2012 SEC Championship Game Review

People, this was the best game I’ve ever seen in person!  This year’s SEC Championship Game had more highs and more lows than a night on the town with Lindsay Lohan and I’m pretty sure I groped more men than her during my numerous man-hug celebrations.  Best.  Game.  Ever!  My oh my, where to even begin….

In a takeoff on “A Tale of Two Cities”, the Georgia game was “A Tale of Two Halves” with each half having its own “best of times and worst of times” that likely resulted in a few cardiac arrests across the state.  In the first half we all expected to see AJ McCarron outduel the Georgia gunslinger, Aaron Murray, but instead we saw a version of Don Knots in Hot Lead and Cold Feet.  The first half “worst of times” consisted of a fumble and a pick by McCarron, two sacks, and a botched fake punt that countered by a successful fake punt by Georgia.  Yet, after all of the first half gaffes and misfires, Bama fans still experienced the “best of times”.  First, Eddie Lacy flew down the field for a 42 yard TD run and then an interception by Clinton-Dix helped provide Alabama with an improbable 10-7 halftime lead.  With Alabama’s offense seemingly able to figure things out and with the offensive line taking control, we all anticipated the second half would bring us visions of Miami Vice and SouthBeach.  Little did we know…

Tide fans were riding high after the end of the first half and we got our shakers out with the hope and anticipation of more of Alabama’s physical dominance.  But, Georgia took the opening kickoff and marched thru Atlanta more quickly than General Sherman and suddenly you had to know we were in for a Dawg fight that would make Michael Vick blush.  Alabama responded to Georgia’s score with a ground campaign that Patton would have loved but it stalled and gave way to poor Jodie (Cade) Foster, whose low kick was swatted down and returned for yet another Georgia touchdown.  The fourteen consecutive Georgia points to start the second half resulted in a 21-10 lead and a silence of the Bams.  Only six minutes remained in the third quarter and, though the stats said Bama was outplaying the Dawgs, the scoreboard said otherwise.  We were at our lowest point of the afternoon – it was the worst of times.

On the ensuing kickoff I turned to my wife and I said it was going to be interesting to see if, like against A&M, we abandoned the running game or if we’d continue to stay with what was obviously working.  This question was emphatically answered with 17 rushes for 143 yards in the third quarter and 350 rushing yards (a Championship Game record) total.  TJ Yeldon dashed into the end zone to make it 21-16 and, on the call of the night, Alabama flared a middle finger at Georgia’s vaunted “NFL caliber” defense and sent Yeldon into the heart of the Georgia front seven for a successful two point conversion.  The Tide continued their ground assault for the rest of the half until they found Amari Cooper gift wrapped in man coverage.  The scintillating bomb took the lead for good and sent the Tide faithful into a furious celebration.  It was absolutely an amazing scene that puts chill bumps on top of my chill bumps Oh, it was the best of times! 

On the ensuing Bulldogs drive, Adrian Hubbard sacked Murray on first down and the Tide eventually forced a three and out that seemingly won the game.  Once Alabama got the ball back, you knew they wouldn’t be stopped.  Except they were.  Once Georgia got the ball back, you knew they wouldn’t mount a drive.  Except they did.  The last drive was a microcosm of the highs and lows of the entire game – it was an amazing thing to witness in person.  From the high of Milliner’s interception to the low of the Dawgs sitting on the Alabama five yardline with 14 seconds left – it was amazing.  And when CJ Mosley deflected the last pass into the waiting arms of a Georgia receiver, time moved on….and Alabama did too – to Miami!  BEST GAME EVER!

Alabama on Offense

Alabama came out just as we told you they would.  Using Western Carolina and Auburn basically as practice games, the Tide tried to use a no huddle, up tempo approach.  However, it turned out to just be a no huddle as the up tempo never happened.  In fact, throughout the first half, AJ was walking past the hash marks to get the play call from the bench and then had to rush back to the line to bark out the signals.  This repeatedly left AJ with precious few seconds to get the snap off and no doubt affected his ability to read the defense.  With AJ so busy getting the play, then relaying it, then pleading for the snap, there was no time for him to absorb what Georgia was doing on defense.  But, with 5:04 left to go in the second quarter, the Tide coaching staff decided to abandon the no huddle and lean on the ground game and their huge, experienced line .  Thank God for that decision, eh?  Let’s see how it all unfolded…

