Georgia poised to test Alabama football's weakness covering tight ends and running backs

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

TUSCALOOSA — Of the 76 FBS teams that have played a game this season, Alabama is tied for 60th in allowed yards per attempt at 8.4. It stands out in such company as one of very few teams that has been able to win while allowing so much through the air: the teams tied with Alabama for 60th (Air Force, Wake Forest and ECU) are a combined 3-4.

It also stands out in how it has allowed those yards.

Of the 967 passing yards the Crimson Tide has allowed in its first three games, 505 of them (52.2%) have been from tight ends and running backs. Alternative receiving threats have been one of a few defensive downfalls for UA early this season; Georgia has not done much in that regard in 2020 but is poised to introduce more of it, especially given UA’s weakness therein.

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Georgia's relied on 3 WRs

Georgia has been heavily reliant on three wide receivers in its passing game this season — sophomore Kearis Jackson, sophomore George Pickens and senior Demetris Robertson — to the point that they are responsible for 34 of Georgia’s 61 receptions (55.7%) and 440 of the Bulldogs’ 744 receiving yards (59.1%). 

That started to change with Georgia’s most recent game, a 44-21 win over Tennessee, and the introduction of transfer tight end Tre’ McKitty to the offense. McKitty missed the first two games after a minor knee injury from preseason practice, but was quickly introduced to a pass-catching role in the offense in catching two passes for 47 yards against the Volunteers.

Sep 21, 2019; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles tight end Tre McKitty (6) runs the ball past Louisville Cardinals linebacker CJ Avery (9) during the first half at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia has recent experience in making the most of a pass-catching transfer: just last season, Lawrence Cager, a former Miami receiver, transferred to Georgia and finished second on the team with 33 catches and 476 yards, third on the team with four receiving touchdowns.

“I didn’t really think too much of the expectations, I wanted to go out there and play my best game,” McKitty said.

The expectations for McKitty could be higher in this game, given the UA defense is coming off of allowing Ole Miss tight end Kenny Yeboah to catch seven passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

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A&M's tight ends, backs gave UA taste

The Texas A&M game gave UA a track record of allowing tight ends and running backs with minor roles in their passing games to have much greater success against the Crimson Tide. Texas A&M tight end Jalen Wydermyer had eight catches for 82 yards against Alabama; in two other games, against Vanderbilt and Florida, he caught seven passes for 72 yards. Fellow tight end Ryan Renick’s lone reception of the year came against Alabama for a 17-yard touchdown.

The Aggies did the same thing at running back. Ainias Smith — a converted wide receiver — caught six passes for 80 yards in games against the Commodores and Gators. Against Alabama, he caught six passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

“First of all, I don't think the call is necessarily the issue. I think the execution of the call has been the issue,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “Sometimes we coach players for what we want them to be. But we really need to coach them for what they are. And when I say that, I'm talking about how much experience do they have? How much can they handle? How much can they execute?

"So, if the players are mis-executing, that's not a good thing from a coaching standpoint because that means we have to do a better job of teaching them or make sure we're not trying to teach them too much so they go out there and they can’t perform well with confidence and make plays we’d like for them to make.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson.