Analysis: Georgia can lean on defense – history – against Tide

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Georgia coach Kirby Smart smiles as he answers a few questions after the team arrives at Indianapolis International Airport on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Indianapolis. Georgia are set to face Alabama in the college football playoff championship game on Monday. (Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

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Longtime former Georgia trainer Vince Dooley loves history, especially one that he believes favors his beloved Bulldogs.

Dooley believes a rematch will work to Georgia’s advantage over Alabama in Monday night’s college football playoff title game in Indianapolis. Dooley is also confident the Georgia defense will fare better in his second chance against Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.

“In most cases, not all, it’s hard to beat good teams again for the second time,” Dooley told The Associated Press earlier this week. “I hope that is what will happen.”

The psychological advantage that comes with the rematch favors Georgia. The extra motivation helps, but the best reason for picking the Bulldogs is the defense that has carried the team all season.

Dooley, 89, plans to attend the game after recently testing positive for COVID-19 but recovering from symptoms that he said were “kind of like a cold.” I’m fine and ready to go.

Dooley won 201 games as a Georgia coach for 25 years, from 1964 to 1988. With Dooley as a coach, Georgia won their last national championship in 1980, beating Notre Dame at the Sugar Bowl.

Dooley’s 1982 team, led by Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, won their third straight Southeastern Conference title and were undefeated before losing to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

This season’s Bulldogs finished their first regular season unbeaten since the 1982 squad and were seeded No.1 before losing to Alabama 41-24 in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 4. Georgia responded to the loss with an impressive 34-11 victory over Michigan in the CFP Orange Bowl semifinal on December 31.

The Michigan rout is the Bulldogs’ response to those who suspect they were overrated in their loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship.

The Bulldogs have proven they indeed have a dominant defense, as they have shown in the regular season. And history is also on their side.

Dooley cited several examples of teams winning SEC or national championships in rematch, including Alabama’s second-chance victory over Louisiana State in the 2011 BCS National Championship game. Dooley also recalled Georgia’s 28-7 victory over Auburn in the 2017 SEC Championship game after losing to the Tigers in the regular season.

“There is a story there,” Dooley said. “Why else would Georgia be 3-point favorites in this football game?”

The 1980 championship secured Dooley’s legacy in Georgia. Likewise, Kirby Smart can bolster his big-game reputation by securing his first victory over Nick Saban of Alabama, his former boss.

Georgia have relied on their defense all season. The defense only faltered once, in the SEC title game against Alabama, when it failed to contain Young.

“I think we’ll do a better job defending him the second time around,” Dooley said.

The Bulldogs must find a way to put the pressure on Young after being held bagless in the first meeting. The defense, led by linebacker Nakobe Dean, is packed with big play potential.

Georgia have had the luxury of building pressure all season thanks to their deep defensive front, which includes Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Jalen Carter and Travon Walker. When the unit was unable to pressure Young in the first meeting, breakdowns in the secondary were revealed.

Smart said the inability to pressure Young in the SEC Championship game “was not for lack of trying.”

“And we brought a lot of different pressures,” Smart said on Monday. “They have done a good job of relieving these pressures. And at the end of the day, there’s four or five guys that are one-on-one there. Someone has to win one on one.

The Georgian defense has won these battles all season. If Dooley’s history lessons turn out to be correct, the defense will help the Bulldogs end their 41-year national championship drought.

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