The SEC Championship Game that everyone thought would be a blowout did not defy expectations. After a full season in which the SEC West and SEC East lived in different worlds, the matchup of champions from the two divisions was as lopsided as it figured to be.
From the first drive of the game, Alabama came out and emphasized its strengths to impose its will on outmatched Missouri. Short, controlled passing from Blake Sims and the pounding running of Derrick Henry, complimented by the gashing change-of-pace forays of T.J. Yeldon, allowed the Tide to send a message out of the gate with a 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. What confidence Missouri may have had coming into the contest went out the window after this flawless drive.
Alabama followed its balanced offensive recipe and cruised to its third SEC championship in six years. Henry steamrolled the Missouri defense, as Lane Kiffin rode the hot hand. In six more carries, Henry averaged almost four more yards than Yeldon. The two backs give Kiffin a huge advantage in his play calling and an answer to the adjustments of Missouri’s defense.
In addition, Sims simply knows how to shine when the lights are brightest. When he was needed for a last-second drive against LSU, after a putrid performance in the first 59 minutes, Sims came up huge. When he was needed in the Iron Bowl, after throwing three interceptions, Sims rebounded and led the Tide to the victory. Then on Saturday, Sims just decided not to be forced into any adversity: he simply refused to struggle at all. Sims threw only four incomplete passes for the contest. With the experience he has gained over the season, Sims in primed to lead the Tide in its pursuit of the title. In fact, in this game against Missouri, Sims became the single-season touchdown leader at Alabama. That’s quite a strong campaign for a guy who came into the spring as the underdog to take the job.
While Alabama may line up with Florida State in a possible semifinal, a rock will seriously have to meet a hard place between Sims and Jameis Winston. Each of these signal callers just seem to get it done when it matters, willing their teams to victory.
The heavy load of confidence Sims carried in Atlanta on Saturday coincided with his reliance on Heisman candidate Amari Cooper. After dropping some key passes against LSU, Cooper has been a nice security blanket for Sims… more like a security tarp. While Cooper probably lost his shot at the Heisman with Marcus Mariota’s performance Friday night, the 12 grabs on Saturday and his knack for making big plays in big games also has to help make the Tide a favorite in January.
However, the season-long issues for Alabama were still present on Saturday. These flaws could prevent the Tide from taking home the title this year.
Glaring issue number one is the pass defense. While Maty Mauk would have struggled to hit water if he fell out of a boat, Alabama still allowed 272 yards through the air, including the Tigers’ only touchdown. Issues while defending the pass have crept up on the Tide in a big way the past few weeks and were still evident on Saturday, despite the final margin.
Additionally, special teams — particularly kicking — is a huge problem for the Tide. One would think that they could probably provide a scholarship for a quality kicker rather than fifth-string nose tackle. For the season, Adam Griffith is 12-for-18 kicking field goals — you know, just those kicks that win and lose close games. While field goal kicking is not something that can be changed at this point in the season, Nick Saban better hope that the season doesn’t come down to a three-point attempt.
With the strengths of the Tide, they will likely go into the playoff as a favorite. However, with each of the other three teams willing to easily air it out, Alabama could run into some struggles and be forced to outscore its opponents. This is not one of the team’s strengths.
Enjoy the win, Alabama… but not every offense looks like Missouri. The road only gets harder.
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