It's a bit late in the week for musings on the SEC Championship Game, but with the BCS Championship Game still one month away, I figure we have plenty of time to fully dissect the victory in Atlanta. With that in mind, here are a few random musings I had from watching the SEC Championship Game:
I found our defensive strategy pretty interesting. We had some blitz packages and mixed up our looks, as per usual, but it certainly seemed like our strategy was to make Florida throw the football vertically down the field against six or seven defenders in coverage. We wanted to take away the interior run and the short passing game, and from there we wanted to make Florida beat us by having Tebow sit back in the pocket and throw the football down the field into tight windows. That was a fairly different strategy than what we used last year in this game, and if nothing else the end result was a lot better.
- Florida ran their combo option / shovel pass play on the opening play of the game, and Eryk Anders chased down Hernandez from the backside to make the tackle for a minimal gain. Anders followed Hernandez the entire way and we were obviously prepared for such a play, but the interesting thing of it was that Florida never went back to that play the rest of the game. That really surprised me, especially given how successful that play has been for them the past couple of years.
- A large degree of Florida's lack of point production in this game can be traced back to three key offensive mistakes on the Gators' part, namely two costly drops and a terrible throw by Tebow. The first big mistake came on the opening drive when Jeff Demps dropped a pass out of the backfield that was destined for big yardage (Florida ultimately went three and out on that drive), and the second was Hernandez dropping a pass at the goal line after he left Cory Reamer in the dust (Florida had to settle for three points there). Finally, Tebow made a terrible throw on the interception to Arenas... it was an easy touchdown pass with the proper arc on the throw, and instead it ended up being the dagger through their hearts. I'm not saying Florida would have won had they capitalized on these three plays, but the game would have certainly been much closer.
- Speaking of that throw by Tebow... it's throws like that why he'll never be a legitimate NFL quarterback. Call him the greatest college player ever if you want, but he has a slow wind-up in his delivery and he doesn't throw the football vertically very well. You can get away with that, combined with the rest of the positive things he can do for you, when you are playing the SEC East, but the NFC East? That stuff doesn't fly up there. Tebow will probably be a first round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and he may be an outstanding player in some type of a hybrid role or at another position, but in terms of his potential as a traditional NFL quarterback, his prospects aren't much better than mine.
Only allowing 13 points to the Gators looks impressive on paper, but in all honesty we didn't exactly stop them, hence why they averaged almost seven yards per play. They are an elite offense and they had a lot of success against our defense. Fortunately, though, they shot themselves in the foot just enough at critical times, and our offense scored so many points that they were forced to push the envelope later in the game when they would have otherwise taken easy points. Combined, that kept them to only 13 points, despite the fact that they generally moved the ball well.
And speaking of that latter point, the game on Saturday reinforced the long-held notion that the best defense is a good offense. That was on display all afternoon in Atlanta.
I sincerely hope that Aaron Hernandez goes pro, and he's a fool if he doesn't. In terms of pure match-up issues, I think he probably gave us more issues than any other single skill position player we faced all year long. I hope he's playing somewhere in the NFL next year when the Gators make the trip to Tuscaloosa.
You know the corner blitz from Javier Arenas that we see all of the time? For whatever reason, I don't think we saw that a single time against Florida. Again, I think it was clear that we wanted to force Tebow to throw the football down the field into tight windows.
The play of the game... from P.J. Fitzgerald? If he doesn't make a great open field tackle on Brandon James, undoubtedly James will score and Florida will take a 10-9 lead and have all of the momentum despite 'Bama having controlled the first quarter. That play didn't get much attention, but it was absolutely critical.
As great of a player as Julio Jones is, I think it's clear at this point that it is in fact Marquis Maze that makes our passing game go. Jones is a great player in his own right, but he draws so much attention from opposing defenses that it really limits his production. He always draws the opposing team's best cornerback -- Joe Haden followed him around the Georgia Dome like he was his shadow -- and opposing defenses usually have either a linebacker or a safety giving assistance of some form to the corner. All in it all, it really just limits what he can feasibly do, and from there it is really all up to Maze -- who is usually isolated on the second or third corner -- to make plays. And notice that Maze's best games (Virginia Tech, Arkansas, LSU, and Florida) have been the best days for our passing game as well. I highly doubt that is a coincidence.
Brandon Spikes was absolutely abused in this game. Josh Bynes may have had a career day in the Iron Bowl, but we beat Spikes to a pulp in Atlanta. Far from the career day that I feared he may have, that was probably the worst performance of his collegiate career.
Could there possibly a more inconsistent player than Greg McElroy? I tell you, that guy has been all over the board this year. He has played perfect (Florida), extremely good (Arkansas), good (Virginia Tech), decent (Kentucky and LSU), poorly (Tennessee and Ole Miss), and ungodly terrible (South Carolina). Pretty much anywhere along the performance spectrum, McElroy has been there at some point throughout the year. In terms of variance, I don't think I can ever recall a 'Bama player who has been as all over the board as McElroy has this year.
Speaking of Greg McElroy's performance against Florida, if that was not the best performance of my lifetime by an Alabama quarterback, I don't know which one could legitimately be considered better. He played at an extremely high level against an elite defense, and made plays with both his arm and his feet. Personally, that was the best performance I have ever seen by an Alabama quarterback.
As a closing thought, could there ever be a bigger SEC Championship Game than this? Considering that both teams came in undefeated, #1 v. #2, and a rematch of last year's game, I really don't think you could ever have a bigger SEC Championship Game, even as a theoretical matter. Tim Brando mentioned something to that effect on the CBS broadcast Saturday afternoon, and I think he is right. For all intents and purposes, this is as big as it will ever get.