ATHENS, Ga. – Alabama lost a bunch of stars to the NFL, yet it’s hard to tell much difference. The Crimson Tide still has the nation’s top-ranked defense.
There was never any shortage of talent at Georgia, where all the best defensive players decided to remain in college for another year. Even so, the Bulldogs didn’t start playing up to their potential until they were called out by one of their own.
An outburst by safety Shawn Williams, who accused his teammates of playing soft, sparked a dramatic turnaround at Georgia. It’s a big reason the third-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) will face No. 2 Alabama (11-1) for the Southeastern Conference championship on Saturday, with the winner claiming a spot in the national title game.
One thing seems certain: Both offenses will have trouble moving the ball.
When you play with a team that has a great defense or had a great defense before you got here, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner said, you want to keep the standard going.
Granted, the Crimson Tide has not been quite as dominant as a year ago, when the defense was led by four players – Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw – who were among the first 35 picks in the NFL draft. Alabama gave up more than 400 yards in two straight games, managing to pull out a win with a last-minute drive at LSU, but going down in a shocking upset to Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.
Still, the Tide leads the country in points allowed (9.25 per game) and total defense (233.7 yards).
Those two games, we knew and the coaches knew, ... we didn’t play our best, linebacker C.J. Mosley said. So after that loss, we kind of got back to the basics of doing what we have to do. Just doing the little things we do every day in practice – wrapping up, tackles, foot work. Once you lose sight of those things, that’s when the big plays start to happen.
Georgia could have gone into the season with some big holes to fill on defense, but their two leading players – fearsome linebacker Jarvis Jones and ball-hawking safety Bacarri Rambo – passed on the chance to enter the NFL draft.
But, when the Bulldogs kicked off in the season opener, three key players were missing. Rambo had to serve a four-game suspension, reportedly for failing a drug test.
Commings sat out the first two games after being arrested for an altercation with his girlfriend. Another of the starters, linebacker Alec Ogletree, was suspended four games for an undisclosed violation of team rules.