Georgia (No.2) and Alabama (No.3) will face off in a top-three showdown that will be one of the biggest games of the SEC season. That’s assuming they’re actually able to play the game.
Georgia Bulldogs vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
Saturday 17 October 2020, 8:00 PM ET at Bryant-Denny Stadium
This weekend, we’ll be treated to one of the biggest games of the college football season as two of the top three teams in the nation clash. No. 3 Georgia, who is 3-0 on the season, travels to No. 2 Alabama, also 3-0. Neither team has been challenged in the SEC season so far, with Alabama winning by an average of 20.7 points and Georgia by an average of 23.7. Half of the six victims of the two teams were ranked at the time of the game.
It should be an epic showdown … assuming it occurs as scheduled on Saturday. That possibility was thrown into doubt on Wednesday, when it was announced that Alabama coach Nick Saban had tested positive for COVID-19, along with Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne.
“At this time, I do not have any symptoms relative to COVID,” Saban said in a statement. “I informed our team of my positive test at 2 p.m. today on a Zoom call and let them know offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will oversee preparations at the complex while I work from home.”
The impact on the betting line was immediate. Within minutes of the announcement, the line dropped dramatically. After starting the week at Alabama -7, it was been cut nearly in half when word got out.
At the moment, the game is still scheduled to be played as intended. Of course, things can change in a hurry during the pandemic, so it’s possible that all the analysis and prognostication may be for naught. But we’ll take a look at the matchup, as long as it’s still on the books for Saturday.
Even if the game goes off as scheduled, Saban’s test will have a major impact on the Tide. The obvious domino effect would be if any of the Alabama players were infected after having contact with their coach before he tested positive. Further positive tests or contact tracing quarantines could cost the Tide anywhere from a handful of players to more than a dozen.
Aside from that, Saban will almost assuredly be absent form the sideline on Saturday night, either coaching from an isolated box upstairs, some other remote location, or simply turning over gameday operations to Sarkisian. Any of those scenarios will add a distraction and potential communication issues.
Aside from COVID, Alabama’s biggest concern might be the secondary. The Tide is thin at safety, and the front line players have been plagued by inconsistency. Daniel Wright has been benched for periods of each of the last two games after blowing assignments and missing tackles, and DeMarcco Hellams also gave up an explosive play.
The other safety, Jordan Battle, has been dependable, but he’ll miss the first half of the Georgia game after a targeting call in the second half of last week’s game. Cornerback has been better than safety for the Tide, but true freshman Malachi Moore has been inconsistent and could be targeted in three and four-receiver sets.
The shaky secondary could give Georgia an edge in an area where it could have been seen to be vulnerable—with former walk-on and new starting quarterback Stetson Bennett.
Other Side of the Ball
Georgia’s defense is one of the nation’s best. The Dawgs are allowing just 12.3 points per game, fifth-best in the country. Georgia also has the best run defense in the country and number two overall.
Georgia is averaging a +1 turnover margin in each game so far this season. This will likely be the closest score that either team has played so far this season, which means that special teams could end up being a factor. Georgia’s special teams have been strong. The Dawgs lead the nation in net punting, and the Dawgs have hit seven of eight field goals.
Alabama, meanwhile, has been virtually untested on special teams. The Tide has punted just six times this year and attempted just a pair of field goals.
The safest bet is that this game will likely be pushed to December. Assuming Alabama gets an upset win and doesn’t have a rash of positive tests as game week winds down, look for the Dawgs to have the edge. Georgia likely would have been able to post a win in a normal game week. The disruption of Saban’s test tips things even further in that direction.