SEC showdown likely to be defensive

The No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide take on the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game with the winner projected to play for the BCS National Championship.

It is the first meeting between schools since 2008 and only their fourth meeting since 1996.

Alabama will be making its eighth appearance in the conference title game, but, for the first time, will not be facing off with Florida. In each of the Tide’s seven previous appearances, they played against the Gators (3-4 W-L).

As for Georgia, the Bulldogs are making their fifth appearance in the game including last season’s loss to then No. 1 LSU. Georgia is 2-2 in four previous trip to the SEC Championship Game, and hasn't won it since 2005.

Quarterbacks Aaron Murray (177.2) and AJ McCarron (176.3) enter the weekend ranked first and second in the nation in passing efficiency, but it’s the defenses that will take center stage at the Georgia Dome on Saturday night.

Let’s go inside the matchup from a defensive perspective.

Alabama's defense

Murray will be facing a Tide defense that has blitzed on nearly a third of opponent dropbacks in 2012, but that might actually be a good thing.

Murray has completed 66 percent of his passes against added pressure this season with 15 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. It’s a far cry from 2011 when Murray had a completion percentage of 56 percent against the blitz with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Alabama 3rd-Down Pass Defense
Throws At or Past the Sticks

Murray is competing 56 percent of his passes thrown at or past the first-down marker on third down this season, with eight touchdowns and one interception.

One other potential key: Keep an eye on Alabama's third-down pass defense, which has not performed as well recently as it did earlier this season.

The chart on the right reflects the improvements opponents have made on throws at or past the sticks this season.

The Crimson Tide come in leading the FBS in both scoring defense (9.3 points per game) and total defense (233.7 yards per game) this season and have allowed an FBS-low 23 plays of 10 yards or more. Alabama has been particularly stout in the red zone, allowing just 0.82 yards per rush inside the 20, the lowest in the nation.

Georgia's defense

Georgia has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround since safety Shawn Williams said he and his teammates were “playing too soft” prior to the Florida game in Jacksonville, FL.

The Bulldogs have allowed just 1.9 yards per rush in three SEC games since those comments were made after allowing 4.0 yards per carry in the first five conference games of the season.

Georgia has also experienced dramatic improvement in yards allowed after contact per game (43.7 vs 73.0) and sacks per game (4.3 vs 1.6) in those last three conference games compared to the first five games of its SEC schedule.

When Alabama has the ball, it will be looking to run the ball and run the ball up the middle. The Crimson Tide averaged 6.4 yards per rush on designed runs between the tackles in SEC play this season compared to just 4.9 yards per rush outside the tackles.

In all, more than 67 percent of Alabama’s designed runs against SEC opponents have gone up the middle including 39 of its 53 carries of 10 yards or more.

Will that trend continue on Saturday?

Time will tell but the Tide will certainly be tested against a Bulldog defense that has allowed under 60 rush yards per game in SEC play since October 27.