Edwards: SECCG Preview and Prediction

Edwards: SECCG Preview and Prediction

Published on Wednesday, 11/29/23, at 12:58 p.m. Eastern.
Updated on Friday, 12/1/23, at 2:44 p.m. Eastern.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, most books had Georgia (12-0 straight up, 5-7 against the spread) installed as a favorite in the -5 (Westgate SuperBook) to -6.5 (BetOnline) range in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game vs. Alabama in Atlanta. The total was anywhere from 53 (Circa and Westgate) to 54.5 (DraftKings) points, while the Crimson Tide was in the +170 to +180 neighborhood on the money line.

UPDATE: As of Friday afternoon, most spots had UGA listed as a 4.5 (Westgate) to 5.5-point (South Point, Caesars and BetOnline) with the total up to 55 or 55.5. 

Kirby Smart’s team has won back-to-back national titles and brings a 29-game winning streak to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Saturday’s 4:00 p.m. Eastern kickoff on CBS. The Bulldogs haven’t tasted defeat since losing 41-24 to Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship Game at this same venue.

UGA is off a 31-23 win at Ga. Tech this past Saturday night as a 24-point road ‘chalk.’ The Bulldogs played without quarterback Carson Beck’s two favorite targets in TE Brock Bowers and WR Ladd McConkey.

They trailed two different times in the first quarter before taking the lead for good on Kendall Milton’s three-yard touchdown run with 12:40 left in the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets trimmed the deficit to 14-13 with a 45-yard field goal midway through the second stanza, but a three-yard TD run by Daijun Edwards sparked UGA to a 21-13 halftime advantage.

Georgia extended the lead to 31-13 going into the final stanza, but Ga. Tech’s Hayes King scored on a five-yard TD scamper to make things interesting at 31-23 with 3:46 remaining.

From there, however, UGA got a pair of first downs and then went into Victory Formation to secure an unbeaten regular season.

Smart’s team has won nine of its 12 games by double-digit margins. UGA got its toughest tests at home vs. South Carolina and Missouri, in addition to a road game at Auburn.

In Week 3, South Carolina went into Athens and played terrific in the first 30 minutes, taking a 14-3 lead at halftime.

UGA outscored Shane Beamer’s club 21-0 in the second half, though, and pulled away for a 24-14 win. Two weeks later, Auburn took a 10-0 lead on UGA in the first quarter on The Plains at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Georgia responded with 10 unanswered points to tie the game at the break. Less than 90 seconds into third quarter, Auburn went back ahead 17-10 on a Robbie Ashford nine-yard TD run.

Once again, UGA ripped off 10 straight points go take a 20-17 advantage before Auburn’s Alex McPherson pulled the Tigers even at 20-20 with 6:21 left.

That’s when UGA quarterback Carson Beck really established himself as the new leader of the program on the offensive side of the ball. On a seven-play, 75-yard drive for the game-winning points, Beck found Bowers for a 16-yard connection on a critical third-and-12 play.

Two plays later, Beck hit Bowers for a 40-yard TD pass. UGA’s defense closed the show near midfield by getting a stop in a fourth-and-nine situation.

Georgia’s strongest regular-season performances came in a 51-13 home win vs. Kentucky, a 43-20 win over Florida in Jacksonville, a 52-17 win vs. Ole Miss (which had only lost once previously at Alabama and finished the regular season with a 10-2 record) and a 38-10 win at Tennessee two weeks ago.

In addition to the challenges UGA faced vs. South Carolina, at Auburn and at Ga. Tech, it was in a 10-10 tie vs. Missouri at halftime in Athens. The Tigers took a 13-10 lead on their opening drive of the third quarter, but the Bulldogs took a 24-13 advantage going into the final stanza.

Missouri made it a one-possession game again with 12:50 left in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard TD run from Cody Schrader. A successful two-point conversion cut UGA’s lead to 24-21.

However, the Bulldogs added a pair of field goals and got multiple stops late to capture a 30-21 victory.

In 12 regular-season games which were the first starts of his career, Beck completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 3,495 yards with a 22/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also had 129 rushing yards and three TDs.

Bowers sustained an ankle injury on Oct. 14 in a 37-20 win at Vanderbilt. The injury required tightrope surgery two days later and the true junior TE missed a pair of games before returning vs. Ole Miss.

Bowers had three catches for 34 yards and one TD in his return against the Rebels. Then in the win at Neyland Stadium over the Volunteers, he had seven receptions for 60 yards and one TD.

For the season, Bowers has 51 catches for 660 yards and six TDs in nine games. He also has a rushing TD, the fifth of his career, on his stat line.

McConkey has been limited to six games due to various injuries. He didn’t make his season debut until the win at Auburn on Sept. 30.

