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College Football: Defense could rule in SEC title game

POSTED: November 30, 2012 12:30 a.m.
 

They say defense wins championships.

And for the seventh consecutive year, the Southeastern Conference can continue to prove that.

The winner of the No. 2-ranked Alabama vs. No.  3-ranked Georgia game on Saturday at the Georgia Dome will play undefeated Notre Dame on Jan. 7 in Miami, Fla., for a chance to hoist the BCS trophy.

Alabama and Georgia have only met six times since the conference expanded in 1992, and have never faced off in the SEC Championship. Their most recent meeting came during the "Blackout" in Athens in 2008, a game where Alabama led 31-0 at halftime before winning 41-30.

This game’s result likely won’t have a total of 71 points scored, although Georgia’s Aaron Murray (177.1) and Alabama’s AJ McCarron (176.3) are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in quarterback passer rating. The Crimson Tide —  seven point favorites over Georgia — are averaging 39 points per game, while the Bulldogs are one point less with 38, but this game might be a low-scoring affair.

Ever since the Bulldogs’ Shawn Williams called out his defensive teammates for "playing soft" on Oct. 22, following a 29-24 win over Kentucky, they haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 14 points in a game after giving up 25.2 points to SEC opponents in the first half of the season.

But much of the defensive lockdown is due to Jarvis Jones, who is expected to be among the top picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The junior linebacker has 10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss, good enough to be named a finalist for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski awards.

Teammate Sanders Commings told reporters after practice on Monday, "I think we’re the best defense in the country.

"I thought we were last year. We had 10 out of 11, 10 out of 12 guys back who started. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the top defense. Everybody who plays in this defense thinks we are."

While Georgia’s defense is ranked 22nd, the numbers favor Alabama’s unit, as the Tide are ranked No. 1 in total defense and have allowed a stingy 9.3 points per game.

Like Jones, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner has racked up accolades, being named a finalist for the Nagurski and Thorpe awards. Milliner has 47 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble, but the junior is rarely targeted.

That’s not good news for Murray, who has a 3-9 record against teams ranked in the top 25.

Murray finished 11-of-31 for 109 yards and one interception in the 35-7 rout by South Carolina. Florida wasn’t much better for Murray, as he was 12-of-24 for 150 yards and three interceptions, but the Bulldogs’ defense was superb and gave them a 17-9 win.

Against LSU in the SEC Championship Game last season, Murray completed 16-of-40 for 163 yards and two interceptions.

The Bulldogs’ signal-caller has the physical ability and talent to keep defensive coordinators up late at night; it’s the putting it into action part that has fans puzzled.

While Murray may be considered predictable at times, the Georgia running game has been dominant. After potential All-American running back Isaiah Crowell was removed from the team in the offseason due to violating team rules, freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have taken the conference by storm.

The duo of Gurley (6.5 yards per carry) and Marshall (6.7) has proven it can run the ball with success, tallying 22 touchdowns and 2,242 rushing yards on the season.

If Georgia can consistently move the chains on the ground against Alabama, a team that allows opponents only 77 rushing yards per game, the Bulldogs could pull an upset.

 

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