Final Score: Alabama 32, Georgia 28
Alabama is the 2012 SEC champion, and the Tide should face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS title game.
Alabama played a little loose, but it was against the toughest team on the schedule to date. Georgia an Aaron Murray put up a valiant fight that ended inside the five yard-line as time expired.
Alabama should be heading to Miami to defend the SEC's title streak against Notre Dame after what happened in the conference championship, but we will cover some of the reasons that almost didn't happen.
Alabama played a great opponent, and the Tide escaped Georgia's talented roster with a four-point victory. While the Tide proved that they are the best in the SEC, they also showed that they will be lethal when they learn to play their "A-game."
Let's take a look at what Alabama showed us against the Georgia Bulldogs on the first day of December.
Overall Grade: B-
A.J. McCarron: 13-of-21 for 162 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Also: 6 carries for 16 yards. (That includes negative yards for sacks, though, so it's skewed downward.)
McCarron led the Tide to the conference title and a national championship appearance. This will be the Tide's second national championship appearance in two years.
McCarron didn't have the best game of his career by any means, but that doesn't matter in the big picture. The big picture is that McCarron and the Tide are the conference champions this season.
McCarron found four different targets throughout the game to earn the win. The most impressive from McCarron was to Amari Cooper for the touchdown that put Alabama up 32-28. He hit Cooper in-stride on an improvised stop-and-go route just out of the reach of the Bulldogs' secondary. This put Alabama just out of reach of the Bulldogs as well.
2012 SEC Championship Game MVP
Overall Grade: A+
Eddie Lacy—2012 SEC Championship Game MVP: 20 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
T.J. Yeldon: 25 carries for 153 yards, one touchdown and a two-point conversion.
Alabama's running game may have taken a while to get started, but it was worth the wait. The Tide's terrible tandem (and quarterback) rushed for an SEC-championship-game record 350 yards. (The previous record was 300 by Alabama in the 1999 edition of the game.)
Alabama also set a record with two 100-yard rushers in the conference title game. All-in-all, there were problems on the Tide's offense, but it certainly wasn't in the tailback region of the backfield.
Overall Grade: A
Amari Cooper: Eight receptions for 128 yards and one touchdown.
Christion Jones: One reception for 22 yards.
Nobody else on the field had double-digit yardage in the receiving game. Amari Cooper was a beast on the field in the receiving game, and was clearly McCarron's go-to target for the entire outing against Georgia. Cooper's stats show you shy he was McCarron's favorite.
McCarron may need more balance in January, but his favorite receiver certainly proved to be enough to take down the SEC East Division representative for the conference title.
Overall Grade: C
Michael Williams: Two receptions for five yards.
Overall, the tight ends did a good job. The blocking was sound and their presence was felt by the Bulldogs. The Tide broke off a few big plays and a few explosive plays, and the tight ends figured into that equation quite well. They figured into the rushing attack later in the game, as well. (Later in the game, because the offensive line wasn't pushing open the gaps early on as they were later.)
There will be more of an explanation of this grade in the “Special Teams” slide. For now, trust that the “C” is deserved. If you disagree after the later slide, feel free to throw down in the comment section.
Overall Grade: B
Alabama's offensive line is among the best in the nation, but it was very hot-and-cold against Georgia. On the one hand, Alabama rushed for 350 yards, so the offensive line clearly showed flashes of greatness. On the other hand, McCarron was sacked three times and couldn't seem to find the time in the pocket that he needed.
Granted, he's been spoiled all season by playing against defensive lines vastly inferior to Georgia's, but the offensive line did have issues protecting McCarron and giving him time to throw. After things calmed down, the second half looked a lot different. Alabama's offensive line went to work on Georgia's NFL-quality defensive line and pushed out some huge gaps that Yeldon and Lacy burst through for some serious damage.
Overall Grade: A-
Alabama's defensive line held strong against the Georgia rushing attack. While Alabama rushed for 350 yards all night, Georgia only managed 113 total rushing yards. To put that in perspective, Alabama had two tailbacks that each went over 113 yards.
Alabama's defensive line had sporadic issues with containment, but did its job for the majority of the game. Especially in a few X-and-short situations, the defensive line repeatedly forced Georgia to punt. The issue with the defense wasn't as much on the defensive line as it was in the linebacking corps, though.
