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SEC Championship 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Alabama and Missouri

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2014

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims (6) runs past Missouri defensive lineman Charles Harris (91) during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Jamie Martin)
Jamie Martin/Associated Press

Alabama dominated the 2014 SEC Championship Game, blowing past Missouri 42-13 while simultaneously punching a ticket to the inaugural College Football Playoff this January.

Alabama rode an outstanding quarterbacking performance by Blake Sims while exerting constant defensive pressure on Missouri's Maty Mauk.  Nick Saban, meanwhile, ties Steve Spurrier for the record for most SEC championships with five.

Here's the box score via NCAA.com.

Missouri Game Grades
PositionFirst Half GradeFinal Grade
Pass OffenseCB-
Run OffenseDF
Pass DefenseCC-
Run DefenseCD+
Special TeamsB+B+
CoachingC+C+
December 6, 2014

Missouri Pass Offense

Were you to look at nothing more than a box score, you might think Mauk had a pretty decent night against the Crimson Tide.  On one hand, he did.  But if you actually watched the game, you saw a quarterback scrambling for his life most of the evening, while occasionally finding wide receivers (in particular Jimmie Hunt) on prayers heaved downfield just before Mauk hit the sideline.

Jamie Martin/Associated Press

We'll give credit where credit is due: the Mauk-to-Hunt connection was impressive to watch.  But the protection offered by the offensive line is part of the passing game, too, and that was sorely lacking against the talented front seven from Tuscaloosa.

It's also worth noting that if you remove Hunt's numbers, there were just 103 receiving yards spread among four other Tigers.

Missouri Run Offense

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We didn't really expect the SEC's top rushing defense (92.7 yards allowed per game during the regular season) to give up a ton of yards, but Mizzou is a team that had been averaging 176 rushing yards per game.

The Tigers, who never led in the game, resorted to passing the ball early and often, after the Tide showed they were in no mood to allow much in the way of rushing success.  From the opening drive, Missouri was constantly faced with third-and-long, which amount to a Tigers run offense that had just 23 carries on the night.

By comparison, Alabama's Derrick Henry had 20 carries by himself, and the Tide as a team had 49 rush attempts.

Mizzou finished with just 41 rushing yards or 1.8 yards per attempt.  Establishing the run is an important step in any championship hunt, and the Tigers failed miserably in this regard.

Missouri Pass Defense

Giving up 262 yards and two scores is bad enough, but when that comes on a 23-of-27 performance by the opposing quarterback, you just want to throw up your hands.

Nothing the Missouri secondary did seemed to matter, although it's not like many people have been able to slow down the likes of Amari Cooper this season.  But it's the 101 yards on just four receptions given up to DeAndrew White that should annoy Mizzou fans.

Missouri spend a lot of time focusing on Cooper—not that it mattered, as Cooper still had 12 catches—to the detriment of the coverage on White.  Blake Sims is just too good and the Tide are too well-coached for any defense to get away with that.

Missouri Run Defense

John Bazemore/Associated Press

Missouri wasn't able to get to Sims much, and he is elusive enough that when the pressure did exist, he still made plays.  It also didn't help the Tigers' cause when the SEC's leading sacker, Shane Ray, was ejected in the first half for a late hit on Sims with a targeting foul tacked on.

While Mizzou didn't completely fall apart after Ray's departure, things certainly didn't improve against the pass.  It all resulted in the most yards (both rushing and total) that Missouri had given up all season long.

Missouri Special Teams

Sure, the special teams were pretty good for Missouri.  But when you lose 42-13, does it really matter that much?

In reality, Mizzou probable needed a spark or two from the special teams tonight, and that didn't happen.  We won't penalize guys for not carrying their team, but we're not going to shower an otherwise efficient special teams unit with praise for simply showing up and not screwing up.

Andrew Baggett was two-of-two on field goals, and Christian Brinser averaged 43.4 yards on his busy night of seven punts.

Missouri Coaching

Gary Pinkel and Nick Saban played football together at Kent State in the 1970s and even won a MAC championship together.  That familiarity showed at times, as Pinkel seemed to have the right offensive scheme dialed up at just the right moment.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

But calling the right play and executing the right play are two different things.  Mauk looked just a little off-target early on, and a drop by tight end Sean Culkin on Missouri's second drive resulted in a punt instead of a first down.

We'll even give Pinkel a great deal of credit for the adjustments Missouri made offensively at halftime, scoring the first 10 points of the second half while holding Alabama scoreless in the third quarter.  But as the game wore on, the athletes took over.

Alabama just has more of them than Missouri.

