Georgia and Alabama head into Saturday’s SEC Championship matchup with the same record (11-1, 7-1 SEC). The No. 2 Crimson Tide and No. 3 Bulldogs are playing for the opportunity to play the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Jan. 7 in Miami for the BCS National Championship. The magnitude of this game couldn't be bigger.
Aaron Murray vs. Alabama secondary
This would have been a battle to watch irrespective of other factors, but with his play in big games against elite defenses a constant topic, Georgia's starting quarterback decided to try to remove himself from the discussion this week. After he asked for and received permission to not fulfill media obligations, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was able to remove himself from any distractions that may have risen questioning by probing reporters. Given who he's facing, Murray will have to be at his best, which he has been over the past four games, throwing for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns against no interceptions. He'll be facing an Alabama secondary adept at taking the ball away. Both Robert Lester and HaHa Clinton-Dix rank in the top 10 in the Southeastern Conference for interceptions, with Lester snagging four and Clinton-Dix grabbing three. That's not even mentioning Dee Milliner, who ranks second in Crimson Tide history in pass breakups with 32. If Murray can keep the ball away from the Crimson Tide's defenders, it bodes well for the Bulldogs' chances at victory. If not, Georgia's task will become much more difficult.
Georgia offensive line vs. Alabama front seven
It's a broken record by now, but Georgia's big men up front were dominated by South Carolina's defensive line, not creating holes for the running backs nor giving time for Murray to find receivers in the Bulldogs' loss to the Gamecocks on Oct. 6. Though the line has played well in every game since then — aside from a five-sack first half by Ole Miss — Alabama will be a stiff test. The defensive line is led by Jesse Williams, he of the 600-pound bench-press fame. One positive for Georgia is that its offensive line is back to normal with the return of Chris Burnette. The junior right guard missed games against Auburn and Georgia Southern with a shoulder injury. Back in the starting lineup against Georgia Tech, the five-man rotation the Bulldogs have used in 10 of their 12 games this season — comprised of Burnette, center David Andrews, left tackle Kenarious Gates, left guard Dallas Lee and right tackle John Theus — regained a sense of normalcy. They'll need it against the Crimson Tide, who have posted four shutouts this season and lead the nation in a slew of statistical categories. Yet another number attesting to Alabama's defensive supremacy under head coach Nick Saban: in his 79-game tenure, the Crimson Tide have held opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense 52 times, or 65.8 percent of the time. If the Bulldogs want to break that 300-yard barrier, the offensive line will have to lead the way.
Georgia special teams vs. Alabama special teams
In a game with such an even tussle on paper between both teams' offenses and defenses, expect the often-overlooked special teams unit to play a large role in deciding the victor. Just ask Georgia. Tyrann Mathieu, also known as "The Honey Badger," single-handedly helped LSU turn around what been a bleak showing in the first half of the SEC Championship game last season. With the Bulldogs refusing to kick away from the electrifying cornerback, Mathieu scored on a 62-yard punt return, with a second topsy-turvy return that led to another Tigers touchdown, key plays into helping turn what had been a 10-0 deficit into a decisive 42-10 win for LSU. While there is no player quite as dynamic as Mathieu fielding punts for either team in this year's game, expect the special teams to figure prominently in the outcome, whether it's a booming punt or a clutch field goal by one of the teams' kickers.