In their regular-season finale, Missouri clinched their second straight SEC East Division title with a 21-14 home win over Arkansas, while Alabama closed out their regular season with a division-clinching 55-44 home win over Auburn.
This year’s SEC Championship features the two SEC teams with the best conference record over the past two seasons. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Alabama and Missouri are each 14-2 in regular season conference games.
Alabama Football is synonymous with excellence. The Crimson Tide have won 23 Southeastern Conference Championships and 15 National Championships. Under Coach Saban, Alabama has become the premier college football program in the country, with 2 SEC Championships and 3 BCS National Championships in the last five years. Since 2008, Alabama has won more football games (83-10) than any other FBS team. They are the gold standard of college football.
Earlier this week, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban talked about playing in the SEC Championship, a title that has proven for Coach Saban and Alabama more difficult to win than the National Championship.
“The SEC Championship game is a great opportunity for our players,” began Coach Saban. “It’s a great competitive venue, and one of the most exciting games that I’ve had an opportunity to compete and play in through the years, the few times that we’ve been able to get there. This is a special opportunity. Our conference is very difficult, so this is a pretty significant accomplishment to be in the game, as well as to have an opportunity to have success in a game like this.”
This year, Alabama is no different than in past years, although some have suggested that this year’s Alabama Crimson Tide is not as dominant as their 2009 undefeated National Championship team or their 1-loss 2011-2012 teams that won back-to-back National Championships.
“Alabama has a very good football team,” said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. “Nick Saban has done a great job with that program. Obviously, (Alabama) has high-level personnel. (Coach Saban) runs a program with attention to detail. They’re very well-coached. And, they’re an offensive team that has certainly a lot of talent, a very potent offensive team. They’re also obviously a very good defensive team. It’s a very, very good football team. They’re a very well-coached football team.”
This year, the Crimson Tide once again fields a big, fast, physical, and extremely talented defense. In conference games, Alabama (19.3 points/game) ranks third, behind Ole Miss (16.9 points/game) and Missouri (19.1 points/game), in scoring defense. In conference games, the Crimson Tide (341.8 yards/game, 4.63 yards/play) ranks second, behind Missouri (300.8 yards/game, 4.26 yards/play) in total defense. In conference games, Alabama (3.18 yards/carry, 122.38 rush yards/game) ranks second and third, respectively, in the two main rush defense statistical categories, behind Missouri (3.11 yards/carry, 115.00 rush yards/game) and Florida (3.27 yards/carry, 118.13 rush yards/game). And in conference games, the Tide ranks (6.2 yards/pass attempt) third, behind Missouri (5.5 yards/pass attempt) and Georgia (6.1 yards/pass attempt), and eighth (219.14 pass yards/game), behind Georgia (180.5 pass yards/game), Missouri (185.8 pass yards/game), and others, in pass defense.
Once again, Alabama features a sledgehammer-type running game, with a pair of big, fast, and physical NFL-type running backs, a big, physical, athletic offensive line, and an extremely mobile QB. And, if that’s not enough, the extremely mobile QB is one of the league’s more efficient passers, and he has, among other fast and very talented receivers, a Heisman Trophy candidate on the receiving end of nearly half his passes.
In conference games this year, Alabama averaged 33.3 points/game, 5th-best in the conference. In conference games, the Crimson Tide averaged 444.4 total yards/game and 6.36 yards/play, both 4th-best in the SEC. Alabama’s run game averaged 174.38 rush yards/game (6th in the SEC), and 4.51 yards/carry (4th in the SEC) in conference games. And in conference games this year, Alabama averaged 270.00 yards/game (3rd in the SEC), and 8.6 yards/pass attempt (2nd in the SEC) through the air.
Almost half of Alabama’s passing yardage goes through the Tide’s Heisman Candidate, 6’1” 210-pound junior WR Amari Cooper. He’s been good for 103 receptions for 1573 yards and 14 TDs, an average of 131.1 receiving yards/game.
“Amari Cooper is a great player,” said Coach Pinkel. “His numbers speak for themselves. He’s impressive to watch. They certainly do a great job of finding ways to get him the football. He has produced at a very high level when everyone knows they’re going to throw the ball to him…………………………………. I don’t know if there are too many corners by themselves that can even cover him…………………………………… You're not going to stop him. He's a great, great player. You try to limit the amount of damage he can do.”
Alabama runs a multiple, pro-style offense. This season, they’ve incorporated some up-tempo, fast-paced elements. As you can see by their offensive production, they’re a well-balanced offense. Their offensive line is very athletic, and averages over 6’5” and 315 pounds, although their starting left tackle, 6’6’ 323-pound freshman Cam Robinson, suffered a shoulder sprain last Saturday, and earlier this week, he was listed as day-to-day. But his back-up is probably another NFL prospect.
Earlier this week, Coach Pinkel pointed out that 6’0” 208-pound Alabama senior QB Blake Sims is a true dual threat.
“Sims is really athletic,” said Coach Pinkel. “He can run! And, he can really throw the football. They’re throwing the ball at a really high level. And, they also run the football well.”
Sims is such a good runner that earlier in his career at Alabama, he played running back. This season, he’s Alabama’s third-leading ball carrier, with 64 carries for 302 net yards (4.7 yards/carry) and 6 TDs on the ground. He’s only been sacked 11 times all year. Excluding his lost yardage due to sacks, Sims averages nearly 6 yards/carry. As a passer, he’s 207-328-7 (63.1%) for 2988 yards (9.1 yards/pass attempt) and 24 TDs, for a passer efficiency rating of 159.51.
The sledgehammers are 6’2” 221-pound junior RB T.J. Yeldon and 6’3’ 241-pound sophomore RB Derrick Henry. Yeldon has rushed for 885 yards and 8 TDs on 170 carries (5.2 yards/carry), while Henry has hammered out 754 yards and 8 TDs on 139 carries (5.4 yards/carry). Yeldon also has 15 receptions on the season for 180 yards and 1 TD. He’s Alabama’s 4th-leading receiver. