ATLANTA — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart believes good defense starts with stopping the run, and not even Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa changes that notion.
Smart, speaking at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday at the annual SEC Championship Game coaches’ press conference, said Tagovailoa’s talents certainly complicate the formula for defensive success.
“H e creates a lot of parts to an equation, and it is really tough to figure out that equation,” Smart said. “When it comes to their ability to run the ball, they have really good backs. They’re a really explosive offensive football team.”
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) play No. 1-ranked Alabama (12-0) at 4 p.m. on Saturday (TV: CBS, Radio: WSB 95.5, 750 AM).
Tagovailoa leads the nation in pass efficiency (212.5) thanks to his 36 touchdowns and two interceptions, and he’s coming off a school-record performance that saw him account for six touchdowns, five of them passing.
“ You can take the motto that they’re a pass first team,” Smart said, “but they’re usually the path of least resistance, which in most games has been the ability to throw the ball.”
Smart believes Alabama’s ability to run the football has contributed greatly to Tagovailoa’s success, as defenses have had to commit more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage.
“They certainly can run the ball, which is what makes it really difficult to defend and why you see so many lopsided scores,” Smart said. “They’re able to score a lot of points. They’re really hard to stop.
“We’ll have to do a good job against the run. We’ll have to effect the quarterback. We’ll have to play a lot of one-on-one situations outside with their receivers.”
Georgia leads the nation in fewest plays given up of 20 or more yards (25), often playing a two-deep scheme that has challenged opponents to be patient and take what the Bulldogs give.
“We’re going to take what they give us,” Tagovailoa said Monday. “If it’s the flat the whole game, we’re just going to take the flat. Whatever their defense gives us, we’re going to take it.”
This time around, Smart and the Georgia defense know what to expect from the Alabama offense and Tagovailoa.
“I think he has a sense of the field and spacing, he’s spatially aware of where people are, so he can sit in the pocket amongst trees and giants and people rushing at him, and he has no fear,” Smart said. “People are barreling down on him, he sidesteps them, keeps his eyes downfield. He understands leverages, and he knows where he’s going with the ball.
“You don’t find many guys that sack him the first guy. He makes a lot of people miss, and he doesn’t do it just to scramble. He does it to scramble and throw.”
That’s the situation Smart hopes to create, but Georgia will have to stop the run first.
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