Can Anyone Roll The Tide?

An In-Depth Look At The Four Teams That Have A Shot

It’s far from a secret that Alabama has been the team to beat in college football over the last decade. Their number one ranking isn’t shocking to anyone; Nick Saban has turned Bama back into a hub for all things football, but the scariest part is that this might be the best team he’s had yet.

Led by Tua Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide have finally gotten over the one thing that has (somewhat) held them back in recent years: they finally have a quarterback that is NFL worthy.

With the connections of Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs III; Tagovailoa has been historically great. With 25 touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a completion percentage of 70.4 percent, the sophomore has locked himself into the Heisman conversation. On top of the out-of-this-world numbers, Tua and his loaded group of wideouts have averaged 13.9 yards per completion – they’re literally averaging a first-down every play through the air.

Add that on top of a plethora of 5-star running backs, and the Tide are as dangerous as they’ve ever been on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, Alabama is… Alabama. Another word for loaded. With stars like defensive end Isaiah Buggs, safety-hybrid Shyheim Carter, and Wilson Mack holding down the middle linebacker spot, Bama is sure to produce several first-round picks, similar to last year; when they had four.

The question all year in college football has been; who’s better than thisteam?While there may not be a better team, there are a few teams that might justbe good enough to beat the Tide. Without further ado, here are the four teams that can match up with Bama.

 

Oklahoma (7-1)

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Kyler Murray is as dangerous as anyone in College Football. – Photo by Jake Trotter – ESPN

In previous years, teams that have beaten Alabama (outside of Auburn) have went toe-to-toe with them on the scoreboard, with a mobile quarterback and wide receivers that can stretch the field. Thankfully for head coach (and offensive mastermind) Lincoln Riley, the Sooners are disgusting rich with talent on that side of the ball.

Kyler Murray is breaking all types of efficiency records in the BIG 12, and is a born winner (the dude has lost two football games ever, seriously). Even though running back Rodney Anderson is out for the season, Trey Sermon has filled in in a big way, averaging 6.7 yards per touch. Murray is also taking a bulk of carries in Anderson’s absence, also averaging 6.7 yards per carry on 71 attempts.

Oklahoma has their mobile quarterback, and a running back that is both physical and fast, but how about the wide receivers? Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and CeeDee Lamb are the definition of deep threats on the outside. Both average 19 yards per catch, and catch their passes in high volume, having a combined 76.8 completion percentage when Murray throws to the two.

The offensive line is also as good as it gets; Murray has been sacked only eight times on the season (once a game), and more importantly, the offense as a whole doesn’t turn the ball over (3 INTs on the year, 2 fumbles on the year).

The Sooners have an offense that is designed for matching up with the Tide; with receivers that can stretch the balls vertically, and a quarterback that looks like an improvement upon the mobile QBs that have beaten Nick Saban’s defense in the past. Before the play, they make themselves extra difficult to defend, there’s always something moving before the play, some motion, a formation shift – Riley is always creative with the play calling and changes cadences and tempo on the regular. Against former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart in last year’s Rose Bowl (against a Georgia defense that is as good as Bama’s), they dropped 48 points…

… And gave up 54. The only reason Oklahoma isn’t a guaranteed lock against Alabama is that they have more holes than swiss cheese on the other side of the ball. There isn’t even really a noteworthy player or bright spot on the defense, and minimal improvement to touch on. Oklahoma will not be able to stop Alabama, but if they force just a turnover or two, their offense can take care of the rest of the game.

 

Georgia (7-1)

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Elijah Holyfield leads Georgia’s powerful rushing attack. – Photo by Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia is the team in the college football that is built most like Alabama. They play a physical brand of football and are solid in all three phases of the game.

I didn’t pick the Bulldogs because of a high-powered offense (they are above average, with solid talent at each spot) or a defense that can rattle Tagovailoa (they can try, but last year’s D was better and couldn’t stop him). It’s because of their consistency.

Yes, the Dawgs had their worst showing of the season just two short weeks ago in a 36-16 loss against LSU, but it was one of their two bad outings in the last two years (the game in Auburn last year was awful). No team has played in as many big games as Georgia has in the last two years, and no team has showed up as often as the Bulldogs do in those games. While they may have lost to Alabama in last year’s National Championship, they went blow-for-blow with the Tide on both side of the ball.

Kirby Smart is the other main reason Georgia can pull a win out of this matchup. Nobody knows Nick Saban better, and he is one of the few coaches that can scheme against Saban without his team looking lost on Saturday.

On the field, the ultra-efficient quarterback Jake Fromm leads the offense, along with one of the best one-two punches in any backfield, with Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift carrying the team to an average of 212 rushing yards per game. At the wide receiver position, Georgia is as deep as anyone, with four receivers having 20 or more receptions, and threats like Mecole Hardman that can play out wide, in the slot, or even in the backfield if necessary.

