It was the 'Game of the Year' in a year of college football quite unlike any previous version.
Third-ranked Georgia at second-ranked Alabama, the Bulldogs' first visit to Tuscaloosa in 13 years, and the intrigue of Nick Saban's midweek false-positive COVID-19 test that clouded the potential presence of the four-time national champion Saban on Bama's sideline Saturday night.
Saban got cleared with three negative tests in succession, and he stalked the turf inside Bryant-Denny Stadium with his usual intensity hidden behind the mandatory personal protective equipment.
With so many eyeballs on the game and a rare regular-season No. 2-No. 3 matchup, FootballScoop reached out to six NCAA assistant coaches, with a guarantee of anonymity, before kickoff to get their post-game scouting reports after the Tide pulled away from the Bulldogs, 41-24.
Spoiler: Lots of love for Alabama offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian and the Crimson Tide offense.
Coaches Corner, No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama:
Coach No. 1
“Everybody is saying the difference (Saturday) night was between the quarterbacks at Bama and Georgia and that's the difference in the game; it's not. It's the wide receivers. They don't drop it, and they score at Alabama.
“I think what made Saban change his mind was Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, because they dropped down into hat-on-hat defense back then and Ole Miss had first-rounders catching passes. Chunk plays, shock plays, two a quarter, eight a game. And then it opens up all the underneath, crossers getting you 15 yards down the field. But you have to be willing to throw it at least 6 times, 35-40 yards down the field, and they hit them.
“Bama's line is way better than anybody thought they were. Tennessee's O-line isn't bad, they're overrated, but they don't suck. And they had 1.5-seconds to block Georgia. Bama was running switches, double-moves and still protected.
“When they went out and said they're going to have more than just one Amari Cooper, Julio Jones, it changed completely. If you've got two guys that are going to be 50-50-plus in man-to-man, if not 70-30 in contested balls, it can't be stopped. That was the missing piece for them on offense.
“Ohio State's going to have that, Clemson has that; that's going to hold Penn State back, hold Notre Dame back. Can't take the top off the coverage, can't throw it downfield.
“I think the first big-picture thing, for me, is Alabama's receivers. They're different. They're so deep, first-rounders, and on a field full of NFL guys, they're elite. That ultimately is what made the difference, because they were able to get out front of Georgia and play how Georgia didn't want to play.
“At the end of the second quarter, it looked like Georgia was getting into two-tight stuff and running it. I don't know if they've got enough dudes at wideout to be a three-wideout team. They need to help Bennett by running the ball with him a young quarterback.
“Teams used to always spread out to run the ball, makes protections easy to run the ball and you displace people in such a way that you can cover down all the receivers. Only so many guys can be in the box. It's a little bit more on the QB, but you can run the ball. Fifteen years ago that was true, hell 5 years ago that was true. But all these defensive guys have started going to this three-down Odd look, both Georgia and Bama base out of it, they match personnel, create line movements, false reads, Georgia gives lots of problems to other teams with its shifts. Tennessee still hasn't figured that out.
“Now you're aligned in that spread formation because you have chaos in coverage, but you're also getting chaos in the box, stunting and moving and blitzing guys, so you get no help. It's defeating the purpose of why you're spread out. It's happening late, changing and moving and it's not easy on the OL. So you're better off getting into two tight ends, and Georgia started doing it and 'Bama has done it, they played a lot more two tight. Such a big deal that (tight end Miller) Forristal came back into the game because without him they were going to have to spread out more. The Metchie kid (Bama wideout John Metchie III) is going to be a freak, but he is still learning. Bama got into more two tight. They may take their other tight end and flex him out, motion him in, but what it does is that makes it simpler on the quarterback. When you align with big people, it's the inverse of the reason you spread out. It forces accounting for people in the box and then there's only so many ways they can align the coverages.
“Look, the NFL is THE ONLY league where you line up with two tights and they line up in 4-3 cover-2. That doesn't happen in college ball. That's when Georgia was on a run and scoring, because they were able to run the ball. They were able to get yards running it and play-action was easier. And that helps the young QB throw it on time, because he can look out and know they're in man-to-man or Cover-3. They had to get away from that because they got behind. Then they had to spread out and it was chaos. We dealt with that last year, our team did. We weren't good enough out wide to have multiple threats go the distance at receiver, and we were better off getting into two-tight and dictating coverage structures for the young QB.
“Bama did a really good job of that. They had their little isolation deal they were doing, iso the backside LB on inside runs too. It set up their run, and it was really smart.
