ATLANTA | The strategy matchup between two old friends - Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo - will go a long way to determine just how sore Aaron Murray is upon awaking Sunday morning.
Or if the Georgia quarterback is sore at all.
And although neither coordinator was available for interviews Friday when the Southeastern Conference Championship Game combatants arrived at the Georgia Dome and went through their walk-throughs on the field, their respective head coaches had plenty to say on the matter of Alabama's need to generate pressure on the nation's No.1-ranked quarterback in pass efficiency.
Doing so with four men, hence pressuring without blitzing, is of utmost importance to UA's Nick Saban.
"If you don't do that, can't do that, on a fairly consistent basis, a good quarterback - which Aaron Murray certainly is - is going to have the time to find open receivers and go through the progression," Saban said. "Regardless of what coverage you play, if you're split-safety, they've got a split-safety beater over here, a middle-of-the-field beater over there, he's going to have the time to figure it out, process the information and make the play you need."
Therein lies the challenge for Smart, judging whether his four-man pressure is enough against the risk of blitzing and giving Murray a hole in Alabama's pass coverage. From Georgia's perspective, recognizing an oncoming blitz before the snap of the ball is critical to beating the pressure.
"There are a lot of ways to handle the blitz. Sometimes you may have some run game you like versus the blitz, if you can know it's coming and get everybody coordinated," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Sometimes a check to the run might be the way to go."
With 1,138 yards as a freshman, Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley makes that decision easier for Bobo, who was a teammate of Smart's at Georgia in the 1990s, and later united on the same staff when Smart spent 2005 coaching Georgia's running backs.
Richt called Murray "as good as any quarterback I've coached" in the area of blitz recognition and reaction.
"It's what people call hot principles. You've got to get rid of the ball quickly, and I think Aaron understands that well," Richt said. "I think he understands how to slide his protection toward the blitz, hopefully we can get a hat on everybody, and be able to throw the ball downfield."
Linebackers Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard handle much of Alabama's pressure from the edge of the pocket, while a number of UA defensive linemen rotate inside on passing downs, depending on the situation. Blitzes often come from linebacker C.J. Mosley or safety Vinnie Sunseri, who plays in the dime (six defensive back) package.
"If you can't affect him with four guys rushing, when you start rushing more guys, the more you rush, the more it becomes a little bit feast or famine," Saban said.
Richt wants Murray to know the right move to make regardless of how many pass-rushers come.
"I think the main thing for the quarterback is to understand, 'Will this protection hold up against this blitz?' " Richt said. "If it does, I should be able to drop back and step up in the pocket and throw it. If it won't handle it, I know I've got to get rid of the ball quickly and which receiver to get it to."
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.