Previewing three matchups for the Alabama offense in the Crimson Tide's showdown with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
In his last three games, Amari Cooper has caught 13 passes for 295 yards (22.7 ypc) and three touchdowns.
Alabama wide receivers 83 Kevin Norwood (6'2, 195, rJr.); 22 Christion Jones (5'11, 185, So.); 9 Amari Cooper (6'1, 198, Fr.); 80 Marvin Shinn (6'3, 198, rFr.) and 5 Chris Black (5'11, 178, Fr.) vs. Georgia cornerbacks 5 Damian Swann (5'11, 189, So.); 19 Sanders Commings (6'2, 216); and 1 Branden Smith (5'11, 182, Sr.).
From the UA perspective: The loss of Kenny Bell to a leg injury against Auburn put a damper on an otherwise joyous Saturday afternoon. His ability to take the top off opposing defenses made it difficult to double Cooper, so Norwood and Jones will likely be asked to stretch the field more in Bell's absence.
With Bell joining DeAndrew White on the injured list, depth also is an issue. That's why UA head coach Nick Saban is strongly considering a role this week for Chris Black, who once appeared destined for a redshirt after sustaining a shoulder injury in fall camp.
The good news for UA is that even without Bell, Cooper (split end), Norwood (flanker) and Jones (slot) fit specific roles in the Crimson Tide's three wide receiver set nicely. That's critical because the Alabama offense has probably been at its best this season when working out of the formation.
From the Georgia perspective: Commings and Swann are tied for second on the team in interceptions with two apiece. Smith, who leads UGA in pass breakups with seven, started the first four games of the season before giving way to Commings, who served a two-game suspension to start the season.
Two-way performer Malcolm Mitchell began the season at corner, but depth at the position combined with injuries at wide receiver have the talented sophomore spending his time on the offensive side of the ball these days.
Who gets the nod?: Of the four interceptions Swann and Commings have combined to make this season, three came against Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, a wildly talented but at times irresponsible passer. Commings is a large corner even by Saban standards and Swann is a guy to watch when UGA blitzes out of its extra defensive back packages.
I can't envision a scenario where Saban takes the redshirt off Black unless he's going to play a legitimate role in the passing game. Alabama has guys who can give the top three in the rotation a blow on running plays, so if Black is on the field, go ahead and assume that he'll be targeted by McCarron on occasion.
With the emphasis on slowing down the Alabama running game, look for Georgia to play some single safety with Bacarri Rambo in the middle of the field. Amazingly, opposing defensive coordinators continue to offer up some man coverage to Cooper. Don't look for that to change this week. Slight edge to UGA.
Alabama offensive tackles 71 Cyrus Kouandjio (6'6, 311, So.) and 76 DJ Fluker (6'6, 335, rJr.) vs. Georgia outside linebackers 29 Jarvis Jones (6'3, 241, Jr.) and 59 Jordan Jenkins (6'3, 257, Fr.).
From the UA perspective: Kouandjio and Fluker will need to turn in performances on par with the ones they had against LSU earlier in the month. In that game, the duo more than held their own while working against Sam Montgomery and KeKe Mingo.
Come Monday, if Kouandjio and Fluker are player of the week selections by the UA coaching staff -- as they were following the win over LSU -- there's a good chance you'll be making reservations at Joe's Stone Crab.
From the Georgia perspective: In 10 games this season, Jones has racked up 71 tackles, including 19.5 for loss, 10.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. No wonder the junior ranks as the No. 1 prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft on Mel Kiper, Jr.'s, Big Board.
Jenkins looked to be headed to UA last January before deciding to stay home and sign with UGA. Of his 28 total tackles this season, seven have gone for loss. He also has four sacks to his credit.
Who gets the nod?: Obviously, this matchup is mostly about the passing game, where Jones and Jenkins will look to get pressure on McCarron. While it will be interesting to see how Alabama goes about dealing with Jones, the same can be said when the Crimson Tide works the perimeter running game, with veteran tight end Michael Williams providing some assistance on the edge.
If this were entirely about the passing game, it would be impossible to go against Jones. That said, I expect UA to try and overwhelm the edges of the Georgia front seven with the running game, so for Jones and Jenkins it won't always be about rushing the passer. Even.
Alabama center 75 Barrett Jones (6'5, 302, rSr.) vs. Georgia nose tackles 6 John Jenkins (6'3, 358, Sr.) and 99 Kwame Geathers (6'6, 355, Jr.) .
From the UA perspective: After grading out at 96 percent against Auburn and picking up SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors, Jones is coming off one of his better performances of the season. When he's struggled this year it has been against athletic linemen who are more ends than tackles. He didn't appear to have much of a problem with Tennessee's Daniel McCullers, another Terrence Cody knockoff who goes 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds.
From the Georgia perspective: Jenkins is another UGA defender NFL Draft analysts love. The big man checks in at No. 22 on Kiper's Big Board and, with the 3-4 back in style, he comes along at the right time. He's posted 44 tackles, including one for loss, in 12 games. Unlike a lot of nose tackles, Jenkins will stay on the field in passing situations as a pocket pusher.
Don't be surprised if Jones actually sees more of Geathers, who has five tackles for loss this season, than Jenkins, with Jenkins playing some end -- especially on run downs. Again, defending the Alabama run will be priority No. 1 for UGA and getting 700 pounds worth of linemen in there together will likely be one way Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham goes about it.
Who gets the nod?: This matchup will come down to Jones' ability to deal with Jenkins and Geathers one on one. Florida center Jon Harrison couldn't get movement on either of those guys and the result was 75 rushing yards for the Gators in a 17-9 loss to the Bulldogs on Oct. 27. In the biggest game of the year, the Crimson Tide running game will hinge on the play of Alabama's unquestioned leader. Edge to UA.