Alabama's Bill O'Brien outfoxed Georgia in SEC Championship. Here's how he can do it again

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

INDIANAPOLIS — After Alabama’s struggles to protect Bryce Young in the Iron Bowl, finding any success against Georgia’s defense seemed all but impossible.  

The Bulldogs had allowed only 6.92 points per game before the SEC Championship Game.

Then, Alabama scored 41 points. The offensive line gave up zero sacks.

Now, the Crimson Tide (13-1) must try to replicate that effort in a second matchup against Georgia (13-1) in the College Football Playoff championship at 7 p.m. CT on Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

It was more than the offensive line blocking well, though that was certainly a significant part of it. Scheme played a role, too. 

As for how the Crimson Tide pulled that off and what it could expect to see from Georgia a second time around, The Tuscaloosa News spoke with SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic.

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What Bill O'Brien, Alabama offense will want to replicate

  • Using the first few series wisely

Alabama punted during its first two drives against Georgia, but as the final result showed, there was no need to panic.

Those first few series can be valuable educational tools for the rest of the game. Cubelic said Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien does an excellent job at using the first couple series to move pieces around, see what matchups he has and allow the defense to dictate how he’ll call the rest of the game.

“I would expect some shifts and motions early,” Cubelic said. “I would expect some quick throws early. That will show you how the safeties are playing it. That will show you how fast they’re rolling down.”

  • Running back alignment for passes

For much of the season, O’Brien’s offense has been run-pass option and play action heavy. Cubelic saw him get away from that in the Georgia game.

“He did more direct pass (protection) with the backs in the game,” Cubelic said. “I thought they benefited from that.”

  • Calling quick throws to perimeter

Alabama will find more offensive success against Georgia if it can tire the vaunted defensive line.

That means making the front seven run as much as possible. Quick throws to the perimeter of the field, stretch plays to the edge of the defense, sweeps and more can accomplish that. So, too, can moving the pocket and having quarterback Bryce Young sprint out.

“We saw how tired Georgia’s d-line was the last time they played,” Cubelic said. “Try to get those guys moving East and West. That takes away from the pass rush ability as well.”

  • Preparing the offensive line well

Cubelic, a former offensive lineman, saw an offensive line that was mentally ready for Georgia. 

“They really didn’t seem surprised or confused by anything,” Cubelic said.

Confusion and an inability to recognize what was happening more often led to issues against Auburn and LSU. Alabama gave up 11 sacks over those two games alone.

“There were plenty of pressure packages (Georgia) brought,” Cubelic said. “Alabama just had a better understanding of how to pick those up.”

Potential counters from Georgia

  • Delayed pressures

Delayed pressures worked some for Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, Cubelic said. Georgia would be wise to follow suit.

When defenders don’t immediately blitz, that can help counter a quarterback such as Young, who’s good when things break down. Cubelic recommended the Bulldogs have defenders waiting outside the tackles.

“You will see them kind of sit and wait and wait and wait,” Cubelic said. “And if (Young) does move out of the pocket in their direction, they trigger blitz.”

Cubelic said that could negate some of Young’s ability to roll out.

  • Georgia going lighter, quicker on outside

The Bulldogs could decide to go with a lineup that can better combat the elite athleticism of Young and company.

Cubelic said he would not be surprised to see some of Georgia’s more athletic defenders line up outside the offensive tackles on obvious passing downs. Or, Georgia could decide to use a leaner group most of the time. If Alabama is going to primarily pass, colossal defenders such as Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis can’t make as much of an impact.

The Bulldogs could find more success rushing the passer if they go with a leaner lineup much of the game.

“If they do, it would be interesting to see if Bill O’Brien and Bryce Young just say, ‘OK, now we’re going to try to run it at you and see if those guys hold up,’” Cubelic said.

  • Georgia attacking weaknesses

Even with a new center (Seth McLaughlin) and instability at the right tackle position going into the SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs didn’t seem to try to attack these areas of the offensive line as much as they could have. 

Cubelic didn’t feel like Georgia was all that calculated with where it brought pressure.

“If you’re going to attack the right tackle or you’re going to attack the center and you think you can win there,” Cubelic said, “you’ve got to find ways to do that no matter what the formation is or how fast the team’s going.”

  • Improved tackling

If Alabama goes with quick passes, pressure won’t matter much anyway. Georgia has to simply finish tackles. 

“It’s getting ball carries to the ground,” Cubelic said. “Alabama created explosive plays with yards after the catch. If they can do that again, it doesn’t really matter.”

Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly