Sunday, December 06, 2009

Thoughts on the Elephant Stampede in the Georgia Dome

1. From the opening kickoff, the SEC Title Game reminded me of the January 1993 Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Miami. A Tide team with a dominant defense and a functional offense was going into the game as a slight underdog against a team from the Sunshine State that was the defending national champs on a long winning streak with a Heisman winner under center. As in 1993, Alabama started the game as the aggressor, the team that looked like it had more to play for. Behind a thumping running game and a suffocating defense, the Tide took a one-score lead into the locker room at halftime and then dominated the third quarter en route to an easy win. Alabama was a two-point conversion away from winning by the exact same score. If you closed your eyes, you could almost confuse Mark Ingram with Derrick Lassic. (No one will ever confuse Trent Richardson with Sherman Williams.) The major difference between the two games is that Bama won the national title against Miami despite the fact that Jay Barker piled up 18 yards passing and two picks in a performance reminiscent of Buck Belue's performance in the 1981 Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame. On Saturday, Greg McElroy comprehensively outplayed the Golden Child.

2. Has anyone else thought at times that Alabama played the wrong quarterback last year? McElroy has had some shaky games, but against Bama's two toughest opponents - Virginia Tech in the opener and Florida yesterday - he played at a level about which John Parker Wilson can only dream. He throws a nice ball (the touchdown pass to Colin Peek was a thing of beauty) and he made plays without taking bad risks. The runs that he had to extend drives were just gravy. After the SEC Championship Game last year, I thought that Alabama was going to have to get better scheme-wise on offense to match what Florida was doing, but that turned out to be wrong. Bama just needed better quarterback play.

3. I have no idea what happened to the Florida defense yesterday, other than a Herbstreit-ian "they got punched in the mouth and never responded" explanation. I expected Florida's offense to struggle because of their pass protection issues, their average receivers, and their quarterback's slowed decision-making process. I did not expect Florida's defense to get trampled underfoot. I did not expect to see Alabama run the ball with such success at Brandon Spikes & company. I did not expect the Gators to allow the Tide to convert 11 of 15 third downs. I did not expect Bama to average 13.3 yards every time they put the ball in the air. I wish I had an explanation. The best I can offer is that: (1) Bama looked more motivated (Florida has had an air of defending champs indifference this year that was masked by a relatively easy schedule); and (2) Bama's coaching staff spent weeks getting ready for this game and had Florida's tendencies down pat. You know, like when Charlie Strong likes to blitz a corner from the short side of the field.

4. Alabama is clearly a better team than Texas, as evidenced by the fact that Nick Saban doesn't turn into an imbecile in the final seconds of a conference championship game. The Tide are more tested and more balanced. That said, I worry a little about Bama's ability to sustain the level that they showed against Florida. Bama pointed to this game for a year. By October, it was clear that Alabama and Florida were going to play each other for the conference title and probably a trip to Pasadena. Now that the Crimson Tide have blown up the Death Star, how do they get up for an encore? Maybe I'm barking at shadows here. Maybe the combination of a month to prepare and Nick Saban reaming his team the moment a walk-on drops a cup of Gatorade in practice will ensure that Bama will bring its "A" game. Still, part of me remembers the absolute stinker that Ohio State laid in Glendale after they won a 1 versus 2 battle royale.

5. I have not yet seen it mentioned, so I'll just throw this out there: Alabama is 0-7-1 against Texas all-time. Bear Bryant was 0-3-1 against the Horns. Nick Saban will really etch himself into Crimson Tide lore if he does something that the Bear could not. And the Bama history buffs are going to have a field day with the Tide returning to Pasadena for a post-season game for the first time since 1945. Methinks that those people are going to have some fun the first time they belt out the lyrics to "Yea Alabama" in Southern California.

5a. The tradition, the uniforms, the fight songs, the venue, this is the perfect national title game...if not for my gnawing suspicion that the second-best team in the country will be playing in Glendale.