Occasionally, TideNation's writers will answer a handful of questions that address a pressing topic regarding the Alabama football program. And with every roundtable, we'll seek out the opinions of a guest. This week's contributors are DawgNation writers David Ching and Radi Nabulsi.
1. What's the biggest factor that would lead to a Georgia win?
Alex Scarborough: If [Georgia offensive coodinator] Mike Bobo can find balance on offense, the Tide could be in for a long day. Aaron Murray will be the biggest threat to the UA defense, but without a strong running game it will mean nothing. If Nick Saban and Kirby Smart can make Georgia one-dimensional on offense, consider the contest over. On the other side of the ball, I see only one option for Georgia -- go after AJ McCarron. Jarvis Jones and the Georgia front seven must attack the backfield in an effort to create negative plays and takeaways. While Georgia is solid up front, I don't see the Alabama offensive line struggling to move the ball on the ground.
Greg Ostendorf: The key is the first quarter. If Georgia can get out to a quick start, they can hold the lead or at the very least, stay in the game until the end. Remember what Texas A&M did in the Tide's only loss this season? They jumped to a 20-0 lead, and although Alabama might have been the better team that day, the early advantage proved to be insurmountable. To do that, UGA needs quarterback Aaron Murray to be hitting on all cylinders from the opening drive. He's known for his struggles in big games, but a quick start could give him the confidence he needs to carry through the entire game.
David Ching: Murray has to play like a third-year starter, which has not happened with as much frequency as Bulldogs fans would expect from a player who has performed so effectively otherwise. If he plays like he did against South Carolina, or when he tossed three first-half interceptions against Florida, the Bulldogs don't have a shot. His solid second half against Florida might have been a sign that he has turned the corner, however. Starting with the third quarter against the Gators, Murray has 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the interim. If Murray continues to perform at that level against an Alabama defense that is a considerable step up from his recent competition, Georgia has to like its chances.
Radi Nabulsi: Georgia needs to have success early, and that will be defined as being able to run the ball effectively. Aaron Murray has had a hot hand over the last four games, but if he has to constantly convert third-and-long situations, Alabama's secondary eventually will make him pay. Success against the Tide's formidable defensive front will pay dividends not only in ball control but also will keep the defense honest and allow Georgia to utilize its effective play-action pass. On defense Georgia needs to be able to count on its secondary in man coverage, which will be tough against Amari Cooper. But the Bulldogs will need safety help to try and stop running backs T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy.
2. What's the biggest factor that would lead to an Alabama win?
Scarborough: This game is going to come down to what happens in the trenches for Alabama. If Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and Co. dominate the line of scrimmage like we've become accustomed to, it's going to be hard to stop the Tide. Look for [Alabama offensive coordinator] Doug Nussmeier to start early with the pass, perhaps going no-huddle at points, and then put the ball in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon's hands to hammer the point home. The UA defensive line will have the most to prove, though. Their job is two-fold: Limit big gains by Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall while also getting pressure on the quarterback. Alabama has struggled with the latter this season, but if it hopes to win, giving Murray time to pass the ball is not an option.
Ostendorf: For Alabama, it's simple -- do what works. Run the ball with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon behind what most believe is the best offensive line in the country. Let AJ McCarron take some shots down the field off play action or when the defense is least expecting it, but try and control the time of possession. The less Murray is on the field, the less he can hurt the Tide's secondary. This will also help neutralize UGA all-american Jarvis Jones, whose specialty is rushing the passer. The key is to limit third-and-long situations as much as possible, so Jones doesn't have time to get to the quarterback.
Ching: Alabama is going to have to stay patient with what it does best, as it has gotten too pass-happy a couple of times in the recent past. If the Tide lets Georgia turn this game into an aerial shootout, that's playing right into the Bulldogs' hands. Last season, many LSU fans were no doubt scratching their heads when Georgia was clearly winning a physical SEC championship game 10-7 at halftime. But Les Miles' Tigers stuck with their formula of playing dominant defense and grinding it out on offense -- and they scored 42 unanswered points en route to clinching a spot against Alabama in the BCS title game.
Nabulsi: Georgia's offensive line is in for a long day. [Line coach] Will Friend has done an admirable job replacing both tackles and the center lost to the NFL, but this will be the toughest test his line has faced so far. Georgia has floundered when Murray is forced out of the pocket or pressured into quick throws. When he has time to go through his progressions, Murray is a surgeon. But if Alabama gets to him and controls the gaps, cutting off the running lanes for Gurley and Marshall, the Tide will win.
3. Who are the biggest recruiting misses on Alabama's roster that Georgia got and vice versa?
Scarborough: Funny that the biggest "recruiting miss" for Alabama was one fans and coaches are likely glad never came to pass. Of course I'm speaking of Isaiah Crowell. His character issues aside, he would have been a perfect fit at running back in Tuscaloosa.
