Previewing three matchups for the Alabama defense in the Crimson Tide's upcoming showdown with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
UA's leader in interceptions, Lester will be in the middle of the action this week.
From the UA perspective: Lester and Clinton-Dix helped get the secondary back on the turnover train against Auburn, with each recording an interception of Tigers' quarterback Jonathan Wallace. Together, the duo have combined for seven of Alabama's 16 interceptions this season, a total that ranks third in the SEC.
While Lester has been a constant, UA has featured more combinations than a Chick-fil-A menu at the other safety spot, with Perry starting in base as of late and Clinton-Dix getting the nod in nickel and dime.
Based on what Murray has seen on tape this week, he probably won't be overly concerned about attacking the middle of the field, as Alabama's safeties have been late in getting there on more than one occasion this season.
Another concern for Alabama's safeties this week will be Georgia tight ends Arthur Lynch (18 receptions, 344 yards, two touchdowns) and Jay Rome (10 receptions, 133 yards, one touchdown) as the Bulldogs utilize the tight end in the passing more than any SEC team the Crimson Tide has faced this season.
From the Georgia perspective: Forget about efficiency rankings, touchdown passes and passing yards. Like head coaches, there's one stat that stands above all others when evaluating quarterbacks: Wins.
Fair or not, the won-loss record of (insert quarterback's name here) is the one graphic that appears without fail during a college football broadcast. Specifically, how has (insert quarterback's name here) performed against highly-ranked teams?
And it's there where Murray catches the most grief from his detractors. While he hasn't always performed well on the biggest of stages, name another Georgia quarterback who has quarterbacked the Dawgs to two wins over rival Florida since 1990?
You can't because there isn't another. Not Eric Zeier. Not Kirby Smart's UGA roommate (Mike Bobo). Not David Pollack's UGA roommate (David Greene). Not Matthew Stafford.
The bottom line is that Murray is more than capable of getting the job done Saturday in the Georgia Dome. But like any quarterback who faces the Alabama defense, he'll need some help from his friends, something he hasn't always gotten in the past.
Who gets the nod?: Look for Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to go uptempo early, giving Murray some quick throws to help him develop some confidence in the process. Doing so might also help an offensive line that is considered to be the unit's weakest link.
The key for Alabama in this matchup will be its front seven's ability to deal with the running game without much help from its safeties. If the Crimson Tide is able to do that, Murray's effectiveness in the play-action game should lessen considerably. Edge to UGA.
Alabama cornerbacks 28 Dee Milliner (6'1, 199, Jr.); 13 Deion Belue (5'11, 179, Jr.); and 24 Geno Smith (6'0, 182, Fr.) and 10 John Fulton (6'0, 187, Jr.) vs. Georgia wide receivers 12 Tavarres King (6'1, 200, Sr.); 26 Malcolm Mitchell (6'1, 192, So.); and 31 Chris Conley (6'3, 205, So.).
From the UA perspective: Second straight game with a fumble recovery by an Alabama cornerback, with Milliner doing the honors in the Crimson Tide's win over Auburn. On Wednesday, the junior picked up All-America honors from the AFCA,
While Belue and Smith will be targeted in the passing game, they'll be just as important against the run because the feeling is that the Bulldogs will look to spread the field and run the football against Alabama's nickel package (an approach UGA had a good bit of success with against Florida).
From the Georgia perspective: Like Alabama, the Bulldogs' receiver rotation has been negatively impacted by injuries. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that losing Marlon Brown (27 catches, 479 yards, four touchdowns) and Michael Bennett (24 catches, 345 yards, four touchdowns) to knee injuries were bigger blows to UGA than losing Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White were to Alabama.
What the Dawgs do have are legitimate threats on the outside, with King posting Amari Cooper-like numbers (704 receiving yards, 20.7 yards per catch, eight touchdowns) and Mitchell coming in next with a team-high 36 receptions for 532 yards and four touchdowns.
Who gets the nod?: Given the combatants on the outside, this matchup will likely come down to Georgia's third and fourth receivers and Alabama's "star" (Smith) and "money" (Vinnie Sunseri) defensive backs.
LSU and Texas A&M were able to exploit UA's nickel and dime specialists and if either Bennett or Brown were healthy, this would be a major concern for the Crimson Tide.
While Georgia's tight ends are good bets to be more involved in the passing game than Conley (16 receptions, 195 yards, four touchdowns), Murray will still look to test Smith and Sunseri when UGA spreads the field. Edge to UA.
Alabama inside linebackers 32 CJ Mosley (6'3, 232, Jr.); 33 Trey DePriest (6'2, 245, So.) and 35 Nico Johnson (6'3, 245, Sr.) vs. Georgia running backs 3 Todd Gurley (6'1, 218, Fr.) and 4 Keith Marshall (5'11, 216, Fr.).
From the UA perspective: Mosley was named to the AFCA All-America team Wednesday. Not bad for a guy who isn't considered an every down linebacker.
And that leads us back to the same question we asked prior to the LSU game: How much will Georgia's "21" (two backs and a tight end) and "12" (one back and two tight ends) personnel limit Mosley's involvement on Saturday? Seeing as how he saw a good bit of time in UA's base defense against Auburn, I'm guessing we'll see more of Mosley this week than we did in Baton Rouge.
Signs of increased production from Johnson and DePriest were among the biggest positives to come from the Auburn game. Johnson forced the fumble that Milliner recovered and DePriest recorded his first tackle for loss in seven games.
From the Georgia perspective: Who needs Isaiah Crowell when you have Gurshall? The true freshman duo have combined to rush for 1,858 yards and 22 touchdowns this season, erasing all memories of last year's Freshman All-SEC selection.
In piling up 1,138 yards on the ground, Gurley became the second freshman in UGA history to go for more than a grand. The first guy to do it was a MMA fighter by the name of Herschel Walker, who, by the way, carried his team to a national title in 1980.
Destiny and whatnot.
Who gets the nod?: Blessed with excellent feet and vision, Gurley loves the cutback, so UA's backside linebackers and ends will need to be assignment sound this week. While UA's defensive front matches up well with Georgia's offensive line, the Crimson Tide's inside backers will need to be a good better than they were the last time Alabama saw an offense (LSU) that likes to get downhill with the running game. Even.
Also see: TRips: Three matchups for the O.