“I think Sarkisian is as good as anybody in college football and possibly even in the NFL at layering concepts. Wide receiver motion, here comes motion, he'll fake it, just the way he set it all up, switch-release post like he did on that score, and then the same thing but try to hit the running back on a wheel. He does a really good job of that. It's hard to see all the time what all is happening on just the TV feed, but he's always done a really nice job of layering the concepts with what they're doing. Here's run, here's the RPO, here's the PA pass, here is the faux PA and we're going to drop back and sling it. And then it goes all the way down to the screen. So many layers, it's really, really good. And they've got phenomenal players that execute. They out-recruit, they out-scheme and then they out-execute.
“He's worth every damn penny. Every penny.
“(Georgia's Dan) Lanning is a good DC, Georgia is a good defense. The first touchdown they threw, this is all you need to know about how dialed in Bama was and how smart Mac Jones is, the first TD they threw to Metchie, Georgia corner-fired, ran a corner blitz, and the tackle saw it, came off the DL stunting, passed off to the corner blitz, and, man I'm telling you, that's really hard to do, really smart.
“Lanning is a big corner blitz guy, safeties and corners, and that's really hard to pick up. Alex Leatherwood later in the game picked one up, Georgia blitzed from the field, blitzed the rover or the star, blitzed him from depth and he's about to get home and Leatherwood sees it and he and the guard pass off and exchange a D-lineman for that guy, they don't chase and it was incredible. It was one of the better blitz pickups I've ever seen an OL do. Really, really intelligent. I tend to think that since it happened twice, they probably had alerts to it. That takes serious nuts to do that.
“The two biggest takeaways for me as a coach, as I think about what we want to do, Bama uses a lot of motion offensively with how they help the QB know if it's man or zone, because it's really important because Mac Jones is not a runner. It's good to know that stuff if you're Trevor Lawrence, but he can still run. If he's wrong, he can tuck and run. Mac Jones can't do that, so Bama is really good with how they use subtle motions and create a cloudy picture and he knows where to go with the ball. He's really smart, and I've struggled with that, quite frankly, as a play-caller. I want the defense to line up so I know where the heck they are.
“Monken did it some, too. He motioned them out. The 80-yard TD to the back. Motioned him out there, nobody throws that to the back unless the Mike linebacker goes to cover him. Lo and behold, the Mike went out there to cover him. That's like 1-2-3 throw it. If the Mike stays home, you work the bunch receivers. If he runs out there to cover the back, throw it to him. I think Monken is a really good play-caller; I think they've got to get … this is where I think not having the kid (J.T. Daniels) from USC in the mix hurt them. Not having him. The Bennett kid is a nice story, good player. He's better than other teams' quarterbacks in the SEC. But they're not good enough at WR to overcome his limitations and play at a national championship level. Then you've got Bama's Devonta Smith, he took a pick out of a kid's hand. Seven (Tyrique Stevenson) came off to try to pick it and Smith just took it out of his hands. I'd bet Smith is ridiculously strong, probably benches like 315 and weighs 170 pounds (175). He's a dude.
Coach No. 2
“The first half, when I'm watching the game, I'm thinking to myself, 'Alabama is just too fast, too athletic.' You could see them just running by and doing whatever they wanted to do in the passing game.
“When Georgia, and Stetson Bennett dropped back to pass, the Bama DL got their hands up, doing some things to make him move in the pocket. When Georgia started running straight at them and making money doing that, Alabama, I didn't think, was as good as they've been in the past. Georgia did beat them over the top on some things, had Alabama in shambles on some things.
“I think Stetson Bennett, and we recruited him to our school, I felt like he kind of felt the pressure and was in a situation that he hadn't seen before.
“Georgia had good coverage a lot of times on defense, the right calls and good athletes, but Alabama had amazing catches, amazing plays. I like the way that Alabama does things on offense, structuring their offense to move around and get matchups, move around to run the ball; they utilized two tight end looks well, traded them, came in motion, kind of figured out who the force player was. And Alabama's running back is really, really good.
“I really thought it was going to be closer, and I initially thought Georgia had a chance to win because of the week that Bama had with Coach Saban and the COVID and the potential distractions, but the fact that they won that game that way, everything they went through during the week, was kind of a sign that they're going to be even better down the road.
“The QB (Jones) is really good at Alabama. He made some throws. They just outmatched Georgia on the perimeter from a receiver standpoint
“I think Bama had a somewhat seasoned QB and Georgia had someone who wasn't supposed to be the starter. I like Stetson Bennett, I think he can play, but I don't think he's on the level of the other kid.
“One thing, Alabama's kicking game hurt them in the first half. So, you're wondering, if you give Georgia a longer field in the first half, do Georgia's touchdowns in the first half even happen?
