If Alabama's football team was a worker, it would need a little vacation from the stress of having dropped three of its last four games in some very physical contests. Instead, the Crimson Tide will have to settle for a trip to Athens, Georgia, and a battle against the 11th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia has the nation's number two scoring defense, so the weekend getaway to Stanford Stadium could prove none-too-relaxing for Bama. Georgia trails in the all time series with Alabama 35-23-4. In last year's meeting in Tuscaloosa, the Dogs clipped the Tide 27-25 on a last-second field goal. This will be Alabama's first trip to Athens since 1995, when the Tide routed Georgia, 31-0. Alabama has not lost back-to-back games to Georgia since 1955-56.
The Bulldogs are led by one of the brightest young coaches in college football. Since leaving the offensive coordinator post at Florida State, Coach Mark Richt (a Miami graduate) has amassed a 24-6 record at Georgia. The 2002 SEC Coach of the Year led the Bulldogs to the SEC title, the first for Georgia since 1982. Richt led the Bulldogs to a school-record 13 wins last season, capped by a dominating win over Florida State in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. Prior to being named Georgia's head coach, Richt was on Bobby Bowden's staff at FSU (1990-2000), where he served as offensive coordinator the last seven years.
Georgia Offensive coordinator Neil Calloway, a former Bama player, held the same position at Alabama during Mike Dubose's tenure as head coach. Dogs Running Backs Coach Ken Rucker was part of the TCU staff that Dennis Franchione brought with him from Fort Worth, but Rucker only stayed in Tuscaloosa for two months before returning to Texas. On Alabama's sideline, Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines held the same position at Georgia from 1995 to 1998 and formerly worked with Richt at FSU.
Like several other opponents on Alabama's schedule, particularly Southeastern Conference foes, Georgia had an off week to prepare for the Tide. The week before, the Bulldogs fell to then-number 11 LSU in Baton Rouge in a game that featured some staunch defense from both teams. Under Mark Richt, the Bulldogs are 4-1 coming off a loss, which, combined with the off week, may not bode well for Alabama.
Georgia comes into the game with a first team All-SEC quarterback (David Greene), kicker (Billy Bennett), and defensive end (David Pollack). Many thought that Greene (6-3, 230) was just holding the quarterback spot until super-recruit D.J. Shockley was ready to take over, but the junior proved to be the man with 22 touchdown passes and close to 3,000 yards through the air. Greene is 24-6 as a Georgia starter, including 9-1 on the opponent's home field. So far he's led five fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, including last year's 27-25 win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. On pace to finish as one of the most accurate quarterbacks in Georgia history, Greene is 21-for-29 on third down passing attempts this season, resulting in 16 first downs.
Pollack (6-3, 278, Jr) burst on to the national scene last season when he led the SEC in tackles for a loss with 23. In addition, his 14 sacks set a Georgia school record. This season Pollard has faced constant double- and triple-teams, but he still makes an impact. His fourth-quarter interception versus Clemson essentially ended that game.
Alabama fans need no introduction of Bennett (5-8, 175, Sr), who kicked the game-winning score in last year's tussle in Tuscaloosa. Aside from this, Bennett went 52 of 52 on extra points in route to scoring 130 points. For the second straight year Bennett is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top placekicker. He owns a career field goal percentage of 76.19, including 20-of-26 from 40 to 49 yards. For his career Bennett is 93 percent on field goal tries in the fourth quarter.
Greene is the offensive leader of the Bulldogs, and is putting up good numbers again this season with a 2:1 touchdown/interception ratio (he has tossed four scores to only two picks). He is also only eight yards away from 1,000 passing yards this year.
The Dogs' ground game is led by redshirt freshman Michael Cooper (5-11, 215), who has 290 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore scatback Tyson Browning (5-8, 167) saw his first action last week after being suspended. He's dangerous running and as a pass receiver.
Fred Gibson (6-4, 196, Jr) is the best of the receiving corps, but is still nursing an injury he suffered against MTSU and may be limited. If Gibson falters, the Bulldogs will turn to Reggie Brown (6-1, 195, Jr). Brown had led the team in receiving in Gibson's absence, grabbing 22 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
When Georgia is on offense, the operative word will be young. The Bulldogs will challenge Alabama's youthful defensive front with three sophomores and one redshirt freshman on the Georgia offensive line.
Georgia's strength has been the defense as the Bulldogs are best in the SEC in scoring defense. The Dogs have allowed scores of 0, 10, 7, and 17 in their first four games. And the leader of the defense is David Pollack. Many consider him one of the all-time greats at defensive end and the reason that Georgia is defending SEC champion. Even on those occasions when he doesn't make the tackle, he has a knack for disrupting the play.
Safeties Thomas Davis (6-1, 220, So) and Sean Jones (6-2, 209, Jr) are the team's leading tacklers. It often doesn't bode well for a team when their two leading tacklers are safeties. Once upon a time it was a bad sign for safeties to be leading tacklers, but in Georgia's scheme the hard-hitting safeties make stops close to the line of scrimmage. One of the biggest hitters in the SEC, Davis ranks in the top three in the conference in both total tackles and solo tackles. Bruce Thornton (5-11, 200) and Decory Bryant (5-11, 187) are the only senior starters on the team, but they give experience where it is often most valuable: cornerback.
Last year Georgia was dominant at linebacker, but most of that talent is now playing in the NFL. Sophomore Tony Taylor is Georgia's only returning ‘backer with starting experience.
Billy Bennett provides a solid start for Georgia special teams. Punter Gordon Ely-Kelso is averaging just over 40 yards a punt, with a season long of 54 yards. Georgia didn't have to go far to find these two kicking specialists: both hail from Athens. Olandis Gary (5-10, 182, Sr) is a good return man who leads the Dogs in all time punt returns.
Last year's game in Tuscaloosa was a thriller. For this year's game to match that, Alabama will have to be at the top of its game.
Alabama holds a 34-22-4 lead with Georgia in a series that dates back to 1895. This will be the 63rd meeting between these two Southern football powers. Alabama holds a 21-12-4 lead in games played in the state of Alabama. Alabama holds a 13-11 lead in games played in the state of Georgia. From 1971-82, Alabama and Georgia won every Southeastern Conference championship, totaling 12 SEC titles. The two teams were co-champions in 1981.