What the B1G's best teams must learn from Alabama and Georgia
If I didn’t know any better, Monday’s national championship kind of looked like a Big Ten game. The game was in Indiana, and there were 5 field goals and no touchdowns in the first half. All it needed was a little fake snow and a few more punts.
But it most certainly was not The Big Ten in the national title game. The conference has made just 2 appearances in the last 14 years, both by Ohio State. Right now, the sport is dominated by the SEC and Clemson. That’s just a fact. Ohio State is the only B1G team that has shown it is capable of competing on a national level, but even it was badly outplayed in 2 games this season and last season against Alabama in the national title game.
What can the B1G’s best glean from Georgia’s 33-18 win over Alabama on Monday night? Bit of a no-brainer to say “recruit better” or “hire Nick Saban,” so I’ll spare you. But here’s what else the Big Ten’s best teams can learn from Monday night, and this season in general:
This is the single most impressive thing about Nick Saban. He adjusts from game to game, from season to season, from era to era. Alabama’s program is never stale; it evolves each and every year, which is why it is always in position to win it all.
Sometimes I wonder why the B1G’s programs refuse to adapt and evolve. It can be truly maddening to see the lack of progress in certain areas for fans of Wisconsin or Iowa in terms of offense, to use one example. To see Ohio State struggle defensively for basically 2 years has been surprising. Penn State never figured out its run game this year, and Michigan State couldn’t stop the pass.
With Alabama and Georgia, it seems like they always make adjustments, and one perceived weakness never lingers. Georgia played its best game of the season against Michigan after playing its worst game the previous time out against Alabama.
From game to game, Alabama’s game plan is truly tailored to the opponent. After torching Georgia’s secondary in the SEC Championship Game, it pounded the rock against Cincinnati. Then it got all of its offensive production through the air against Georgia in the title game.
It starts up front
Georgia’s front 7 is loaded with athletes up front where it shouldn’t be possible to have guys that big who move that well. Guys like Jordan Davis and Travon Walker don’t grow on trees, but it’s worth mentioning how much of a difference it makes to have guys that often blow up the designed play and force the QB to improvise, which is generally a tough thing to do for college QBs.
The way Georgia took away Michigan’s run game in the semifinal was as good as it gets from a defensive standpoint. No team was able to do that to Michigan all season, which set up Cade McNamara in the passing game. Make a team one-dimensional like that, and you have a great chance at success.
In particular, Ohio State really struggled up front and at linebacker. It had no Nakobe Dean to corral ball carriers, which is why it played such poor defense against Oregon, Michigan and Utah. It won’t win a national title like that, no matter how many yards Jaxon Smith-Njigba piles up.
Success can come from where you least expect it …
One team started at QB the surefire, can’t-miss 5-star recruit who was destined to win a Heisman. The other started a former walk-on, despite having recruited 5-stars year after year. Bryce Young and Stetson Bennett are as different as they come, but they were both effective all season.
… But don’t be married to one QB
Far be it from me to question Kirby Smart, but he stuck with Bennett, a former walk-on, through thick and thin this season, over several 5-star QBs on the bench. He felt like Bennett gave the Bulldogs the best chance to win, and he didn’t waver. It all worked out in the end thanks to Bennett’s terrific fourth quarter, but it almost cost the Bulldogs their long-awaited title.
Ironically enough, Nick Saban’s decision to bench Jalen Hurts for Tua Tagovailoa back in 2018 was the difference in beating Georgia, but Smart never did go to backup QB JT Daniels. This was Bennett’s third start against Alabama, and he didn’t play well in any of them, until the fourth quarter.
B1G coaches are also loyal to their guys. Even when QBs such as Tanner Morgan and Graham Mertz struggled, they didn’t get benched. Spencer Petras only got benched due to injury, and he found his way back into the lineup.
One man’s trash is another’s treasure
Even 2 programs that annually put together the best recruiting classes in the country are still in the market for the right transfer. Georgia got Orange Bowl MVP Derion Kendrick from Clemson, and Alabama snatched up Jameson Williams as he fell down Ohio State’s depth chart. Williams wound up being a terrific player for the Tide and set up a field goal with a 40-yard catch before suffering a non-contact knee injury.
B1G programs have taken on more transfers, like everyone else, in recent years. But Kendrick and Williams are a reminder that you can never have too much talent. Picking off players who are unhappy at top programs is a good strategy.
Defense is great, but you still need offensive playmakers, especially on the outside
Alabama and Georgia’s defenses both looked great, and it felt like neither offense would ever get a first down for a while, but both teams still have weapons. The B1G’s best defensive teams, like Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, need to add more weapons to complement those terrific defenses.
Georgia fans probably felt like they would never beat Nick Saban, but they did, so for those B1G teams out there waiting for that breakthrough, it can happen. Congrats to the Dawgs.