Anatomy of a Running Play:  Alabama turned a 21-10 deficit into a 25-21 lead with one basic running play out of a couple of formations.  Whether it was in the one back set or pistol, the concepts were the same:

  • At the snap, the running play started toward the right guard, Anthony Steen
  • Fluker stood up the enormous Jenkins while Steen drove into Jenkins’ side
  • The push by Steen allowed Fluker to have his way with Jenkins and Steen then moved on to take out the nearest LB
  • Michael Williams was usually flexed behind the left tackle and, at the snap, and he pulled to the right like a guard.  Williams typically took out the linebacker that Steen didn’t get, creating a huge crease for the running backs.
  • With Brian Vogler doing a great job of holding the edge, this typically left Lacy or Yeldon in one on one situations Georgia’s safeties and we all know one main can’t handle either of these two cats.

If you still have the tape, go back and look at the drive when Alabama got the ball with 3:04 left in the third quarter.  They ran the same play described above to the right or to the left five straight times until they employed their goal line package inside the five yard line.  This play was devastating, so credit the coaching staff for calling this play over and over.  Incidentally, it was a play action fake off of this very same running play that found Amari Cooper for the game winner!

Big Ole Butt:  DJ Fluker is a beast.  He’s a man.  He’s two men.  Fluker left Jenkins shaking his head and, after the game, Jenkins was so impressed that he had to ask big DJ what the hell they were doing to him all night long.  Throughout the game Fluker’s leadership was evident but it wasn’t shown enough on TV for my liking.  DJ was emphatically imploring his teammates and the coaching staff to continue pounding that Georgia ass with the running game.  Speaking of which, if you have the game on tape, go back and look at the Yeldon TD run from 10 yards out in the third quarter.  At the snap, the entire line went left and Yeldon used the UGA pursuit against itself as he cut back to the end zone.  Somehow, Fluker ended up facing Yeldon with Jenkins riding his back trying to get to Yeldon.  Realizing this, DJ pulled out his best Rick Mahorn impression and used his immense gluteus maximus to box out the enormous Jenkins.  Fluker then chased Yeldon into the end zone high stepping  like a kid – it was awesome.

The Play that Changed the Game:  After Yeldon scored on his scamper, Alabama trailed 21-16.  The Tide had used four straight running plays (described above) and had found a weakness in the Georgia front seven.  With Georgia reeling, Nick made a call that I vehemently disagreed with at the time – he decided to go for two.  It was way too early to be chasing points but, sure enough, it worked and we got the two point conversion.  But, it wasn’t just the fact that Alabama got a two point conversion that completely changed the game, but it was the way that Bama did it.  Nothing says “I own you” like running straight into the soft underbelly of a defense for a two point conversion.  The result was that, at the end of the game, Alabama led 32-28 instead of 31-28 which forced Georgia to have to score a touchdown on their final drive.  It was the play that changed the game and it was a call that 99% of coaches wouldn’t have made.

Super Cooper:  While Amari Cooper doesn’t have the size that Julio Jones has, I’d submit to you that Cooper is a better pure wide receiver.  Yeah, I said it!  Cooper was spotted by the staff as a 3 star receiver out of Florida.  As more people saw him play, his stock began to rise and he became a 4 star wide receiver who received an invitation to the Under Armour All Star Game.  In that game and ever since, Cooper has been a star.  While the game winning catch was amazing because he’d basically stopped his route and then had to hit the jets to catch up to the ball, the coup de grace was his amazing catch over Bacarri Rambo.  Remember kids, this is a TRUE FRESHMAN doing this – skying above Rambo, using his body to shield Rambo from the high point of the ball so that he could snare it out of harm’s way.  Amari Cooper is one sick dude, people! 

Shake, Rattle and Roll:  Saturday was just not AJ’s day.  Georgia disguised their coverages the same way A&M did, showing a one high safety look and then shifting into a two deep look at the snap.  Additionally, whoever AJ’s first read was, they were typically well covered as the receivers were having tremendous difficulty creating any separation.  When AJ dropped back to pass, it was as though he was trying to read Chinese hieroglyphics or something.  He was confused, hesitant and panic stricken and all three Georgia sacks were the result of AJ holding the ball too long.  I believe the Tide staff saw this and shifted the focus of the offense to the running game and they never looked back.  That is until they called upon AJ to make the throw of his life.  Helluva way to bounce back from a rocky afternoon, eh? 

