‘FIGHT LIKE MAD’: No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia bring similar styles of play into SEC title game

The first SEC championship matchup pitting Georgia and Alabama comes with the Bulldogs at the peak of their game.

Yielding an average of 8.6 points on defense in the last five weeks, starting with the win over Florida.

Putting up 40.5 points per game on offense in the month of November.

The stakes for both teams are immense.

The winner of Saturday’s 4 p.m. game in the Georgia Dome will likely grab a spot in the BCS championship game to play unbeaten Notre Dame, which nailed down its place in the national title tilt with a 22-13 victory Saturday night at Southern California.

BCS No. 2 Alabama (11-1) is seeking its third national title in four years. No. 3 Georgia (11-1) is seeking its first since the 1980 season when it beat Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl.

“You fight like mad every year to get your team in a position like this,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Georgia and Alabama will play for the first time since the 2008 season when the No. 8 Crimson Tide ruined a “blackout game” for No. 3 Georgia, 41-30.

“They haven’t changed systemically in terms of what they do too dramatically,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Georgia’s offense. “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.”

Alabama went on to win national titles in 2009 and 2011, winning the SEC title in 2009.

Georgia lost 42-10 to LSU in last year’s SEC title game.

This season, they boast the nation’s top two quarterbacks in passing efficiency in Georgia’s Aaron Murray (177.15 rating) and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron (176.26)

“As far as how we approach it, there are some similarities,” Richt said. “We run pro-style attacks offensively, run the 3-4 defense, quarterbacks that have been highly efficient, have been around a little bit, play some big games over their careers. … The one thing they’ve done is they’ve been national champions and we’ve not. They’ve been SEC champions and we’ve not during the time frame of these kids careers.”

Alabama is an eight-point favorite, according to VegasInsider.com.

The Crimson Tide ranks first nationally in both scoring defense (9.25) and total defense (233.7 yards per game).

“You don’t play the game on paper,” Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo said after Saturday’s 42-10 win against Georgia Tech. “It’s just all going to come down to how we play on the field. I feel like we have better players (on defense) than anybody in the country at each position. We’ve just got to go out there and show everybody.”

Georgia now is looking like a team that has projected NFL first-round draft picks on defense in linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree and nose guard John Jenkins.

After opponents averaged 24.1 points and 367.4 yards per game through seven games (which included the first four when four starters were suspended), the Bulldogs have held four of their last five opponents to 10 or fewer points, with Georgia Southern’s 14 the lone exception. The Bulldogs have given up 296.4 yards per game during that stretch.

“I think we’re playing as well as we’ve played at any time,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said referring to his three seasons with the Bulldogs. “It wasn’t pretty those first few games, but really from the Florida game on, they’ve played pretty consistently and played the way we all expect them to do. I’m just proud of them for staying the course and believing in what we’re doing.”

The Bulldogs are playing in the title game for the second straight year and fifth time under Richt.

“We’re playing good right now,” Richt said. “We have a very good talent base right now. I think all of our coaches are working together well. We’ve had some continuity. … But there’s a lot to be played left. I think we got to just wait a little bit before we decide how good this team is. We got ourselves in this position, we’ve been good enough.”

Notes: Richt was asked if his team is untested after playing only two ranked teams: South Carolina (a 35-7 loss) and Florida (a 17-9 win): “We’ve already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida,” Richt said of the Gators’ BCS ranking then. “We can only play who’s on our schedule.” … Georgia nose guard Mike Thornton’s status for Saturday is uncertain with a sprained ankle. “I know he got it sprained pretty good,” Richt said. … Alabama lost receiver Kenny Bell, second on the team with 431 receiving yards, to a broken leg against Auburn. … Georgia is the designated home team for what is the 21st SEC championship game.

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