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Three defensive adjustments to make the National Championship different

Blown coverages. Ten explosive plays. Zero sacks. Thirty-four points allowed.

After a season of complete dominance on the defensive side of the ball, Bryce Young and the Crimson Tide served up a piece of humble pie to Kirby Smart, Dan Lanning and the entire Bulldog defensive unit in the SEC Championship game.

However, unlike previous defeats at the hands of Nick Saban in Smart's past, Georgia gets a shot at redemption in Monday's National Championship game. What has to change and where? Let's examine three areas.

Play dime personnel (six defensive backs) on 1st & 2nd down

The Bulldogs in dime personnel on a first down play late in the first half.
The Bulldogs in dime personnel on a first down play late in the first half.

Wait, hasn't every prognosticator for this game said the Bulldogs have to play more man coverage and dial up the pressure on Bryce Young? Why say to only play with a five-man box and focus on coverage on early downs (first and second)? We'll get to the pressure part, but the reason to play dime personnel (3 defensive linemen, 2 linebackers and 6 defensive backs) on early downs is multi-dimensional.

The first dimension being you want to entice Alabama to run the ball and actually be content if they have success with it. Why is that? Tempo. Once the big touchdown to Jameson Williams happened, the entirety of the SEC Championship game was played at Alabama's tempo—and that favors the Tide. Look at a comparison of Alabama's rushing statistics in the SECCG versus their game against Cincinnati entering the fourth quarter:

- SECCG - 16 rushes for 90 yards (including Bryce Young scrambles) - 31 points scored

- CFB Playoff Semi - 32 rushes for 223 yards - 17 points scored

Young was the Heisman trophy winner for a reason. Every Brian Robinson or Trey Sanders non-red zone rushing attempt is one less opportunity the Tide's best player (Young) has a chance to make a play. Plus, the Bulldogs have infinitely more talent than the Bearcats along the line of scrimmage to play this style and still handle the Tide's running game.

Second dimension: If you do decide to bring pressure with this personnel grouping, there is more speed on the field to both cover on the back end, and also attempt to pressure the quarterback. Young is a very savvy and slippery athlete. Bringing pressure with the linebacker(s) or the additional defensive back increases your chances of being able to chase him down if he does escape the pocket.

Thirdly, more coverage defenders negatively affects Bryce Young. His turnover-worthy play percentage, while still very small, more than doubles when there are five or fewer defenders in the box. This also helps to prevent big plays and could even allow the Bulldogs to always have a safety over the top of Jameson Williams.

The final element of this strategy is illustrated in the third point below, but there are two caveats for not playing Dime on early downs:

- This would obviously change in the red zone

- This would also change if No. 81 and 85 are both in the game for Alabama (below). This is a run/play-action with usually only two receivers running routes heavy personnel grouping for the Tide.


If 81 and 85 are in the game together, Alabama  is running or taking a deep shot off play-action.
If 81 and 85 are in the game together, Alabama is running or taking a deep shot off play-action.

Pressure Bryce Young

Georgia brings a 5-man pressure and forces an incompletion.
Georgia brings a 5-man pressure and forces an incompletion.

Obvious, right? The key is when and how. In the SECCG, the Bulldogs basically did what they had done all year. Run simulated pressures where it appears they are rushing more players, but actually only four players rush. Either an edge defender (or shockingly at times, an interior defender) would drop off the line of scrimmage into coverage or as the "spy." In addition, they consistently ran the interior twists and stunts they've done all year. Alabama was more than prepared. While the Bulldogs did pressure Young on 38 percent of his drop-backs in the game, a lot of the damage had already been done when those pressures occurred.

When and how?

On every third down with at least five rushers. In the SECCG on third down, here were Bryce Young's numbers:

- UGA rushed four = 4 for 4, 104 yards, one touchdown (Williams' first) and two other first downs

- UGA rushed five-plus = 2 for 8, 47 yards, two first downs (both of which on blown coverages leaving a player wide open)

That's pretty simple math. Mixing up zone, zone-to-man matching or straight man coverage can still be done, but if there's a third down, Georgia must bring at least five rushers.

- Focus almost entirely on the right side of Alabama's offensive line. The Tide's left tackle Evan Neal, while not unbeatable, is one of the best players in the game and only allowed one quarterback hit on 50 pass-block snaps in the SECCG. The right side of Alabama's line is in doubt due to injury, but whoever plays is a significant drop-off compared to Neal. Also, if you come heavy from the Tide's right side and force Young to roll or scramble to his left, his play suffers to the tune of a 46.6 passing grade and less than 50 percent completion. Even moving Young in any way makes him, and most quarterbacks, a completely different player:

- Not moved in pocket = 94.3 passing grade, 80% completion, 130.1 passer rating

- Moved from the pocket = 54.4 passing grade, 67% completion, 75.9 passer rating

- Stop using an interior defensive lineman as the "spy." That's the job for a linebacker or extra defensive back. Young is too good and elusive in space.

- If you only bring four rushers, make sure the middle/center is occupied. If Young is given a throwing window by interior twists (below), he's going to take advantage.

Lastly, as simple and obvious as it may sound, you have to get Young on the ground when the opportunity presents itself. Walker, Nakobe Dean and others had chances in the SECCG and just didn't finish.

Georgia must not allow Young to have throwing lanes up the middle.
Georgia must not allow Young to have throwing lanes up the middle.

Think players as much as plays/scheme 

Championships are usually won by a combination of elite players being great as well as role players stepping up in big moments. However, they are also lost because areas of actual weakness get magnified.

Looking back at the SEC Championship, Julian Rochester, Warren Brinson, Tramel Walthour, Chaz Chambliss and Zion Logue played a combined 40 snaps. While that group provides valuable depth, their impact in bigger games has been minimal. In the SECCG, they combined for one quarterback pressure and one tackle in those 40 snaps. While I realize stats tell only partial stories, watching the game film in detail further illustrated the minimal impact. This is also where the loss of Adam Anderson comes into focus.

Thus, following the first key above (dime personnel on early downs) allows three of your core front of Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Travon Walker, Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, and Robert Beal to always be on the field and keep each other as fresh as they can.

Further, especially if their backups are playing, force Alabama to be a right-handed team. Let Evan Neal block air (below) on passing downs and not be able to control the edge in the running game.

Nick Saban, Bill O'Brien and the Tide will have answers for whatever changes they think Georgia will throw at them. They'll likely go to more empty sets and possibly try to play even faster. The chess match on Monday night will be fascinating to watch.


*A look at the three adjustments on the offensive side of the ball is coming this weekend*