November 25, 2012

Dawgs, Tide ready for battle

Sunday wasn't the first time that a reporter has brought up Georgia's conference schedule, pointing out the obvious that the Bulldogs won the SEC East without having to play the likes of Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M.

But when asked if not having to face some of league's better teams might not have his team up to the challenge of facing the second-ranked Crimson Tide (11-1) in Saturday's SEC Championship (4 p.m, CBS), Bulldog head coach Mark Richt shot back.

"We've already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida. We can only play who's on our schedule," said Richt, whose Bulldogs remain No. 3 in the BCS standings. "We'll be prepared. We'll be well prepared. But they will, too. That's why you kick it off and play. We'll just have to see how it goes."

Otherwise, Sunday's 30-minute sessions - one each with Richt and Alabama coach Nick Saban - was an hour-long admiration fest.

In fact, when he looks at the Bulldogs, Saban says his team and Georgia are more alike than not.

"There are a lot of similarities in how they try to win with balance, taking care of the ball, playing with a lot of physical toughness on both sides of the ball," Saban said. "There are not a whole lot of tricks and gimmicks with us or them in terms of trying to win with execution. I think players like that probably play with more confidence and really understand what their role is, what they're supposed to do. I think if you look at it from that standpoint; there are a lot of similarities. That's just philosophically what we believe in. I think they must believe in the same things."

Richt would like to think so, although his Bulldogs certainly face a different kind of test than what they've seen the past two weeks.

After giving up an average of 24.5 points in the first seven games, Georgia's defense has given up just a smidge over eight in the past five. Included in that stretch were back-to-back games against option-based Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.

Alabama - which ranks second in the SEC in scoring with 38.1 points per contest - boasts the league's second-ranked offense, led by quarterback AJ McCarron and a rushing attack led by Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon which averages 209.4 yards per contest.

But despite the obvious challenge that awaits in the Georgia Dome, Richt believes getting to prepare for the Eagles and Yellow Jackets can help against the Crimson Tide.

"The one thing about playing that offense (triple-option), it is a face-the-issue kind of offense. You must take on a blocker every single play. You can't jump around the block. You can't figure out a way to get an unblocked player to the play. Every single defender had a blocker to deal with and shed a block, go make a play. You had to be extremely disciplined in what you were doing," Richt said. "It was a different scheme. But the habit of having to face the issue every play, having to deal with the blocker down after down after down, shed that blocker to try to go make a play, go pursue, things like that, I think in some ways it sharpens you a little bit."

Saban likes what he sees in the Bulldogs, too.

"They have a very, very good team. They haven't changed systemically in terms of what they do too dramatically. I think what they do, they do extremely well. They really win the game on execution, being able to make positive plays, getting in the right play," Saban said. "(Aaron Murray) does a really good job for them. I think Mark is one of the best coaches in our league and their entire staff does a fantastic job of helping their players make a lot of plays, put them in a lot of good plays. The fact they go no-huddle most of the time, they do a lot of check-with-me's, that keeps them out of bad plays as well."

Richt said everything will be status quo as far as his team's preparation for Saturday's game.

After practicing in full pads for seven of the past eight workouts in preparation for the triple-option, Richt the Bulldogs will resume their typical in-season routine.

"I plan on being in shorts and helmets (Monday), full pads Tuesday, shells on Wednesday, backs to shorts and helmets on Thursday," Richt said. "I believe we're going to be in the Dome, I don't believe we'll practice on Friday, but we have to make an appearance on Friday. Other than that, it will be a normal week."

NOTES: Richt said that backup defensive lineman Mike Thornton suffered a sprained ankle, did not know the extent and whether it would affect him playing in Saturday's SEC title game. "He got it sprained pretty good, I know that. Whether or not he'll make it to the game or not, I'm not certain," Richt said. "My guess is if we were playing a game tomorrow he wouldn't be able to do it, but we'll see how he recovers." … Saban said it's a shame that the loser of the SEC title game won't get a chance to play in a BCS bowl. "For either one of these teams it's not really a great scenario. You play your way into the championship game, which means you're the best team in your division; they're the best team in their division. They played their way into the game by a total body of work for the whole season," Saban said. "It doesn't seem quite right. But it is what it is. I don't really know what me commenting about it is going to do to change it. But I don't feel good about it for our football team or their football team, either one."