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September 19, 2007

Alabama-Georgia: How they match up

Alabama

Position

Georgia

John Parker Wilson had his breakout game of the season against Arkansas, and will look to build on the confidence born of a game-winning two-minute drill. With plenty of weapons at the skill positions and a talented offensive line, the stage is set for steady improvement from the quarterback spot. Wilson has completed barely 50 percent of his throws in conference play (38 of 73), but look for that number to improve this week.

QB

Matthew Stafford comes off an efficient outing against Western Carolina, but a 19-of-44 effort in his only conference game this year is cause for alarm. After throwing 13 interceptions as a freshman in 2006, he has thrown only one through three games this season. Stafford clearly has a stronger arm than Wilson and can make more throws with more velocity, but Wilson has the edge in experience, pocket mobility, and decision-making.

Edge:
EVEN

The Crimson Tide front did an impressive job of picking up multiple blitzes last week, and got enough out of the running game to keep a tough Razorbacks defense honest. The starting unit has remained healthy, avoided penalties and rarely looks out of synch. The left side - tackle Andre Smith and guard Justin Britt - has developed into a go-to side for the running game.

OL

Georgia's front has three freshmen, including two true freshmen, and will get its first taste of a hostile road environment Saturday. Senior center Fernando Velasco will have to provide the leadership in this regard, especially if things don't go well early. Though UGA scored only 12 points in a loss to South Carolina, the offensive line provided a solid rushing attack as the Bulldogs' top two backs combined for 153 yards on 26 carries.

Edge:

For the last two games, Alabama's rushing attack has primarily been a 1-2 punch of Terry Grant and Glen Coffee, with Grant getting the start and most of the load, but Coffee entering early and often to hold Grant's mileage down. Grant is averaging 134 yards per game and has shown no signs of wear early in the season. Coffee's no-nonsense style takes whatever the hole gives, yet averages an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.

RB

Thomas Brown has started every game for the Bulldogs, but Knowshon Moreno has carried most of the load. Moreno averages 5.7 yards per carry and has been very effective out of the backfield averaging 16.3 yards on six receptions. Brown is an experienced back with excellent quickness and gives the Bulldogs a more dangerous change-up than Coffee gives Alabama.

Edge:
EVEN

DJ Hall has said he will be ready to play against the Bulldogs despite a quadriceps strain that kept him out of parts of the Arkansas game. As long as Hall plays and feels well, he will be the best receiver on the field by far. Matt Caddell's breakout game last week came at the ideal time with Hall hampered. Mike McCoy is second on the team with 10 catches, but it's been all short stuff for the sophomore from Mississippi (68 yards).

WR

Sean Bailey and 5-foot-7 speedster Mikey Henderson lead the Bulldogs' receiving corps. After a promising freshman season in 2005, Mohamed Massaquoi has struggled with consistency. Georgia typically has a dominant tight end to take some pressure off the receiving corps, but that's not the case this season.

Edge:

The trio of Wallace Gilberry, Lorenzo Washington and Bobby Greenwood went sackless last week, but has been solid in stopping the run with the exception of the second half of the Arkansas game. Unlike last week, getting heat on UGA QB Stafford will be as important as stopping the run. If this unit can't dominate a Georgia offensive line starting three freshmen in their first road game, it probably won't dominate a conference game all year.

DL

The Bulldogs get plenty of production from a three-man rotation at defensive tackle made up of Jeff Owens, Kade Weston and Geno Atkins. Owens is the best of the group, but Atkins has been the most productive with a team-high five TFLs that ranks third in the SEC. At end, Marcus Howard and Roderick Battle are undersized but quick off the edge.

Edge:

Freshman Rolando McClain leads the team in tackles with 21 and has played better steadily in his first collegiate season. Darren Mustin ranks second with 18 stops despite missing more than half of the Arkansas game with a minor shoulder injury. Mustin should be ready to play. Outside LBs Ezekial Knight and Keith Saunders must contain well when Georgia's speedy backs run wide.

LB

Georgia's Dannell Ellerbe leads this unit from the Mike position and has piled up a team-high 19 tackles through three games. At almost 260 pounds, Sam LB Brandon Miller isn't pushed out of a hole easily. Sophomore Darius Dewberry has great potential on the weakside and has started every game, making nine stops.

Edge:
EVEN

The Crimson Tide secondary faces its greatest challenge of the season to date with Stafford's rocket-like arm. Look for the nickel package that played so much in the first two games to see a heavy dose of action again. Freshman Kareem Jackson has quietly played very well in the nickel look. Senior Simeon Castille still seeks his first interception of the season.

DB

This is where Georgia's defense is most experienced, although it's freshman Reshad Jones who leads the unit in tackles with 15. Safety Kelin Johnson has Georgia's only interception so far and has good size at 6-1, 200. Starting corners Asher Allen and Thomas Flowers are both listed at 5-10, which could create a problem with jump balls against Alabama's bigger receivers.

Edge:

The Crimson Tide has yet to take a step backward through three games in special teams play. K Leigh Tiffin's 42-yard field goal against Arkansas pulled UA within striking distance with only minutes to play, and return specialist Javier Arenas broke his third long return in as many weeks. P P.J. Fitzgerald has downed five of his 11 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line this season.

Special Teams

Mikey Henderson is every bit as dangerous as UA's Javier Arenas in punt returns. He led the SEC in punt returns last year and has averaged 15.3 yards on 10 returns this season. Brandon Coutu has nailed 5 of 6 field-goal attempts, while punter Brian Mimbs carries a 42.7-yard average, including two 50-plus yarders. Kick coverage has been a problem for the Bulldogs, but overall this is a clear area of strength.

Edge:

Prediction: Alabama 34, Georgia 27


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