As a college football fan, this SEC Championship game has to go down as one of the best games in SEC history. Saban said before the game it was going to be a 15-round heavyweight fight, and that’s exactly what we got, a true classic in every sense of the word. While the outcome still hurts, I have never been a prouder Bulldog in defeat than after last night. I said in my preview that I thought Alabama would make one more play that would end up as the difference, and that’s exactly what happened. I tip my cap to Alabama, but still it’s still great to be a Georgia Bulldog. Let’s get to the rundown.
What Went Well
The Dawgs went toe-to-toe with the best team in the country and had a chance to pull off a huge win. I believe there are a lot of things to build on entering bowl game preparation and next year from Saturday night.
Todd Gurley – #3 of Gurshall was a warrior last night against the nation’s best defense against the run. He rushed for over 120 yards with 2 TDs and ran with the same toughness we have become accustomed to over the past 12 games. While running backs seem to be out of favor for Heisman consideration now, I believe we are going to see young Mr. Gurley in New York at least once before his college career is over.
Alec Ogletree – #9 has been our best defensive player for the 2nd half of the season, and he seemed to be the only guy making plays close to the line of scrimmage last night. For a defense that didn’t have a lot to brag about last night, Ogletree probably continued to improve his draft stock assuming he decides to come out as expected.
Special Teams – With the exception of the long missed field goal which ended up as a game changer, the Dawgs won the special teams battle last night. Excellent kick coverage at least forced Alabama to drive the length of the field rather than giving up short fields. Lynch and Commings beautifully executed the fake punt leading to Rome’s touchdown. I really thought we were going to take control of the game after the field goal block, scoop, and score.
I really thought that the yards given up in the running game the last couple of weeks were a function of the offenses we faced. We found out that we weren’t strong enough up front to hold off the Alabama running game onslaught.
Inability to Kill the Clock – With about 7 minutes to go, we had an opportunity to get some first downs, run the clock and change field position. Instead, we went three and out, punted, and set up the Tide for the winning drive. We got into 3rd and 1, tried to pound Gurley between the tackles, and failed to get the 1st down. I would have liked to have seen Murray have an option there to give to Gurley, run the bootleg run-pass option, or a short pass to get the 1st down. This series was the only series of the game where I thought we played not to lose rather than playing to win.
Rushing Defense – I know this is just too easy, but after the 1st quarter, we generally got gashed the rest of the night. Alabama’s offensive line dominated the game, but we missed a lot of opportunities to limit Lacy and Yeldon. After the 2nd half of the LSU game last year, I thought we would play better up front against a team bent on running the ball.
Clock Management – We wasted one of our timeouts in the 2nd half with what appeared to be a defensive personnel grouping issue. We could have used that timeout either to stop the clock on Alabama’s last possession or on the goal line. I don’t know if spiking or not was the right call on the goal line, but it would have been great to have the extra 30-40 seconds to find out if we could have finished the drill.
Five yards away from a chance to win an SEC championship and play for a national championship – It was so close but yet so far.
Offense – A-. If someone told me we would put up 28 points against Alabama, I would have been packing the bags for Miami. Yes, I know we scored 7 off special teams, but the offense played well enough to win the game. We have been a quick strike offense all year long, and Saturday was no different. The problem was we really did need to be able to sustain some drives to keep our defense fresh and didn’t do it.
Defense – C. We couldn’t keep the pressure on for 60 minutes. I give a lot of the credit for that to the Alabama offensive line, but a proud defense should never be gashed like we were on Saturday night. With the exception of the two long passes to Cooper, we did a solid job against the Alabama passing game. I said before the game that our linebackers needed to be ready to fill holes and make sure tackles when the Tide’s offensive line got a hat on a hat. We didn’t do it effectively enough times to put the Tide’s offense behind the chains.
Coaching – B+. Coach Richt absolutely had the team ready to play and came out with an attitude of “we may not win but we’ll go down swinging.” Anyone who doesn’t think Richt can coach in a big game can jump on the bandwagon of other fan bases in the SEC. Bobo designed a game plan that was generally successful. Grantham appeared to have a day to forget last night with the beating that the defense took for the last 40 minutes of the game. I probably would have liked to have seen some run blitzing on early downs when it became apparent we weren’t going to hold up against Alabama’s professional offensive line.
Season in Review
11 wins and a division championship with a near miss to play for a crystal football has to be a really good season. This senior class leaves Athens with two division championships and wins over the Big 3 and Tennessee for two years running. After the thrashing in Columbia and the terrible defensive performance in Lexington, this team was left for dead going to Jacksonville. By the end of the season, this team validated itself as one of the best five in the country. I wrote last year after the LSU game that I believed the best was yet to come, and I still believe that to be true.
Offense – A
With the exception of one game and part of the 2nd quarter in Jacksonville, this offense shredded defenses, produced big play after big play, and will set season records that will be difficult to break. Aaron Murray played big all year long and became the leader everyone expected him to be. He is the glue that has held this team together. Many times, high profile running back recruits flame out under the pressure at Tailback U, but Gurshall has been everything we thought they would be and more. These guys are going to be fun to watch the next 2-3 years. The receivers and tight ends provided Murray with multiple targets even in the face of injuries to 2 DGDs, Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown. Most importantly, the offensive line grew up before our eyes after the South Carolina game. This unit goes from a weakness to strength in 2013 assuming no injuries and a good recruiting class this February.
Defense – B-
Poor performances until the Florida game bring this grade down dramatically. I understand we had to deal with multiple suspensions and nagging injuries to Jarvis Jones, but this unit had enough returning talent to excel with a weak early schedule and didn’t get it done. We played extremely well late in the season until Saturday night. With the number of players that will be selected in April’s draft, I would have to say that this unit underperformed for the season.
Special Teams – B
Special teams progressed from liability last year to neutral this year. The freshman kickers became strong performers by the end of the year. Collin Barber punted extremely well down the stretch and really limited the amount of punt return yards. Marshall Morgan became solid as the season progressed as performed as one would expect a freshman would in a high pressure, high profile position. He will be an asset for us the next 3 years. Overall, we appear to be correcting some of the issues, but I still think we need a member of the coaching staff to be responsible for coordinating our special teams effort.
Coaching – A-
Coach Richt appears to have righted the ship over the last two years and put the program back on solid footing. He deserves a raise and a contract extension to assure the stability of the program. His coordinators should be on people’s short list of candidates for head coaching jobs soon, but the question is will they give up a great working environment for the opportunity to lead a program. This group of working assistants is a great mix of X-and-O guys and recruiters. Richt’s key issue going forward is now how to go from “good to great” and maximizing the talent he is blessed with at a program like Georgia.
Overall – A-
It’s hard not to give this team anything but a grade starting with an A with 11 wins and an eyelash from playing for the national title. Debby Downers will think this grade is generous given the early season performance, the suspensions, and the South Carolina disaster. Disneys will think this is harsh given the record and how close we were. I believe it’s about right because we were the most talented team in the division, and I believe one of the five most talented teams in the country. It’s time to raise our game to meet Alabama, Florida, and LSU as the elite Big 4 in the SEC.
We should be pleasantly surprised to be in Orlando for New Year’s Day with a bowl game against a traditional blue blood in Nebraska. The Bulldog Nation needs to dust itself off and finish what would be an excellent season with a top 5 ranking and a renewed respect in the college football universe.
Those are my thoughts. I would like to read yours in the comments.