A post-regular season late edition of the Monday Morning Quarterback.
The SEC Championship Game was played Saturday night in Atlanta. Overnight ratings tied the Notre Dame-USC game for the most watched game this season. Of course, besides Notre Dame’s national following, a lot of rival fans tuned in to see if they would get knocked out of contention for the BCS Championship game like Oregon and K State had the previous week.
Personally, the Monday Morning Quarterback believes the SEC Championship was highly rated partly because fans of college football wanted to see who would go and who wouldn’t but mostly because fans wanted to see a great game of football. SEC style football.
And, of course, they were not disappointed. An early defensive struggle turned into a back and forth battle royale in the second half.
Bitter fans of other conferences complained that there was “too much offense” and “I better not hear anymore about SEC defense”. Well let’s take a closer look at the game the Monday Morning Quarterback style.
First, there is a common misconception by fans of other conferences that the SEC is all defense and no offense. They think every game is 14-9. The Monday Morning Quarterback sure hates to disappoint, but this is simply not true. Coming into the game, the nation’s leaders in passing efficiency were Aaron Murray at number one and A.J. McCarron at number two. Whether or not you wish to believe it, both of these teams know how to throw the football. It’s just they like to pound the rock too. In fact, both offenses use the inside run game to set up their offenses.
And what we saw in this game was old style, smashmouth SEC football. Particularly from Alabama. The 350 rushing yards was a season high for them. The 51 rushing attempts was the most by Alabama since the BCS title game against Texas after the 2009 season. With a new offensive coordinator this season, the Tide went to more of a balanced offense between the run and pass than in previous seasons. But, after Georgia harassed McCarron in the first half of Saturday’s game creating a fumble, an interception, and numerous hurries (SEC defense), Nick Saban decided to turn to the running game choosing to ride his franchise backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon to victory. That pounding run game is what forced Georgia to load the box and allowed Alabama to go over the top on play-action for the big touchdown which ultimately was the winning score.
Georgia’s offense was similarly pro-style. they just tend to pass downfield more than what Alabama likes to. They still tried to establish their running game behind freshman Todd Gurley. Perhaps they tried to pass too much, however. Running the football doesn’t just set up the play-action like Georgia likes to do, it also softens the defense for the fourth quarter. That allows you to run more effectively and slows the pass rush late in the game. Three Georgia three and outs, one key one late in the fourth quarter, where Georgia failed to call a running play might have doomed them. Surely that point is open for debate, but there was a feeling that Georgia needed to establish the run game a little more than what they tried to.
Secondly, that Georgia defense was not one of the elite SEC defenses, at least not against the running game. Outside of Jarvis Jones, who is one of the best pass rushers in the nation, Georgia was average defensively. While they were decent against the pass, ranking 32nd nationally in pass efficiency defense, they weren’t very strong against the rush averaging over 163 yards per game coming into the Championship game. That’s not elite level. That’s average. Playing against a running game with the strength of Alabama it was very obvious as they had little answers for Lacy and Yeldon in the second half.
There’s a sense that, at least defensively, Florida or South Carolina might have put up more of a fight against the Alabama running game. While that is open to conjecture, surely the Georgia 3-4 defense wasn’t up to the task on Saturday night. Oddly, the 3-4 is designed to stop the run game while still able to get after the quarterback in the passing game. Georgia’s ends however are better pass rusher’s than they are at stopping a well designed running game like Alabama’s.
Regardless, the SEC envy is rampant and the beat was loud after the game decrying the fact the both Alabama and Georgia got second chances at the BCS Championship game after losing a game and Oregon and K State did not. To that end, the Monday Morning Quarterback has two answers.
First, go play somebody. Whoa, wait, slow down there pardner. As soon as you say that, the SEC detractors go ballistic. They don’t want to hear that argument. Jimbo Fisher doesn’t want to hear that argument. They like to try to counteract that argument by repeating, rather incorrectly, that the SEC doesn’t schedule difficult out-of-conference games.
This refrain is repeated every year at the start of the season, but mostly in November when a lot of SEC teams take a break from the rugged SEC schedule to play some “revenue games”, i.e. guaranteed home games against FCS foes who play them for a guaranteed payout, including up to $500,000 for Jax State to take on the Gators. Rival conference fans see that and go ballistic.
But, forget the hype for a moment, let’s look at the facts. Since 2008, not coincidently coinciding with Saban’s big run, the Alabama football team has taken on a top twenty out-of-conference team every year at the start of the season. This season they played Michigan with Denard Robinson when they were ranked in the top ten. They’ve taken on Virginia Tech and Penn State twice. Whadda ya want from me?
In 2007 when LSU won the BCS, they played Virginia Tech in the second game of the season. This season they took on Washington, last season Oregon, and the year before that North Carolina. Georgia played Boise State last season when nobody wanted to schedule them, and lost. They previously played a home and home with Colorado, before the bottom fell out for the program. Whadda ya want from me?
All three of these schools are BCS challenging schools and all three have taken on big time out-of-conference games. Florida plays Florida State every season, home and home. Georgia plays Georgia Tech every season, home and home. South Carolina plays Clemson every season, home and home. These are on top of the brutal 8 game SEC schedule these teams play year in and year out. Whadda ya want from me? Say what you want about Florida taking on Jax State this season, they still played the toughest schedule as ranked by the NCAA. So take your argument about the SEC not playing tough out-of-conference games and holler at someone who is ignorant. The Monday Morning Quarterback knows what’s up and ain’t having none of dat.
Until the PAC-12, Big 12, and especially the Big Ten play a schedule remotely as tough as that played by top level SEC teams there is no argument. This season the only conference that has any beef about strength of schedule may be the PAC-12 as they were above average at the top with Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and USC all putting top twenty teams on the field. They just haven’t gotten to the SEC level yet particularly on defense where only Stanford can make that argument. Oregon scored 62 points against USC, but gave up 51. You have no argument for being included in the championship discussion with other one loss teams if you gave up 51 points to anybody.
Secondly, if you’re going to lose, the earlier you lose the better. That has been the case throughout the BCS era with Alabama being the lone exception. Somehow poll voters are dazzled by Alabama. I have no argument for that. Personally, the Monday Morning Quarterback thinks Alabama gets more of a poll bump than they deserve based on past success, but that’s what happens when human voters make up two thirds of your system for ranking teams. Regardless, you can’t lose in mid to late November and expect to stay in the BCS championship race without some extreme help. Like it or not that is the BCS and is the way the current system works.
The funniest thing I heard the other night was a caller to a national sports radio call-in show actually said that the BCS should make SEC teams play Big Ten teams in the cold and the snow of January rather than in the warmth of Tampa, or the indoor constant environment of the Superdome. Really? Really? That’s your argument? If that’s your only argument, then you have already conceded defeat my friend. We can’t beat them on the field in a neutral environment with even weather conditions, so let’s make em play us on OUR turf in the cold and snow. Problem is, there were exactly ZERO Big Ten games played in the snow this season.
The SEC envy is alive and well in America and it is well understood by the Monday Morning Quarterback. Call it envy, call it hatred. Call it whatever you like. The Ole Ball Coach used to say if they hate you, it’s because you’re beating them. In this case, they definitely hate them because they’re beating them. Six straight SEC BCS titles and a chance for Alabama to become the first consecutive BCS title game winners this season. Hatred. Envy. SEC. Whadda ya want from me?
I’m the Monday Morning Quarterback, and I’m out.