The defense has taken a slight step back from last year, but is still ranked 14thin the nation is yards per game and 12thin points per game. The front seven is a constantly rotating group of strong, physical players, and the defensive back unit has some legitimate studs, including Deandre Baker and Tyson Campbell, who are consistently seen flying to the ball down the field.

After their loss to LSU, Georgia became probably the least sexy option to beat Alabama, but the Dawgs have proven to be just as good as the Tide in recent years, and this could be the year where they take a step forward and finally beat their rival.

 

Michigan (7-1)  

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Donovan Peoples-Jones had emerged as one of the most exciting playmakers in College Football. – Photo by Gregory Shamus – Getty Images

            Yes, I put Michigan on this list over Notre Dame, a team that beat Michigan and is sitting pretty at 8-0 at the moment. Since the horrendous first half of the Notre Dame game, Michigan has been a top three team in the nation, even outplaying the Fighting Irish in the second half of the game they lost.

My problem with Notre Dame is that they have played a lot of aggressively mediocre teams (Stanford, Virginia Tech, USC), and their signature win was more based around Michigan’s mistakes and adjustment with new players than the Irish actually playing a great football game. The team also seems somewhat stuck between identities, wanting to be a mix of finesse and power football, which never really works against Alabama.

Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines, however, know exactly what they are. The team goes into every game ready for a slugfest, and the defense has been up to the challenge, week after week.

Michigan is allowing 14.8 points per game, good enough for sixth in the nation, and allows only 220 yards per game, which is the best in the nation by over 40 yards. The front seven is loaded with NFL talent. Rashan Gary is a man amongst boys out on the field, and while his statistics don’t seem to be the best, his biggest impact is how many plays he disrupts, draws a double team, or makes the team run to the other side of the defense, which is something few teams can afford to do, with Chase Winovich (who is just as good as Gary) stationed on the other side, and All-American linebacker Devin Bush disrupting running plays left and right. Jordan Glasgow and Khaleke Hudson patrol the outside of the field, and despite being rotated constantly, the pair specializes in disrupting quarterbacks lives, combining for 16 quarterback hurries on the year. Jim Thorpe Award contender LaVert Hill is among the backend of the defense, which gives up an NCAA-best 122 passing yards per game, and allows the fewest amount of 20-plus yard passing plays, something Tua and has talented receivers rely on in their attack.

The offense, led by Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, has taken steps in improving every week. Patterson is similar to Johnny Manziel – without the trouble, and has already seen Alabama’s defense in his time at Ole Miss. With weapons like Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan has size on the perimeter that can compete for 50/50 balls against Bama’s smaller DBs, and keep the defense modest instead of relying too heavily on the power rushing attack of Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, which is currently accumulating 212 yards per game on the ground.

With the balanced attack, the Wolverines have become masters at controlling the clock, currently sitting at sixth in the nation in the category, something that will surely come into play in a game with Bama, and could be a difference maker – keeping Tua & Co. off the field.

 

LSU (7-1)           

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Sophomore Safety Grant Delpit will lead the Tigers’ ferocious secondary in Death Valley against the Tide this Saturday – Photo by Derick E. Hingle – USA Today Sports

Rounding out the list is the team that plays Alabama in Death Valley this weekend. The Tigers possess one of the best home-field advantages in all of college football, and are 5-0 in their venue this season.

As far as defenses that can match up with Alabama, LSU is the next-best thing to Michigan. The Tigers force teams into 2.38 turnovers per game, goof for seventh in the nation. If the Tigers can force the young Alabama offense to make mistakes, the ballgame in Baton Rouge will swing into LSU’s favor.

The way the Tigers play on defense, with sheer confidence and aggression, mixed with the 102,000 plus fans that will fill up Tiger Stadium on Saturday night is enough to rattle any quarterback. Jake Fromm played his worst game of his career in the showdown against the Tigers this season, and for someone that has stayed calm in so many huge games, the sophomore looked rattled from the start against LSU.

Earning the nickname “DBU” (defensive back university) about seven years back, the school has done nothing but live up to the name since then; and this year’s group of corners is no exception. Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit, and Kristian Fulton are all future first-round picks that lead a secondary that’s only giving up 199 passing yards a game, and is seventh in the nation in points allowed.

Depth is a key yet again with LSU, with eight different players recording an interception on the season. Depth will also come into play in the linebacking core, as star Devin White is suspended for the first half against Bama after receiving a targeting penalty against Mississippi State.

On the offensive side of the ball, Joe Burrow is good enough to move the ball, and has done an excellent job at not turning the ball over (only 3 INTs on the year). Nick Brosette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are a solid one-two punch at running back, and Justin Jefferson has developed into the ultimate playmaking threat on the outside.

While the offense is far from special, they avoid turning the ball over, while the Tiger defense excels at takeaways. If LSU can capitalize off of a couple mistakes this weekend, Ed Orgeron’s team could have their signature win to push them into the playoffs.

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