TUSCALOOSA — The most important Alabama player in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game?
You could make a case for Crimson Tide tight end Michael Williams, who mostly goes unnoticed by the crowd even though he stands 6-foot-6. Because he blocks so well, the senior has started for three straight years and played a lot off the bench as a freshman. The fact that he has 19 catches and three touchdowns this season is kind of a huge bonus.
On Saturday, he will draw one of his biggest assignments of the year: He could serve as Alabama’s key to slowing down Georgia pass-rushing terror, linebacker Jarvis Jones.
“It’s going to take a collective team effort to block him anyway, not just the backs and tight ends,” Williams said. “There’s going to be some guard help. There’s a lot of attention focused on him, so once we make our calls, we’ll see where the help is coming from, and I think we got a good game plan for him.”
Jones ranks fourth nationally with 10.5 sacks and has 30 quarterback pressures, which isn’t an official NCAA statistic.
Whether Jones gets the sack or not, Alabama doesn’t want him to affect Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, who ranks second in passing efficiency. Williams said he can see from film Jones has affected plenty of quarterbacks, even when he hasn’t dropped them for losses.
“His talent speaks for itself,” Williams said. “His stats speak for themselves. On film, he’s the first one that stands out because he’s the first line of defense. He comes through the hole and makes a lot of big plays on film, and it’s going to be a big task for us to stop him and also stop the rest of their defense.”
Alabama already has faced the guy who ranks first nationally in sacks. Western Kentucky defensive lineman Quanterus Smith has 13 this season, including three against Alabama. The Tide won 35-0 that day but gave up six sacks.
While Smith moves along the line a little, Georgia will move Jones from side to side. So in some cases, Williams could be on one side and Jones the other. In those situations, it could fall on somebody like running back Eddie Lacy to make certain Jones doesn’t punch his way through to McCarron.
“We just have to do what we have been doing all season long,” Lacy said. “There’s no difference in what we have to do.”
Williams said it’s a matter of accounting for Jones before every snap.
“They move him some,” Williams said. “It’s not as much as you would think, but he’s either going to be on the left or the right. It’s not like they’re trying to hide him. He’ll be on the left or the right. So we just have to ID it and make the calls and we’ll be very aware of where he is on the field.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said he doesn’t want just one guy having to block Jones. So no matter what kind of reputation Williams has as a blocker, Saban doesn’t want him matched up with Jones one-on-one all day.
“You certainly have to have a plan to help the players that have to block him so that hopefully he can’t just get in one-on-one situations where it’s a difficult circumstance for somebody,” Saban said. “That’s part of the planning that you need to do. There have been games this year where he has made a phenomenal amount of plays, whether it’s sacks, causing fumbles.
“The guy is probably one of the best defensive players in the country in terms of his playmaking ability.”