Ostendorf: On Saturday, it will be outside linebackers Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard, both Georgia natives, whom the Bulldogs will wish they hadn't let get away, but in the future they will look at last year's recruiting class. Alabama signed eight players from the Peach State, including ESPN 150 stars Brandon Greene, Dillon Lee and Geno Smith. Their time will come for the Crimson Tide.
Ching: You'd have to consider Warmack a pretty big miss for Georgia, particularly considering that the Atlanta native didn't get a scholarship offer from his home-state school. The Bulldogs signed three highly regarded line prospects that year -- starting guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, as well as tackle Austin Long -- but Warmack has emerged as a top-tier NFL prospect at Alabama.
Among the recruiting hits on Georgia's roster, I'd say Jordan Jenkins might be the biggest -- although Malcolm Mitchell could make a strong case for himself in that discussion, as well. Jenkins admitted Monday that Alabama was his leader right up until he committed to Georgia in January, and he made an instant impact with the Bulldogs. And Mitchell -- who surprised many by picking Georgia over Alabama in the 2011 class -- has arguably been Georgia's top receiver over the last two seasons.
Nabulsi: Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins are two players that Kirby Smart thought he was getting right up until the last moment. Both made huge impacts as freshmen, and Mitchell's contributions on defense in his sophomore year were vital at the beginning of the year. For its part, the battle lost that still stings in Athens today is not being able to sign Xzavier Dickson. He stays in contact with a number of players on the Georgia squad, such as Jay Rome, Corey Moore and Damian Swann. The Bulldogs also could have used John Fulton and Geno Smith in its razor-thin secondary.
4. Aaron Murray is No. 1 nationally in passing efficiency and A.J. McCarron is No. 2. Is it at all reasonable to expect the quarterbacks to be able to keep up that pace on Saturday against two strong defenses? What would be a good game for the QBs aside from simply getting the win?
Scarborough: I expect McCarron to continue to build on his success this year. He has proven himself to be a big-game quarterback against the likes of LSU. Murray? Maybe not so much. While I believe he's capable in terms of sheer talent, history indicates he might struggle Saturday. Just this year he has had trouble against some of the top defenses in the country. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions to one touchdown against Florida and South Carolina. Go back a season, and he floundered against LSU and was turnover prone against Michigan State. For both he and McCarron to be successful it will come down to limiting interceptions and making the big play when it's there and not forcing it when it's not. If both complete 60 percent of their passes and don't turn the ball over, I'd consider that a good day's work.
Ostendorf: There's a possibility the game turns into a shootout, which could lead to plenty of yards and touchdowns but also would result in turnovers. I don't think that's going to happen. Both McCarron and Murray have been efficient for a reason this year. They're more than just your average game managers, but at the same time, they both take care of the football and only take shots when it's there. Don't expect that to change on Saturday. The difference between the two is that McCarron has proven he can do it on the big stage, in particular the BCS title game a year ago against LSU. Murray needs to take that next step if Georgia has any chance of winning and punching a ticket to Miami.
Ching: I was never terribly impressed with McCarron until watching him in last season's BCS championship game against LSU, in which he was absolutely outstanding. This has been a great season for McCarron by and large, although it will be interesting to see how he fares if Jenkins and Jarvis Jones put a couple of early hits on him Saturday. He was pretty horrible against LSU this season until the Tigers went into a soft defense that allowed Alabama to drive for the game-winning touchdown. If Jones and Co. can pressure him into those types of performances, that's a big win for the Bulldogs. But if he keeps his head and makes good decisions Saturday like he has for most of the season, Alabama remains a solid bet to win.
Like I mentioned earlier, Murray simply has to let it rip. He has a history of playing tight in big games, although the second half against Florida -- particularly with his win-clinching touchdown pass to Mitchell -- was a step in the right direction. Murray has posted Heisman-caliber numbers this season, but he failed to impress against Florida and South Carolina. If he hits a big pass or two early in this game, it might loosen him up to the point he can give Alabama's secondary major problems. But if he falls into his turnover-prone ways against a solid defense on Saturday, it's hard to imagine Georgia winning the game.
Nabulsi: McCarron has proven himself on the national stage, and his drive to win the game against LSU was no fluke. Murray is a known film rat and has devoted his entire week to prepping himself for this game. He is not talking to the media. Murray wants to prove to the fans, the media and likely to himself that he can be successful against a top program. He is the first quarterback in the SEC to throw for 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Murray is rewriting the record books at Georgia. But all of that means nothing without a title to go with it. He tends to try too hard in the big games, and that might haunt him again Saturday. If he can avoid the interceptions that have plagued him in the past, I will consider Murray's personal demons exorcised.