Outside linebackers. They’re the strength of the defense and, after the tailbacks, comprise one of the deepest and most talented positions on the team. Having Bellamy back will help. Each of the linebackers has had his moments so far, and Jordan Jenkins had as good of a game at Vanderbilt as any defender has had this year. But if there’s a moment for the entire group to elevate its play, this is it. It will be a tough challenge – Alabama’s line has only given up five sacks through four games including just one against an outstanding Ole Miss front, and they pave the way for the only tailback duo in the SEC that can rival Georgia’s.
It might not even be accurate to include Floyd with this group. His role has been so varied that he’s spent as much, if not more, time at ILB or star than on the edge. He’ll have the ability to make an impact in this game too whether it’s covering someone like O.J. Howard or as a pass rusher.
So the question: can this unit affect a game like this? We’re talking an impact on the level of Jarvis Jones and Jordan Jenkins against Florida in 2012. Over the summer Seth Emerson wrote, “Jenkins and Floyd have to hear the time ticking on their chance to become stars.” There’s no better opportunity than in the biggest regular season SEC game. Carter is younger but has a related challenge: can he become more of an every down OLB than a fearsome pass rush specialist? The first job of the group will be to contain those outstanding tailbacks and keep them from getting into space. If they can manage that, they’ll have the opportunity to go after Coker and affect the game with the pass rush. We don’t expect another five-turnover game from Alabama, but effective pressure can lead to some takeaway opportunities.
Tight ends / fullbacks. Fullback Christian Payne’s injury changes things. Georgia’s base runs out of the I-formation rely on the fullback, and Payne’s absence leaves only Quayvon Hicks. Hicks of course is more than capable, but he’s been an inconsistent blocker. He’ll have to be in top form for Georgia’s best running plays to work.
To support Hicks, we could also expect 2-TE sets that use an offset tight end as a lead blocker rather than (or in addition to) a fullback. Freshman Jackson Harris has had an impressive September allowing coaches to use combinations of he, Blazevich, and Rome. Whether on inside power/counter runs or sweeps to the outside, Georgia’s tight ends are essential to the running game.
We’ve seen both tight ends and fullbacks involved in the passing game too. Pass protection will become more important against a quality Alabama front seven, but these players have proven to be effective receivers also especially out of play-action. At times Blazevich can be flexed out to help spread out that front seven and hopefully open some things up both running and passing.
Specialists. It’s cliched to lump special teams into posts like this, and we know that Georgia’s coverage units in particular will be in the spotlight. But in a game that’s projected to be close, things like starting field position matter more. Grabbing three points when given the opportunity could provide the final margin. Alabama’s specialists have had their issues with consistency (as have Georgia’s), and either group having a good game will give its team an advantage.
It’s a tough subject to bring up, but we still don’t know much about Marshall Morgan’s mental state after his accidental involvement in last week’s tragic injury to Devon Gales. His next kick will be the first since that play. From the Brad Gaines story we know that being on the other end of the hit can understandably affect a player’s mindset.
Returners will also be under the gun. Bama’s ArDarius Stewart fumbled the opening kickoff against Alabama. Isaiah McKenzie had an adventurous afternoon against Southern. Both return units are capable of big plays, but any mistakes would be a disaster.