Even so, Alabama and Georgia provided the nation with what must stand as the most fiercely fought and harshly contested matchup in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game’s 20-year history.
Saban said the day before whoever won this one would have to punch all the way until the end of the 15th round. Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, Alabama took the victory 32-28, but if Georgia had had one more timeout, we may be talking about the Bulldogs facing Notre Dame for the national title instead of the Crimson Tide.
Fittingly, these two teams decided this one on the ground, with both front lines smashing into each other over and over.
Alabama and Georgia featured the top two quarterbacks nationally in passing efficiency, but with both defenses not giving anybody any time to throw, they let the running backs and their stout offensive lines carry the fight.
Afterward, as Alabama’s Australian noseguard Jesse Williams, who’s 6-foot-4 and full of muscles, limped to the locker room, assistant coach Lance Thompson asked him how he felt.
“Sore,” Williams said, with a brace on the right knee he hurt during the game.
We didn’t get a chance to see how Georgia defensive back Bacarri Rambo feels. It can’t be good.
As Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, the game’s most valuable player, ran down the sideline at one point, Rambo got in his way. Instead of letting himself get pushed out of bounds, Lacy lowered his shoulder and hammered into Rambo. Then to add insult to injury after Rambo got knocked to the ground, Lacy ran over him.
That Alabama and Georgia can play this style is why they made it this far. Sooner or later, you’ll have to play real, honest-to-goodness, physical football to win big nationally.
Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson called it “old-man football.” Richardson is sitting at home. And so are a lot of up-tempo, high-flying teams that forget if you play football, you have to hit somebody every once in a while.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said earlier in the day he respects the style of play SEC power teams use. That’s why the Irish run the ball, stop the run and play physical.
It’s a Southern birthright to hate Notre Dame, but geesh, Kelly’s team plays like an SEC squad. And that’s why Notre Dame made it to the national championship game.
Alabama nearly forgot its run-first roots Saturday. The Tide tried to hold off the Georgia pass rush and let AJ McCarron throw. That didn’t work as well.
It’s a little bit like a story Alabama athletics director Mal Moore used to tell, but in reverse. The way Moore told it, when he called plays for Bear Bryant, he had the Tide run three straight times on its first series one year against Ole Miss. Alabama didn’t make a first down.
Allegedly, with the sun shining brightly overhead, Bryant turned to Moore and asked him if the Tide could throw just once before the sun went down. Later in the game, Alabama completed a long pass, but Moore said he didn’t have the nerve to ask Bryant if that’s what he meant.
Do you think at one point Saturday night, Nick Saban asked his offensive coaches if they could run the ball just once?
When Alabama did, it worked and then some. In one 24-play stretch in the second half, the Tide ran 20 times and passed only four. That stretch produced three touchdowns.
This is what wins big in the Southeastern Conference, and a country full of couch potatoes got a real good look at it Saturday live from the Georgia Dome.