ATLANTA — Greetings from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where it’s nice and warm and dry inside. As far as we can tell, there is not even any water leaking in from the multimillion-dollar retractable roof, which remains tightly closed in all its splendor.
Hate it both for the fans and the many bright people involved in organizing the SEC Championship and all the incredible events that some to this city. Last year’s National Championship Game, which also featured Georgia and and Alabama, was also similarly dampened by inclement weather. Then there was the added snafu of President Donald Trump attending, which made for extra long security delays for fans to get into the building.
I’m happy to report that the process was considerably smoother this time around, if not just as wet or even wetter. At least the media line to enter the stadium, which was fairly long as usual, was much quicker and more efficient at getting folks through than it was back in January.
Fans were allowed to enter The Benz at 1:30 p.m., and within minutes of that they were seen making their way to their seats. There is expected to be at least 73,000 spectators today, and the split between Georgia and Alabama might be about as close to even as it could possibly be. Even though the defending SEC champion Bulldogs were here just a year ago, reports are that the demand for tickets was even higher for the rematch of last year’s National Championship Game.
And Alabama remains Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s fans are motivated and mobilized by this year’s team, which is being characterized as arguably the best ever fielded by the school. You may have heard that they’re undefeated (12-0), ranked No. 1 and have won their games by an average of more than 35 points a game. It’s for that reason that the No. 4 Bulldogs (11-1) have been installed as 13.5-point underdogs.
Around town, fans were trying to make the best of the situation. The SEC Fan Fare setup in the World Congress Center might’ve been even more heavily attended than usual as the massive building provided refuge from the rains, which were heavy and driven at times by heavy winds. On Peachtree and Broad streets, both red-and-black and crimson-clad fans could be seen scurrying back and forth and hustling into restaurants. An unexpected benefit of the inhospitable weather may be that patrons sought their southern hospitality indoors.
As for the competition to waged here inside the Arthur Blank’s billion-dollar building in a couple of hours, the conditions will be perfect — 72 degrees, no wind and lots of noise. ESPN College GameDay’s Lee Corso put on the elephant’s head as everyone expected, denoting his choice of Alabama over the Bulldogs. Nobody was surprised by that.
Conversely, there would be a lot of people surprised by a Georgia win. I, for one, would only be pleasantly so. I think the Bulldogs can win. They come into the contest with fewer advantages, but they’re significant ones. Georgia is thought to have the better run game, and the special-teams matchup is decidedly in its favor.
The Bulldogs are also the nation’s No. 1 team when it comes to limiting “explosive plays.” Those are defined as going for 20 yards or more, and Georgia has given up just 25 of those in 12 games. Of course, the flipside of that is the Bulldogs haven’t faced an offense led by a quarterback the likes of Tua Tagovailoa. Led by the Heisman Trophy-favorited sophomore, the Crimson Tide offense had recorded 19 plays of 50 or more yards, most of them coming at the end of Tagovailoa passes. So Georgia’s secondary will be facing the challenge to end all challenges today to keep Bama’s fleet of fleet-footed receivers in front of them.
Suffice it to say, if this indeed ends up being Mel Tucker’s last game as defensive coordinator, he will have earned it. For what it’s worth, the Colorado athletic director said there’s “not a done deal yet.” Translation: It’s probably done but we’re waiting for Georgia’s game to get over to announce it.
What about sending off Tucker on a winning note? Crazier things have happened. Both the Bulldogs and Bama are due.
Georgia is due to finally play a complete game, to finally put everything together and vanquish Alabama, winners of four straight in the series, which stands at 39-25-4. And if ever there was a program and a fan base which needed to be be humbled, it’s the Crimson Tide. These guys have been rolling so high for so long, surely somebody should introduce them to the concept of modesty.
This won’t be the best Georgia team that Alabama has seen or will see, especially should they meet in this game a year from now, as everybody expects. But the Bulldogs are due to get some breaks, whether it be from referee’s flags or funny bounces of the oblong ball. Alabama’s due not to.
For that reason, I’m going to pick the Bulldogs to take care of business today. In order to exorcise all the demons that attacked them in this building back in January, Georgia’s going to win 27-24 in overtime on a 50-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship.
Now that would be a fun one to write! And then we’ll talk about it again when these two teams meet a second time in the College Football Playoffs.
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