tide.

If Alabama can make Bennett look as bad as he did in the SEC Championship Game, and continue to be a run stop team first like they have for most of the season, then they should have another chance to celebrate in the postseason.

Kickoff for the title game is set for 7:00 p.m. CT on ESPN with Georgia coming in as 2.5-point favorites over the Tide.

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: Hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.

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