C VS C: An Alabama Perspective on the SEC Championship, Lessons Learned
George Santayana once stated these famous words: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The 2007 football season served as a learning experience for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
That season found the team from Tuscaloosa, AL on the short end of several contests that very easily could have and should have been won—e.g. Georgia, LSU, Auburn, and Florida State. And that’s not even counting the embarrassment ‘Bama endured in the games against Mississippi State and Louisiana Monroe.
But, like I said, that season served as a great time for learning. The Tide learned to win in the fourth quarter, something that was void during the Mike Shula years. The Tide also learned to put away lesser opponents, another important aspect of winning that was deficient at times during the previous four seasons.
Now move forward to 2008. The mistakes were corrected. The embarrassment of being mediocre for more than a decade was erased as the Crimson Tide won the SEC West for the first time since 1999. They made it back to the Promised Land: the SEC Championship game. But there was one minor problem.
That one problem was the fact that ‘Bama had nothing to base this game upon or relate to from any time under Coach Nick Saban. The learning experience had not occurred yet. And still, the Crimson Tide entered the Georgia Dome for the second time last season with confidence, a No. 1 national ranking, and half a quarter of football away from going on to the national championship game.
Now in college football, half a quarter can be an eternity, especially if you are playing Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators. Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, that game served as another learning experience in a very sobering manner.
Now, move forward to 2009. This team was suspect entering the season.
The preseason buzz was that Alabama had a talented defense, returning seven from the 2008 campaign, but the offense was questionable to say the least. Alabama would enter 2009 with a quarterback who had never started a college football game before, a true sophomore running back to carry the rock, and the loss of three offensive linemen, which included two All-Americans at the two most pivotal positions on the offensive line.
Through it all the Tide prevailed, used past experiences to find ways to win in close contests, and like the 2008 season, finished 12-0 and earned a trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta to face non other than the Florida Gators.
Now, one would think by this point in time ‘Bama could possibly face-off against someone different in the SEC’s biggest game. But, I’m not so sure they would want anything different than a rematch of last year’s epic battle.
Now, with history staring ‘Bama straight in the eyes again, I have donned my crimson shaded glasses to present the history lesson of the day, and foretell how I perceive this game will unfold Saturday afternoon. In doing so, I think there are three critical areas that will be in the Tide’s favor and help them move on to the national championship game.
Now, every sports fan knows that championships are won with defense. Many teams pride themselves in their offensive greatness. And I am not taking away from the offensive contributions by any means. But, in the end, a great defense will find a way to make a stop, force a turnover, fluster a quarterback into bad decisions, or all of the above.
I truly believe that ‘Bama has the kind of defense that could win it all.
Now, Florida has a great defense as well, and there is no doubt about it, but ‘Bama’s defense should matchup against Florida’s offense much better than they did last season.
The Tide displays a talented core of men who swarm to the ball, instigate brutal tackles, and step-up when the moment arises.
Now, as good as Brandon Spikes is, and as valuable as he is to Florida’s run at a SEC and national title, Rolando McClain is perhaps the smartest defensive player I can remember seeing in a long time at the college level.
Watch as McClain talks to teammates before every play, watch as he directs others where to go, and watch as he is the ultimate leader for the Crimson Tide.
He may not be in on every tackle, but I can guarantee that he has directed someone to the tackle or set the defense in motion to be in perfect position to make the stop. In fact, it has been reported that he has sufficient knowledge of Alabama’s defense to know where every player is supposed to be on every play, and what every player’s assignment must be to stop any offensive attack.
He is the ultimate defender in terms of preparing and basically serving as a coach and captain of this defense at all times.
The overall improvement from the Alabama defensive backs should match up much better than they did against this Gator offense from last year.
Terrance Cody seems to be even better this year at chasing down offensive attacks.
If you add in the depth and the multiple looks from this defense it could be just the difference in stopping the threat of Tim Tebow and the relentless attack from the Gators that was not present in last year’s contest.
Multiple Offensive Weapons
If there is anything different about this Tide offense that stands out to me from last season, it is the use of so many different weapons.
First, the Tide has implemented the Wild Cat formation into its attack, and that has proven to be very successful.
Mark Ingram scorched a very good South Carolina defense for nearly 250 yards on the ground, while much of it came from the Wild Cat formation.
Reverses, pitch-back quarterback passes, and many other options from the Wild Cat have allowed this offense to stretch the field a bit more than last year.
In 2008, we saw a team built on strength and hard-nose football. I believe Bear Bryant would have been proud of this workmanship effort we witnessed. There was nothing fancy, nothing that gave much allurement, just strength-on-strength with hopes that the stronger would prevail. That is not the case this year.
Don’t get me wrong, the strength is there, but the availability of tight ends, including Colin Peek, who has proven to be invaluable to this team, the multiple threats from receivers, and a true freshman at running back who literally runs over any defender in his way are just a few of the options that are presented with this offense.
In addition, the Tide’s quarterback play from Greg McElroy has gone beyond most expectations coming into this season. Last week, he directed Alabama to a fourth quarter, come-from-behind win over arch rival Auburn.
He has never lost a game as a starting quarterback on the high school or college level.
The Tide faithful know they have a winner at the quarterback position. They are just hoping two more “Ws” can be added to his and the Tide’s record books this season. That all begins with a tall order against one of the nation’s best defenses Saturday afternoon.
I am not one to beat a dead horse, but history, repeat of history, and making new history is written all over this game.
The Crimson Tide has never faced another opponent in the SEC Championship Game. In those contests, Alabama has won twice and lost four times.
As mentioned in the beginning, Alabama has done everything asked of them to learn from past mistakes, correct those mistakes, and prevail when the challenge is presented.
Florida has a knack for finding ways to be victorious as well, so nothing will come easy in this game, for either team.
The Gators have been in this position before, and know how to win. The question is do they know how to win against an Alabama team as balanced and strong-willed as this one?
Can Tim Tebow “will” his team to victory like last year’s contest? Or has ‘Bama learned from history and found a way to overcome repeated doom?
Prediction: No. 2 Alabama 23 No. 1 Florida 21
For more on what should be another classic game, check out what Michael Oleszek thinks from a Florida Gator perspective.
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