Alabama’s Will Anderson no longer a Georgia fan

Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) reacts to his sack of  Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask (11) to end the first half during the SEC Championship football game between the Florida and  Alabama on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) reacts to his sack of Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask (11) to end the first half during the SEC Championship football game between the Florida and Alabama on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama linebacker Will Anderson grew up following the Georgia Bulldogs, but you won’t hear him complaining about the side he’s lining up for on Saturday.

“Yeah, I did grow up a Georgia fan,” said Anderson, who went to Dutchtown High School in Hampton, Ga. “I got recruited by them a little bit. I didn’t get too much attention from them, but it worked out well.”

The SEC Championship Game pitting No. 1 Georgia against No. 3 Alabama at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Mercedes Benz Stadium features no less than three players who have been mentioned as Heisman Trophy candidates this season.

Tide quarterback Bryce Young is the most prominent Heisman Trophy candidate of the three, but UGA nose tackle Jordan Davis and Anderson have also been a part of the discussion.

Anderson, named the Football Writers Association of American Freshman of the Year last season, has arguably been the most productive defensive player in the nation with 86 tackles, 30.5 tackles-for-loss and 14.5 sacks.

“He’s done as much for our team as anybody ever has,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Monday. “I think he’s been one of the most productive players in college football as a defensive player. He’s done everything we have asked him to do, (and) he’s very disciplined in terms of doing his job, and he does it with tremendous effort and toughness.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart is celebrated for his recruiting prowess, but Anderson is one in-state prospect that got away.

The Bulldogs, who have been loaded in the linebacking corps throughout the Smart Era, only had room enough for one linebacker in the 2020 signing class.

Smart made Washington D.C. 5-star prospect MJ Sherman an early priority and stuck with him after Sherman suffered a knee injury.

Sherman, rated the No. 32 overall player (per the 247Sports composite) in the 2020 Class, has appeared in all 12 games this season as a reserve linebacker as well as a member of the kickoff coverage team.

Anderson, who blossomed later in his high school career to finish the No. 17 overall player in the nation, said he’s excited to be playing close to home in Atlanta on Saturday.

“My family gets to come see me because, of course, I’m from Georgia,” Anderson said. “It’s always good to come back home.”

Kirby’s Iron Bowl view: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart experienced nine Iron Bowl games as any assistant coach to Saban, so he could understand how an Auburn team on a three-game losing streak could play the Tide close before falling 24-22 in four overtimes last Saturday.

“That (Auburn) is a really tough place to play, and so is (Texas) A&M,” Smart said. “That doesn’t fall on deaf ears with our staff and understand probably two of the hardest places to play in the country are right there.

“That (Iron Bowl) game is always different. The nine years I was there, you never could judge anything on that game because it’s such an intrastate rivalry.”

Line dance: Georgia is a 6-1/2-point favorite over Alabama, the line jumping from 4-1/2 after the teams’ games on Saturday.

The Bulldogs’ role as favorites snaps a 92-game streak where Alabama had been favored in games dating back to the 2015 meeting between Georgia and the Crimson Tide, when UGA was a 2-1/2-point favorite.