ATLANTA — There’s no mystery in what the Georgia and Alabama offenses do best: Run the ball.
Stopping them is harder to manage, though both defenses do that quite well, too.
The third-ranked Bulldogs pound away with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, one of college football’s best tailback tandems. No. 4 Alabama will counter in Monday night’s national championship game with an offense led by running threat quarterback Jalen Hurts and big-play tailback Damien Harris, among others.
Not to mention the nation’s stingiest run defense.
“That’s what Alabama is known for, having good run defense, just an overall good defense,” Michel said. “I’m excited for the challenge. I’m sure this offense is, the team is, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Led by linebacker Roquan Smith , Georgia’s good at defending the run, too.
While both teams will have to throw the ball some, there is no Deshaun Watson in this game. He topped 400 passing yards in each of the last two title games against the Crimson Tide. It would be a major surprise if Hurts or Georgia freshman Jake Fromm approached that big number because they simply haven’t had to.
So this showdown could turn into mostly smash mouth football, old-school Southeastern Conference style, 3 yards and a cloud of … artificial turf. Run hard and often. And do your best to keep the other team from running very far.
Passing is the expected second option for a couple of teams with top 10 run games. Anb both these squads have plenty of options.
The Bulldogs have two of the Southeastern Conference’s top five rushers. Chubb and Michel are the only two backs to each top 1,000 yards in the same season for a program that’s produced the likes of Herschel Walker, Todd Gurley and Terrell Davis.
Chubb has run for 1,320 yards and 15 touchdowns. Michel has 1,129 yards and 16 TDs and is coming off a huge Rose Bowl performance against Oklahoma. D’Andre Swift outgained both in the SEC title game against Auburn.
They’ll face a run defense powered by tackle Da’Ron Payne, a 308-pounder whose biggest claim to fame now was his interception and touchdown catch against Clemson. In his day job as a run-stopper, he’s facing his biggest challenge yet.
“Oh, they’re some excellent backs,” Payne said. “I think as a defensive front, we’re just going to keep trying to create a new line of scrimmage up front and wreak havoc in the trenches and as a defense just like we did this week” against Clemson.
Alabama doesn’t have any backs putting up those kinds of numbers. But Harris has 983 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging a robust 7.6 yards per carry.
Hurts leads the team in runs while Harris and Bo Scarbrough have divvied carries throughout the year. In fact, Harris’ 19 runs in the semifinal win over Clemson was a career-high. He gained 77 yards.
“It was fun, I guess,” Harris said. “I never complain about getting too many carries. That’s what it was, I just did what they asked me to do.”
Just don’t expect him to rival Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry’s 36-carry night in the title game against Clemson two years ago.
Scarbrough wasn’t effective running in the semifinal game but the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder was a breakout star in last season’s playoffs. Josh Jacobs and freshman Najee Harris are running and receiving threats, too, much like the Bulldogs’ Swift.
For Georgia, Michel is coming off a 181-yard effort against Oklahoma . He caught a 13-yard touchdown pass and his 75-yard scoring run was the Bulldogs’ longest since Chubb ran 83 yards against Alabama in 2015.
Michel credited the offensive line and receivers blocking downfield for the big run.
“That’s the type of play, but we’re a downhill team, so we run the ball,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of plays running downhill.”
They’ll be trying to break some more against ‘Bama.