“I'm just telling you, man, Georgia had some good calls on defense, but it's hard to sit there and say, 'Can anybody cover them dudes?'
“I felt like Alabama's secondary, it's really skilled, but they got messed up a bunch. When you look at each other with your palms up after a play, that's a bad sign.
“I felt like Sark's game plan was very creative with movement, shifts. Georgia is Georgia, has always been Georgia. Lot of good players both sides. But I like running straight at Bama, but when you've got that QB like (Bennett), a defensive front like that, regardless of how different Bama was in terms of their defense and defensive success, Bama's still got dudes. They've still got pros. They're just good.
“I think we expected it to be Alabama's offense vs. Georgia's defense, and (Georgia) really couldn't make it that with their offense; not enough on the perimeter. But I think what stood out to me was how good Georgia up front is. They can run the football. And probably should have done it more.”
Coach No. 3
“Sark is worth whatever they’re paying him (new deal pays Sarkisian $2.5 million after he turned down multiple head coaching opportunities, per sources with direct knowledge, to remain with the Tide after the 2019 season).
“They have great players for sure but they are very diverse, probably more so than anyone else, and he gets his best guys the ball. When they snapped the ball 22, 6 or 17 (tailback Najee Harris, wideouts Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, respectively) were the primary target.
“Made sure his best players were put in best position to make an impact. Bama O-line picked up the blitz and save the first play of the game, gave the QB enough time in the play-action game, which is what separates Bama O from everyone else right now. Week before Tennessee looked lost trying to pick it up. Not sure anyone is better than Bama O in the country. He’s putting the QB in best possible positions to be successful.”
“Thought they were better but still not where they want to be. Noticeable lack of pass rush and Georgia exploited some matchups against man coverage. Seemed to leverage to ball better on the perimeter than the previous week. The man coverage, especially against Y-off formations, has led to getting gashed in the run game back-to-back weeks. See if it gets corrected. They seem better when they play pattern-match zone and let their guys run to the ball. Better but not where they’ve been. They adjusted well throughout the game.”
“I thought they had a great 3rd-down plan in the 1st half and created some matchup problems against Bama playing man coverage. Love (Stetson Bennett's) story, but he limits them. The batted passes were the same (Saturday) night as when he played Hinds CC couple years ago. Would’ve liked to see Monk (Georgia OC Todd Monken) compensate for this more.
“Thought the difference was Bama’s best guys won the game. I don’t think UGA's best guy, #1 (wideout George Pickens), had much, if any, impact on the game. QB play and lack of #1 in the game plan is the difference to me.”
“Thought they seemed to run out of gas in the 4th. Holding and PI calls killed them. The lack of pass rush as the game went along kept those guys on an island with the best WR corps in the country. Tough way to live. They are the best defensive personnel in America. That’s scary with how Bama treated them. Just needed to win some more 1-on-1s in the secondary. Tough task against them.
“Both are top 4 teams. The investment in the OC positions they’ve made will pay off! Solid special teams and improving defense. Hope they play again.”
Coach No. 4
“Two great teams. Two great offenses! I think Georgia's defense is better than Alabama's defense. We will see.”
“So much for Georgia defense being better! This Alabama offense may be one of the best ever!!!”
“Mac Jones is a pro. 'Bama Qb is very accurate!”
Coach No. 5
“Both teams are top 5. Big difference (Saturday) night was the QB spot. Lots of NFL players on the field.
“UGA is still incredible on defense. Soooo FAST!!! Georgia put too much on the QB (Stetson Bennett) (Saturday) night. Probably didn’t protect him enough w/ play-calling. He made some nice plays but missed on some too. At the end of the half, it took them 3 plays to score inside the 10 when they should have scored on the first one. Needed to keep running the ball and protect Bennett.
“Alabama is really good at the skill spots. Elite RB and 3 great WRs. Sark called a great game. Played to Mac Jones’s strengths. FG at the end of the half was big and the 90-yarder to Waddle was huge. Lots of big plays. Hard to drive it on that Georgia D without big plays. Bama D is a mess relative to what they normally are. Got lucky that #4 (Georgia's James Cook) didn’t have some more TDs in the pass game out of the backfield.
“Would love to see the rematch. Very few good teams right now. I’m sure Ohio State will be there.”
Coach No. 6
“I got 'Bama by 21. We'll see,” said one coach before kick-off.
“I thought that dude (Stetson Bennett) actually showed some savvy and impressed me for the most part. I felt going into the game that Alabama still would win comfortably considering those rosters and the difference in development.
“But there are still some questions about that (Crimson Tide) defense and the quarterback for me.”