McConkey appeared to be rounding into form in late October and early November. He had six receptions for 135 yards and one TD against the Gators.

Next, McConkey caught seven balls for 95 yards vs. Missouri. He followed that up with four grabs for 81 yards and one TD vs. Ole Miss. McConkey has missed back-to-back contests since then and is listed as ‘questionable’ vs. Alabama.

Nick Saban’s team saw its seven-game winning streak (4-3 ATS in that stretch) vs. Georgia end in a 33-18 loss two years ago in the finals of the College Football Playoff. As previously noted, the Crimson Tide had beaten the breaks off of the Bulldogs in a 41-24 victory five weeks beforehand.

But ‘Bama WR John Metchie, who had six catches for 97 yards and one TD, tore his ACL in the second half in Atlanta. Then in the rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the Tide were driving with a 6-3 lead when star WR Jameson Williams blew his knee out.

In the first 17.5 minutes of play, Williams already had four receptions for 65 yards. He had torched the Bulldogs in the first meeting by snagging seven catches for 184 yards and two TDs.

UGA’s win over ‘Bama in Indy ended a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry was the Bulldogs’ first win against the Tide since Matthew Stafford threw a game-winning TD pass in overtime of a 26-23 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2007.

Since losing 34-24 at home to Texas in Week 2, Alabama (11-1 SU, 8-4 ATS) has won 10 straight games with seven victories by at least 14 points. QB Jalen Milroe has a 15/3 TD-INT ratio in the Tide’s last seven contests.

For the season, Milroe has a 66.4 completion percentage, 2,526 passing yards and a 21/6 TD-INT ratio. He also has 439 rushing yards and 12 TDs.

In each of the last two Iron Bowls played at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Alabama has been forced to pull out some magic late in the fourth quarter. Two seasons ago, it was QB Bryce Young who had to lead a 12-play, 97-yard TD drive to force overtime on a TD pass with 24 ticks left. The Tide ended up winning a 24-22 decision in four OTs.

On The Plains this past Saturday, Alabama was trailing 24-20 and had to punt with less than five minutes remaining, but Auburn muffed the punt and the Tide recovered at the enemy 30-yard line with 4:48 left.

After ‘Bama converted a fourth-and-short to set up a first-and-goal opportunity, a bad snap out of the shotgun on second down forced Milroe to recover all the way back at the 26.

After a penalty, Alabama was facing fourth-and-goal at the 31 when yet another unforgettable moment in Iron Bowl history went down. With Hugh Freeze inexplicably deciding to only rush two players with a spy on Milroe (huh/why?!), the QB had all day to survey the field from the pocket.

He launched a pass toward the corner of the end zone and WR Isaiah Bond snagged it for a 31-yard TD grab with 32 seconds remaining. The Tide hung on to win, 27-24, but its 4-0 ATS roll ended as a 13-point road favorite.

Including his tenure at LSU, Saban owns a 10-1 record in SEC Championship Games. His Alabama teams are unbeaten in seven games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Furthermore, if we go back to the games ‘Bama played at the Georgia Dome, the Tide owns a 16-0 record in its last 16 trips to Atlanta. The last defeat a Saban team took in the ATL came when Tim Tebow led the Gators to a 31-20 win over the Tide in the 2008 SEC Championship Game. (I remember… because I was there!)

The ‘over’ is on a 7-0-1 run for Alabama to improve to 9-2-1 overall. The ‘over’ is 4-1 for the Crimson Tide in its games that have had totals in the 50s. Saban’s squad had combined scores of 76, 70, 70 and 54 points before last week’s 51 combined points vs. Auburn that would not have been enough points to get ‘over’ Saturday’s 53 to 54.5-point total.

Alabama is 18th in the nation in scoring with its 35.8 points-per-game average, while Georgia is ranked eighth with its 39.6 PPG average. The Bulldogs are sixth nationally in total yards and eighth in passing yards.

The ‘over’ has hit at a 6-3 clip for UGA in its last nine games despite a 3-1 run for the ‘under’ in its last four contests. But remember, Bowers didn’t play in a 30-21 home win over Missouri and a 31-23 win at Ga. Tech (both contests went ‘under’). Furthermore, McConkey didn’t play against the Yellow Jackets or the lopsided victory at Tennessee (another ‘under’).

The ‘over’ is 6-2-1 in the last nine head-to-head meetings between these bitter rivals. In the last three SEC Championship Game showdowns between these programs, we’ve had combined scores of 65, 63 and 60 points.

PREDICTION: ‘Over’ 53 points. 

*Note/Update on Friday, 12/1: Although I locked this play in at 53 points earlier in the week, I still like it (just wouldn’t risk as much for money-management purposes) as long as the number doesn’t move higher than the key number of 56.