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Initial Impressions from the SEC Championship Game

Alabama 35, Georgia 28

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Georgia Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tough to find words to describe what we witnessed yesterday.

For about two minutes, it looked like Alabama was going to run Georgia out of the building. The defense stuffed two runs out of the gate and then sacked Jake Fromm to force a three and out, Jaylen Waddle made a dynamic return to set the Tide offense up inside the Georgia 30, and Damien Harris promptly bulled his way through the heart of the defense on a counter to set up 1st-and-goal from the 6.

Unfortunately, the next three plays would be something of a harbinger as Tua Tagovailoa, who has executed flawlessly all season, missed a throw on a RPO that he usually makes in his sleep before twice trying to do too much. The result was a sack when he had plenty of time to get rid of the ball, and a tweaked ankle for his trouble, followed by an interception.

That series set off a half of calamity that you just don’t see from a Nick Saban team. Tagovailoa’s accuracy was off, Irv Smith dropped a ball with no defender within five yards of him, and Tide receivers dropped three more passes that hit them right in the hands. The Tide were able to get some things done on the ground early, but the passing game was simply a wreck. The Tide also fumbled at least three times, but recovered each one including a very lucky one in the end zone.

Meanwhile, Jake Fromm was playing the game of his life. He consistently made accurate throws into tight coverage, and his receivers were catching them for him. The Tide’s lighter defensive front that is now built to stop the spread had a hard time holding up against Georgia’s power running, particularly with Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs playing at less than 100%. Jim Chaney had a great plan to attack the Tide’s weakest coverage defenders in the pass game as well. As a result, Alabama found itself down 14 points twice in the second half.

They say that the great teams find a way to win even on days when they don’t play their best and man, did these kids show some guts. Tua went down with an ankle injury with a little over 11 minutes to go and Alabama staring at a seven point deficit. From that point forward, it seemed that the veteran leaders on this team simply refused to lose. Jalen Hurts came off the bench and promptly ripped a 13-yard strike to Irv Smith for a first down, the first of four completions on his opening drive including a touchdown pass. Mind you, this is the same young man who managed only three completions in the entire first half against Georgia in January.

The Tide defense stepped up in a big way in the fourth quarter, forcing a punt and perhaps the most ill-advised fake punt call that you will ever see. Kirby Smart could see what was going on and made a desperation attempt, even with the score tied. He failed, Alabama got the ball near midfield with four minutes left, then Hurts completed two more passes for 35 yards before setting off tears across Alabama nation with an emphatic, redemptive rumble into the end zone to seal Georgia’s fate with a minute to play. It was a moment that no Crimson Tide fan will ever forget. Regardless of what happens going forward, Jalen Hurts has cemented his legacy as a fan favorite in Tuscaloosa.

Then, this happened on national TV.

Remember back in the fall when there was all of the controversy, and ESPN’s cameras showed two great friends competing while supporting one another? That wasn’t fake, folks. That is one special pair of young men, and we are all better for having observed them this season.

Besides Hurts, the offensive stars were Waddle and Josh Jacobs. Waddle pulled in four catches for 113 yards and a TD, while Jacobs ran eight times for a crazy 83 yards and two scores. Jacobs looks like a pro running back at this point considering his versatility. The offensive line did a fine job as a whole in this one. Tua got hit a fair amount, but there was generally time to throw. Without viewing the All-22, it’s tough to say whether Georgia’s coverage or the route combinations were more to blame for Tua having nowhere to go with the ball on many occasions. With sacks removed, the Tide averaged a robust 6.8 yards per carry on 26 tries against a stout Georgia defense. Of course, that leads one to question why they didn’t run the ball on the six yard line in the first quarter, but things worked out.

Defensively, Shyheim Carter stepped up in a big way. He has become a rock in that star position, and the ability to cover slot receivers will make him a lot of money in the NFL. The linebackers struggled in coverage again. If Alabama faces Oklahoma next, they will need to depend on taking away the diminutive Kyler Murray’s passing lanes by collapsing his pocket with tall defensive linemen lest he find a lot of room to throw in the middle of the field. Of course, Oklahoma’s terrible defense would have an even greater challenge against the Tide’s versatile attack. Hopefully the entire team is able to heal up, including Tua, and perhaps we even get Terrell Lewis back on the edge.

Alabama won’t run into any more ground and pound offenses like Georgia’s in the playoffs unless the Dawgs become the first two-loss team to be invited to the party. This should bode well for their chances moving forward. There will be time to talk about the playoffs, though. For now, sit back and savor what we just witnessed and be thankful: for this team, for this coach, and for these quarterbacks. That may have been our finest hour.

Roll Tide.