Movin’ On Up:  It seemed like on every big run, a white jersey with an 84 on it was ever-present.  On Lacy’s 41 yard TD run, Vogler and Williams each combined to make two different combination blocks.  The first combo block took out Jarvis Jones and the second wiped out the safety.  This paved the way for Lacy’s burst (who knew he had those kind of wheels?) into the end zone.  Later, on Lacy’s 32 yard spin move, it was Vogler who freed Lacy to use his circle button.  As Lacy hit the hole, four UGA defenders closed in on him.  At that time, Vogler came crashing into the pile, taking out two UGA defenders and freeing Lacy to spin out of the pile and take off down the sidelines.  Brian Vogler – you are a man!

Born to Run:  Did you realize that Alabama ran 21 plays in the third quarter?  17 of them were runs resulting in 143 yards!  Alabama rushed for more yards in the third quarter than they did in the entire game against Texas A&M!

Bail Out Program:  Alabama scouted Georgia and decided to attack the corners with a wide receiver screen if they showed a particular look.  Just prior to the snap, oftentimes the Georgia corner opposite Amari Cooper would back peddle from a bump and run look to a zone look.  Seeing this, at the snap AJ would sling the ball out to Amari in the hopes that the corner would be slow to react since he was busy back peddling.  While this worked a couple of times, by and large Georgia caught on and began shutting this play down with ease.

Alabama on Defense

 When you look at the score of the game, you would immediately jump to the conclusion that the Tide’s defense was woeful against Georgia.  And, while it certainly wasn’t Alabama’s best defensive performance with Gurley rushing for 122 yards and Murray throwing for 265, a fake punt and a blocked field goal did make the score look a lot worse than it could have been.  The key to the game to me was stopping the Georgia running game and generating pressure with the front four.  Bama created three sacks – two by Dickson and one huge one by Hubbard – and they consistently were able to pressure Murray with just their front four guys.  This allowed Alabama to play coverages and limit the damage by Aaron Murray.  Again, it wasn’t the finest performance.  Gurley rushed for over 100 yards and once again the secondary showed some warts.  But, in the end the defense stepped up and CJ Mosley’s pass deflection won the game and sent Bama packing for Miami.  Here are a few key plays, players and moments from the defensive side of the ball…

I Am the Warrior:  Brandon Ivory played on a severely sprained ankle.  Jesse Williams left the game with an ugly knee injury yet was able to brace it up and get back in there on defense.  And, of course, Barrett Jones’ ability to play on a bad foot that he injured during the first quarter was incredible.  These men were the epitome of what a leader should be and they showed  their teammates what the heart of a champion looked like.  Incredible!

And a Young Man Will Lead Them:  Remember the scenes of Nick Saban ripping Geno Smith even though Alabama was up by 30+ points in the fourth quarter?  Nick knew that Geno had the talent to help the team but if Saban couldn’t trust him to do his job correctly then he couldn’t use him.  While Nick was mocked for coaching up his players so hard during the fourth quarter blow outs, on Saturday you understood the method to the madness.  Geno Smith was targeted seven times, giving up one single solitary pass for seven yards.  I’d say the coaching paid off, wouldn’t you?  The best play was with Alabama down 21-18, Georgia tried to convert a third and four against Smith but he beautifully broke up the pass in front of the Bama bench.  The entire defensive bench roared and ran onto the field congratulating a kid that had been put in a precarious situation.

ADRIAN!:  Yo, Adrian – nice game!  Hubbard had a key sack of the game late in the fourth quarter which forced Georgia to punt with around 3 minutes left in the game.  Hubbard also had several pressures and made several very solid tackles on Gurley to shut down the Georgia running game.  He was an unsung hero and he played a great, great game!

Bookends:  On the other side, credit Xzavier Dickson for his best game of the year!  His two sacks occurred in the first two Georgia possessions but it established a tone for the defense.

