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November 30, 2012

Tide needs to establish running game

TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama needs to run the football Saturday against the Georgia Bulldogs to move the chains, to set a physical tone and to set up its play-action passing game.

That, however, isn't the only role the Crimson Tide's running game will play. With Georgia averaging two sacks per game and more than six tackles in the backfield per outing, Alabama can also give the Bulldogs' defense pause if it can find traction on the Georgia Dome turf in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. In particular, UA will need the running game to keep Jarvis Jones, who has 10.5 sacks, honest.

"I think whenever you have a good running game, it keeps a pass rusher like that off balance," Alabama tight end Michael Williams said. "He can't get up the field as fast if he's got to worry about the run. It's going to be critical that we have a good running game, and run the ball early, and be very physical in the game. I feel like if we do that, it will slow his pass rush down."

Alabama, which averages 214 yards per game on the ground, can also use the run to create more short-yardage situations that will keep the Georgia defense guessing. When it's third-and-long, the Bulldogs can blitz with impunity. On third-and-short, however, Alabama can run or pass.

"I think that the more important thing is not creating situations because you have balance and you can run the ball effectively, as well as be able to pass it effectively where you don't create the down-and-distance situations where everybody can pin their ears back and come on," UA coach Nick Saban said. "That's where guys that are really good pass rushers can take advantage of the situation that you are in."

Of course, there are other reasons for Alabama to establish its running game. In a close call at LSU and against Texas A&M in its only defeat, the Crimson Tide seemed to get away from its bread-and-butter running game at crucial times. Georgia's defense, which ranks 22nd nationally, is weakest against the run, giving up 197 or more rushing yards six times and more than 300 in each of its last two outings, albeit against option teams.

UA running back Eddie Lacy is averaging better than 100 rushing yards per game over the last four games with seven touchdowns.

"It's keeps the defense honest, you can't just run through every time. It will give them something to think about," Lacy said. "We have a great passing attack, too, so if they do decide to rush everybody we'll be able to pass the ball."

No one roots for Alabama's running game more than the receivers. If Alabama can make Georgia respect the ground attack, pass-catchers will have better chances for one-on-one coverage situations that can result in big plays.

"We know that they're going to move up more (when the running game gets going), which allows us to run pas the DBs and make plays downfield," wideout Kevin Norwood said. "It allows the play-action to open up for us also."

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Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.

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