Alabama, Georgia bring same weapons to fight

There will be a lot of similarities, not many differences, between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia when they meet in Atlanta Saturday to duke it out for the SEC Championship crown and a trip to Miami.

When top teams in the SEC collide, the matchup poses strength against strength and speed against speed, and whoever punches the other guy in the mouth harder wins.

This is especially true in the case of No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, who are playing in this weekend's SEC Championship game, as the two squads are almost identical: Both have pro-style and balanced offenses, 3-4 defenses, effective, efficient and experienced quarterbacks, dangerous running back tandems and wide receiver injuries, to name the start of a lengthy laundry list.

Basically, these teams see each other every day when they hit the practice fields.

But Georgia head coach Mark Richt says there's one obvious difference.

"They've been national champions and we've not," he said.

A win over the Crimson Tide Saturday puts the Bulldogs in position to change that, though.

Going through a few of these similarities, the quarterbacks are the most glaring. Georgia's Aaron Murray and Alabama's A.J. McCarron lead the nation in passing efficiency, ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

"I think these two guys have done it as well as anybody in our league, maybe as well as anybody in the country," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

After watching some of Georgia's games, Alabama safety Robert Lester sees the resemblance.

"They're very similar and I'm glad that coach Saban makes us go good against good," he said. "AJ simulates a great quarterback and it's a great opportunity to get work against a great quarterback to get ready for a great quarterback."

With the betting lines in Vegas stalled at seven points in Alabama's favor this week, Saturday is predicted to be a low scoring game with the talent spewing from both defenses. As it was leading up to the LSU game, the winner could be determined by who has the best quarterback play, the most productive offense.

This leads to the running back tandems. Alabama's Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon have combined for 1,848 yards on 293 carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and 24 touchdowns, while Georgia's Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have racked up 1,858 yards on 283 carries, averaging 6.6 yards per carry, and 22 touchdowns.

Eerily even.

However, while Lacy and Yeldon's carries are more split (164-129), UGA rides with Gurley more than Marshall (176-107).

"They're physical, they run hard, they run with a purpose," linebacker Nico Johnson said of Georgia's rushing attack. "We're going to have a mindset of we will not be denied."

"You don't see a lot of missed assignments, you see hat on a hat," Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said of Alabama's running game. "Both of those backs are able to hit it up and spin, and turn for those extra yards that a lot of other backs that we've faced to this point haven't been able to do."

The Tide has the better rush defense, ranked first in the SEC, second nationally, allowing opponents just 77 yards per game, while the Bulldogs are 11th in the conference, giving up an average of 163.4 ypg.

Despite how similar both teams rushing attacks are, Saban said the styles of the backs are a little different.

"Todd is like our guys in a way," he said. "He's big, physical, can run inside, can run outside. He'll make you miss, but has power.

"Their second guy is a very, very good back in all those regards, but he's a very fast guy. There's a change of pace there that the players have to be aware of. You have to make sure you keep better leverage."

And when Georgia isn't running the ball, it will look out wide for skill players like Tavarres King, Malcolm Mitchell and Arthur Lynch. Like Alabama, the Dawgs lost a few starting wide receivers earlier in the year in Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown (who, like DeAndrew White, tore his ACL against Ole Miss).

Georgia has a fairly balanced offense, rushing for 190.1 yards per game and passing for 273.6, and the Tide hasn't done well against balanced offenses this year (LSU, Texas A&M).

"We had two weeks where we kind of were slacking defensively," Lester said. "I think we got off of playing fundamental football and executing the game plan."

It's hard to gauge which team has the upper hand heading into Atlanta as the two are practically mirror images of each other, essentially facing one another in practice all week. It will be a dogfight to say the least.

"We're just going to have to come in and play our best ball," Johnson said.

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