The first job when facing a dominant and elite opponent like Alabama is to not lose the game before it starts. It’s easy for lesser teams to be intimidated and awed, and Alabama is very good at making those teams pay by building large leads before the opponent is able to compose itself. We saw that ourselves in 2008.
A year ago LSU came into the SEC Championship with a great deal of mystique around their team. It’s not just that they were undefeated and had a great defense. After they won in Tuscaloosa, they carried a sense of inevitability. You might get them in a close game thanks to a weak LSU passing game, but it was only a matter of time until Mathieu made a play or a punt return to secure the win. Georgia, to their credit, came out on the attack and wasn’t scared or intimidated; to the contrary, they were the aggressor. As soon as Mathieu returned a first half punt for a touchdown, LSU began to turn the game. The Georgia defense held out as long as it could, but Georgia’s mistakes and turnovers began to pile up.
Once they toppled LSU in last season’s rematch, Alabama carried the same mantle of invincibility into this year. Despite losing much of a stellar defense and one of the best tailbacks in the nation, the Tide roared through the first two months of the season. They were so dominant that they were “boring”, and it was a better use of time to compare them against NFL teams rather than upcoming opponents.
A lot has happened over the past month. Once again, LSU plays a large role in the story. The Tide had LSU down 14-3 at halftime, and it looked as if Alabama was well on its way to another easy win. We know how that game turned out, and the nation saw Mettenberger look like Peyton Manning for a while. Texas A&M continued to chip away at Alabama’s invincibility and left Tuscaloosa with the win. The Tide are still an excellent team, but the aura of invincibility is gone. Is it Tyson-after-Douglas gone? We’ll find out Saturday.
So I’m not surprised to see Mark Richt let his players jaw a little this week. Alabama should be respected but not feared or cowered to. I love the mutual respect and appreciation for each team’s style of football. Each defense thinks it’s better, and they’ll get a chance to prove it.
There’s no doubt that Georgia is the big underdog and should be, and they’ll have to execute better and cleaner than they have all year in order to have a shot. But Georgia seems to be in good shape getting through the first challenge of the game: they’ll come in confident and believing they can win. Will that last after a physical Alabama team hits back?