Today’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta between Alabama and Georgia will determine more than the champion of the SEC, it is a play-in game for the BCS Championship game in January. The winner gets the opportunity to play Notre Dame for this season’s national championship. The loser? Well they likely get a fun trip to Tampa. Join me in saying this in your best Eeyore voice,”a fun trip to Tampa”. A trip to Tampa to play in the Champ Sports bowl or whatever they call that thing these days. To the victor go the spoils and, in this case, to the loser goes sour grapes. Saban admitted as much last week when he complained that the loser doesn’t get the fun trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. That likely goes to Florida, the runner-up to the SEC Championship game.
So the pressure’s on to win this game as if there wasn’t already enough pressure in this one.
Both teams come into this game on similar paths. In fact, the similarities between these two teams are eerie.
Offensively, both teams are led by efficient, experienced quarterbacks. In fact, they are ranked one and two in the nation in passing efficiency. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is the top ranked qb at 177.15 having completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 3201 yards and 30 touchdowns. Alabama’s A.J. McCarron is ranked 2nd at 176.26 with a completion percentage of 67.17%, 2507 passing yards, and 25 touchdowns. Both teams are here primarily because each quarterback led fourth quarter comebacks against their main intra-divisional rivals. Murray, stifled for much of the game against a tough Florida defense, led the Bulldogs on a long touchdown drive with less than two minutes to go to beat the Gators. McCarron led Alabama on a game-winning touchdown drive with less than a minute to go against LSU when everybody but the guys in that huddle thought LSU would win it.
Both offenses feature pounding running games. Georgia features freshman 1A) Todd Gurley and freshman 1B) Keith Marshall. Alabama counters with Eddie Lacy and true freshman T.J. Yeldon. Gurley finished the regular season leading all running backs in the SEC with 1138 yards and 14 td’s while Lacy had 1001 yards and 14 td’s as well.
Defensively, Alabama comes into this game with the top ranked defense in the nation giving up a meager 233 yards per game, while Georgia is ranked a respectable 22nd giving up 100 more yards per game at 337. Georgia, however, has something that Bama does not: Jarvis Jones. Jones, a 3-4 outside linebacker and pass rush specialist is a beast and a one-man wrecking crew. Jones was fourth in the nation in sacks per game at 1.05 after finishing the season with 10.5 sacks in ten games played. More importantly, he plays his best in the biggest games on the biggest stages. Against Florida, when the Bulldogs season hung in the balance, Jones was completely unblockable seemingly in the offensive huddle on every play. He produced sacks, recovered fumbles, and forced turnovers, none bigger than the one he caused by Jordan Reed as Reed was threatening to score late in the game and likely would have led to a Gator victory if he had scored.
Another major similarity between the two teams was their relatively easy schedules and the fact that they both played two major tough games losing one and both should have lost the other. Alabama was outplayed the whole game against LSU but manage to stay within range mostly due to poor coaching decisions by LSU head coach Les Miles and an untimely missed field goal. The late touchdown drive by Alabama came when LSU stopped playing their tight press coverage that had worked all game in favor of a prevent defense which allowed Tide receivers opportunities to make plays and Tide qb McCarron to get into a rhythm moving them quickly down the field for the winning td.
Similarly, Georgia was outplayed by the Gators but 6 uncharacteristic turnovers led to their undoing. A late fumble caused by Jones kept Reed out of the end zone setting Georgia up for their game winning drive. In similar fashion, the Florida defense, which had pressured Bulldog qb Murray into poor decisions, poor throws, and three turnovers, uncharacteristically went soft allowing Murray to finally get into a rhythm. They scored the winning td when normally sure-tackling Loucheiz Purifoy missed a tackle allowing the Georgia receiver to score after a short pass completion.
This game is likely going to be close and in my estimation will come down to Jarvis Jones and the kicking game. If Jones is able to affect the game anywhere close to what he did against Florida, Georgia should take this one. If Alabama manages to find a way to block him, something Florida was completely unable to do, then Alabama should win. Either way it likely comes down to a touchdown or less and in these games you cannot afford to give away points when they are available to you. Kicker’s accuracy is utmost important in this one.
In the end, I think Georgia finally breaks Alabama’s stranglehold on the SEC and earns the right to defeat Notre Dame and continue the SEC’s stranglehold on the BCS Championship, winning on a late field goal 23-20.