Alabama Game Grades
PositionFirst Half GradeFinal Grade
Pass OffenseA-A
Run OffenseB+A
Pass DefenseB+B+
Run DefenseA-A+
Special TeamsCB-
CoachingA-A
December 6, 2014

Alabama Pass Offense

SEC Network @SECNetwork

Blake Sims is your #SECChampionship Game MVP! Sims: 23-27, 262 pass yards, 2 TD. http://t.co/cu17IJuKRn

There's no other way to put this: Blake Sims was phenomenal.  Finishing 23-of-27 with 262 yards and two touchdowns is a successful night for any quarterback, but the fact that this came in a conference championship game is more than enough reason to award Sims the SEC Championship Game MVP award.

Sims was back to his old tricks, throwing strikes into coverage or scrambling away from pressure to pick up yards with his feet.  Sims finished with nine rushes for 19 yards, and only two or three of those were designed runs (plus one sack).

When people were wondering whether or not Sims was only being played because Saban was honoring Sims as a senior, we now wonder if Saban knew all along that he had an eventual championship game MVP on his hands.

Alabama Run Offense

Missouri doesn't typically give up a ton of rushing yards—unless the Tigers are playing in the SEC Championship Game.  While Alabama didn't quite have the 545-yard performance Auburn did a year ago, the Tide's 242 was still an impressive outing for the sixth-best rushing offense in the SEC this season (206.8 yards per game).

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 06:  Derrick Henry #27 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates their 42 to 13 win over the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 6, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

While T.J. Yeldon is certainly hailed as a premier back (and with two touchdowns on 14 carries with 47 yards, we certainly need to give him his due), tonight belonged to Derrick Henry.  This 6'3", 241-pound sophomore was deadly against Missouri, and his career-high 141 yards and two scores provided more than the nail in the coffin for the Tigers' SEC title hopes.  It provided the first shovel-full or two of dirt, too.

Henry was too big and (surprisingly) too fast for Missouri to adjust to most of the night.  Alabama fans should rightly be excited about not only his future in Tuscaloosa next season but what his presence can mean for the Tide moving into the College Football Playoff next month.

Alabama Pass Defense

We're going to split this breakdown into two parts.  First, there was the pressure the Alabama defensive line and blitzing personnel put on Mauk.

Mauk rarely looked comfortable in the pocket, and he spent most of his night running around the field, looking for open receivers while scrambling.  In fact, Mauk probably ran for more lateral yardage than any Tiger did for positive yardage.

Mauk was able, however, to find some open receivers downfield on what looked like desperation heave after desperation heave.  With that, we come to our second part of the pass defense.

Against Missouri, Mauk and a Tigers offense that averaged just 189.9 passing yards per game (11th in the SEC), the three-to-four-second coverage window given by the Alabama secondary was enough to keep Mizzou from really punishing the Tide.  

But against quarterbacks likely to be seen in the playoff this season (Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, for example), even the small windows left open by the Tide's secondary will be exploited.

Jimmie Hunt's six receptions for 169 yards should be a concern for the Alabama defensive coaching staff moving forward.

Alabama Run Defense

The performance was nothing short of excellent for the Bama run defense tonight.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 06:  A'Shawn Robinson #86 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after a stop against the Missouri Tigers in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 6, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

A'Shawn Robinson was all over the field, pressuring Mauk in the passing game and making big plays at or behind the line of scrimmage on run plays.

After teaching Missouri that running the football was futile pretty early on, the Tide maintained their dominance in the trenches, limiting Mizzou to just 41 rushing yards.  In fact, only two Tigers had more than one yard on the evening, and none had more than 21 yards.

That's what we call an A-plus performance.

Alabama Special Teams

Coaches are never going to be thrilled when a kicker misses a field goal, especially with Alabama's history of missing field goals in important games.

That being said, it's a little easier as a kicker to avoid the wrath of Saban on nights when your team wins by four touchdowns.

We also have to mention a potential momentum-shifting play deftly negated by punter JK Scott in the second half.  After dropping the snap, Scott quickly picked up the football and quick-kicked it away, avoiding the Missouri pressure (some of which was now coming from behind him).

Scott got the kick away for 33 yards, and it was downed at the Missouri 20—instead of giving the Tigers the ball on the plus side of midfield.

Alabama Coaching

All of the criticisms about Nick Saban have been said and debated for years now.  The only thing left to wonder is how many more championships this guy can possibly win.

Saban has now tied Steve Spurrier for the most number of SEC titles by a coach with five.  And unless Old Saint Nick is planning on retiring anytime soon, we're pretty confident that he'll have the record all to himself before long.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Nick Saban's greatest feat, however, is probably his ability to surround himself with some of the greatest assistants in the game.  Lane Kiffin, admittedly a failure as a head coach, is once again showing his genius as an assistant.  And even if Saban didn't have a world-class football brain trust around him, he would still probably come out on top.

Saban and his staff were able to withstand Pinkel's adjustments after halftime, and despite not scoring in the third quarter, Alabama never let the score get closer than eight points before pulling away in the fourth.

We're excited to see what new heights Saban can reach with the Crimson Tide, and we have a sneaking suspicion that it won't take us long to find out.

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter.

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