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Breaking down tonight’s national championship between Alabama and Georgia

January 8, 2018 GMT

Breaking down everything you need to know about tonight’s college football national championship between SEC rivals Alabama and Georgia.

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When Alabama has the ball

The Crimson Tide, armed with five-star running backs and dual-threat signal caller Jalen Hurts, will run the ball as much as possible — 44 times per game this season. Hurts is dangerous as a runner — he’s a smart, cautious passer who’s thrown just one interception — and he’s complemented by backs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Najee Harris, the latter of whom is very close to former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. Alabama has one receiver — junior Calvin Ridley — of note; he has 59 catches for 935 yards. The second-leading receiver for Alabama — Scarbrough — has 16 catches.

Georgia has the nation’s best linebacking corps, headlined by Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith, who had 124 tackles. Smith is a physical, sound tackler who also gets after the quarterback. The Bulldogs’ defensive line is young and stout and only getting better. In the secondary, safety Dominick Sanders has four interceptions. Coach Kirby Smart’s defensive system is close to a carbon copy of his mentor, Nick Saban.

When Georgia has the ball

UGA’s 1-2 punch at running back, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, is great. Then throw in freshman back D’Andre Swift, and this is one top-shelf backfield. Chubb, at 225 pounds, is thunder, while Michel, at 215, is a little shiftier. Both can function as single-wing wildcat players in Georgia’s offense. Quarterback Jake Fromm could become the first true freshman quarterback to win a national title in more than 30 years. His first year — 2,383 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions — has been terrific.

On defense, Alabama is Alabama, again the nation’s best. The defensive line — Da’Shawn Hand, Da’Ron Payne and Raekwon Davis — is athletic and tough to move; Davis, a 6-foot-7, 306-pound end, has become especially hard to move. The stud in the defensive backfield is corner/safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a rangy, aggressive defensive back who won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards. He had 55 tackles, eight pass breakups and seven tackles for loss. He does a little of everything.

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Players to watch

Alabama DL Da’Ron Payne

A man over 300 pounds shouldn’t run this well. His game is lot like some of the recent great college defensive linemen — Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh come to mind. pictured left

Alabama RB Damien Harris

Nothing flashy about the guy, he’s just good at getting 3 yards when you need 2. A five-star recruit, Harris has a hard-nosed, blue collar style. This Alabama team is like that; not a lot of flash, but a lot of toughness.

Alabama punter JK Scott

One of the nation’s best punters for several years, Scott can put kicks inside the 10, and he’s good on kickoffs, too, where opponents average just 19.0 yards per return. Field position matters, and Bama should have a slight advantage there.

Georgia QB Jacob Eason

You may not see him; he’s Georgia’s backup, having lost his job to injury and Fromm’s excellent play. Alabama’s defense being what it is, Eason had better be ready. The Tide knocks guys out of games. Just ask Texas’ Colt McCoy.

Georgia WR Javon Wims

The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder from Miami led UGA with 44 catches for 704 yards, including six grabs for 73 yards against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. You can’t teach size, and Wims, like Clemson’s Mike Williams last year, will have a height advantage over Bama’s cornerbacks.

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Three stats

14: Alabama has allowed 14 red-zone touchdowns all season. That’s tied for fourth nationally. Georgia has allowed 17.

7.19: Average yards per carry for Georgia’s top three running backs. For a pro-style offense, that’s fierce. Better than Georgia’s yards-per-carry average in 2014, when Todd Gurley was on the roster.

4: Blocked kicks by Georgia this year. One of those could change the game.

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The big question

Can Georgia run the ball on Alabama? No team has averaged more than 4 yards per carry against the Tide, but Alabama hasn’t faced a run game as good as Georgia. If the Bulldogs can’t run the ball, that means Fromm, on the biggest stage, has to deliver a win. It’s not likely.

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Prediction

No team is more like Alabama than Georgia, but this is the Bulldogs’ first appearance on a stage this big since the 1983 Sugar Bowl. Alabama has been here often. Nick Saban, pictured left, has lost only one national title game, last year to Clemson, which had quarterback Deshaun Watson. Georgia is a year early to the national title game, which also means the Dawgs are one year away. The Tide couldn’t win their own division in the SEC, but they will roll to another national title. ALABAMA 28, GEORGIA 17

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All-time series

Alabama leads 38-25-4

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Claimed national titles

Alabama: 16

Georgia: 2