Overall Grade: B
Alabama's linebackers showed up to play, but were out-gunned by the Bulldogs on quite a few occasions. Georgia was dinging Alabama for five to 10 yards at a time, but then the linebackers would lock down on other drives and force three-and-outs.
Major impact linebackers: Xzavier Dickson and C.J. Mosley
Dickson found himself in the backfield repeatedly making tackles-for-loss or sacks and Mosley was the player who tipped the ball on the final play of the game. He sent it hurtling into the arms of the underneath receiver, which ran out the clock for the Tide win. (The other option was a semi-open receiver whose defender hadn't turned around to find the ball yet. That would likely have ended in a Georgia victory.)
Overall Grade: B
Alabama's secondary still showed that it has some work to do before joining the 1992, 2009 and 2011 teams as statistically elite as far as Tide history is concerned. There were a few drives by Georgia that went from first snap to touchdowns in less than 10 plays. The secondary was at least on the same page as the rest of the defense when it counted. You didn't see the secondary giving up huge plays when the rest of the team was in great coverage.
Georgia was forced to punt five times, and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix did get a timely pick near the end of the second quarter that led to Alabama's three-point halftime lead. (The fact that it was only three points will be covered in the “Coaching” slide later.)
When the dust settled, allowing Georgia to score 28 points is not the worst thing that's happened to the Tide all season. After all, that's still 10 points fewer than Georgia's average entering the game. Against Aaron Murray and company, the performance was a solid “B.” Nothing lethal was given up, but there was much room for improvement. The final drive of the game definitely hurt the overall grade a bit, but it still didn't cause the Tide to lose.
Overall Grade: D+
While the overall performance was good (not great), the special-teams mistake of the day was gargantuan. Cade Foster set up for a 49-yard field-goal attempt, and it went downhill as soon as the ball was snapped. Tight end Michael Williams got beaten on his block, and Foster seemed to take for-e-ver to move toward the ball to kick it. It's unknown if he was playing some sort of video game in his head, but it seemed like almost four seconds passed between the snap and the kick. The bottom line is that Georgia's unit got a hand on the ball and recovered it on-the-fly for a 55-yard jaunt into the end zone.
At that point, Alabama was down 21-10. No, the special-teams unit wasn't responsible for all the other touchdowns Georgia scored, but it was certainly not the automatic unit from the Leigh Tiffin days.
No team wants to have to rely on its situational unit to win a game, but all teams want to be able to rely on the unit to perform in the clutch.
The punting was solid all game, as were the kickoffs. Cody Mandell should get an award for the championship performance. (Of course, he will get a ring for the championship game he just helped win.)
Overall Grade: C
Nick Saban played an odd game against the Bulldogs in Atlanta. Sometimes, the staff was aggressive. Other times, the coaches all looked completely stymied by Georgia on all sides of the ball. The passing attack was stifled early on, but they weren't going to the run. After the run started to succeed, they wanted to go to the pass. (Presumably to see if it would work.) It kind of did, but not really.
Up until late in the second quarter, the screen game was largely ignored. At the end of the first half, Saban missed an opportunity to call a timeout that would have given the Tide two shots (or three) at the end zone instead of the automatic field goal. Had Georgia scored on the final drive, that would have been a giant mistake.
There's no way you can legitimately give a staff that won a game lower than a “C” when they made the right call for the vast majority of the game. However, the staff once again tried my patience at enforcing that principle. The configuration of the defense on Georgia's final drive almost got them into serious trouble.
If anyone has ever seen a “prevent” defense actually prevent anything, please let me know in the comment section. To my personal firsthand knowledge, a prevent defense is good when you've got a secondary that can jump almost every route and come away with a turnover. Most times a prevent defense has been employed in my sight, it has succeeded in preventing the team on defense from winning the game.
This was one of the exceptions to that rule. The LSU game earlier this season was the proof of that rule. There's no real way to tell if it was the players or coaches that were playing scared without a lie-detector test, but it sure looked like the play-calling was tentative. If they don't trust the new offensive coordinator yet, then why did they hire him? If they do trust him, then why does he seem to be playing scared? Just some food for thought there, feel free to offer a different perspective in the comment section.