One by one, a cast of Alabama's defensive players were asked this week what concerned them about the Georgia offense. One by one - sometimes prompted, but other times not - they commented on the screen package that the Bulldogs employ with orchestral precision.
"They're an excellent screen team; they hit us on some screens last year in the game, especially on third down," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. "So we've got our work cut out in a lot of different ways, in terms of preparation and what we need to do to go over there and play winning football and to do the things that we need to do to be able to have some success."
Alabama will play at Georgia tonight at 7:45 p.m. EST in a nationally-televised game (ESPN), and defending the screen will be a key for the Crimson Tide defense. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford is known for his raw arm strength, but doesn't get enough credit for his ability to throw with touch. And no pass requires more touch than the screen. On the receiving end is often Knowshon Moreno, only one of the nation's most talented running backs. With Moreno in the open field and a few blockers leading the way, a well-executed screen pass by Georgia is more dangerous than most.
Alabama strongside linebacker Cory Reamer said stopping the play doesn't fall on one position or even one unit.
"We are expecting a lot of screens because they run it really well. They've got a great back who can get out in the open and make a lot of big plays. ... It's on a lot of our defensive line, as well as the linebackers, to realize how the offensive linemen are blocking them, and be able to turn around and redirect and get back to the ball," Reamer said.
Another powerful offense that makes heavy use of the screen - Clemson - found little success with the play against Alabama in a 34-10 UA win on Aug.30. One of the reasons was Alabama's reluctance to blitz, something Saban said was part of the defensive game plan specifically to help defend the screen.
"They like to set stuff up with the run, and then off their run, they like to play action to screens ...," said defensive end Lorenzo Washington. "They've got the be one of the best screen teams in the country. ... Once you recognize the block, you're supposed to find the ball."
Moreno and Thomas Brown combined for seven receptions against Alabama last year, for 61 yards and a touchdown. Brown is now gone, but Moreno returns as one of the Southeastern Conference's elite backs. And in Brown's place is freshman Caleb King, who has been effective in spot duty so far this season. But it's Moreno who can go the distance from anywhere on the field.
"I think Moreno might be as good a back as there is in the country," Saban said.