Oops, I Did It Again:  Credit Georgia for exploiting the Tide safeties a few times during the game.  The worst of it was the first Georgia touchdown where Robert Lester came down into the box forming an 8 man front.  Georgia play actioned and Lester bit on the fake, leaving tight end Jay Rome wide open in the secondary.  Nick Perry was supposed to pick up Rome but was late getting there, leaving Rome wide open for the TD.  The other horrific sight was when Georgia TE Arthur Lynch beat Sunseri for a 26 yard gainer down to the Bama 5 yard line.  Vinnie was toasted and roasted on the play setting up CJ Mosley’s heroics.

Anatomy of the Defensive Play of the Game:  I know you are expecting the CJ Mosley play here and it’s next up on my docket but, for now, I submit to you that there was a bigger play and a bigger moment for the defense.  With Georgia facing a third and 1 leading 28-25 with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Bama hunkered down with their goal line defense in an effort to get the ball back to the offense.  Time was precious at this point and a successful UGA third down conversion would have melted another 2 minutes or more off the clock.  Georgia handed the ball off to the seemingly unstoppable Gurley and he ran towards what he thought was a hole in the middle of the defense.  But, Brandon Ivory (who was playing on a bad ankle as we said above) knifed in at an angle, creating a train wreck at the line of scrimmage.  Next to him, the injured but resilient Jesse Williams stood up the center and sent him back into the backfield.  Suddenly, the hole had closed and Gurley was tackled for no gain, forcing the Dawgs to punt.  On the ensuing possession, you may recall that AJ hit Amari Cooper for a game winning 45 yard touchdown pass which never would have been possible were it not for the heroic efforts of Williams and Ivory.

Defensive Play of the Game (Part II):  By now, you all know what happened but, just to recap, here’s how it all went down.  Georgia had twin receivers to the right with Mitchell on the outside running a back shoulder fade against Milliner and Conley on the inside running an out against Robert Lester and Geno Smith.  Bama finally showed a four man front on the drive as they had maddeningly been rushing just three men for nearly ever other play.  But, this time Bama brought four and they also brought CJ Mosley on a blitz from the same side that Mitchell and Conley were on.  As Gurley stepped up to pick up the blitz, Mosley leaped into the air, deflecting the pass from being a back shoulder fade to being a harmless catch at the four yard line.  Conley fell to the ground with the ball and the time ticked down to zero ending the game and Georgia’s plans for Miami.

Alabama on Special Teams

Good God, what a train wreck.  What was supposed to be a strength going into the game nearly turned out to be Bama’s Achilles heel.  First, Alabama failed to snap the ball in time to allow Vinnie Sunseri to execute a perfectly called fake punt.  Then, Georgia one upped us by showing a freaky formation that left a receiver wide open for their successful fake punt.  Also, Alabama gave up tons of hidden yardage by not catching the numerous short Georgia punts (although credit Christion Jones for a courageous snag of a bounding ball to save some field position on the winning drive).  Then, our own abysmal blocking and kicking resulted in a 55 yard blocked field return for a touchdown.  Did I miss anything?  I mean, other than Nick incessantly chewing out one Bobby Williams throughout the game, did I miss anything else? 

Conclusion

What.  A.  Game.  It wasn’t exactly a clean game that we as Alabama fans are accustomed to seeing but…what a game!  In the near loss to LSU and in the loss to A&M, Alabama lost five turnovers and didn’t cause a single one.  So, when the Tide began the game by giving up a fumble, an interception and a blocked field goal, things looked bleaker than bleak.  But, it was a tale of two halves.  The first half was akin to a Comedy of Errors for Alabama while the second ended in a Shakesperian Tragedy with Aaron Murray and Mark Richt once again failing to come thru in the clutch for Georgia.

In the end, Alabama finally found their identity and they simply ran the football down Georgia’s throats.  So, in the end Alabama was Alabama.  In the end, Georgia failed to manage the clock  and could only watch as the final few seconds elapsed before their eyes.  So, in the end Georgia couldn’t help being Georgia.

So, now it’s Crimson and Clover for the right to hoist the crystal football!!!  Can you picture a more historic matchup?  To me, it’s apropos that Alabama would get a chance to bookend the season with victories over the two winningest teams in college football history.  You remember what we did to Michigan, right?  Well, Notre Dame beat Michigan by seven measly points.  We ain’t Michigan.  Notre Dame fans, we’ll be seeing you in Miami and, to quote Jack Nicholson, “Wait til you get a load of us.”

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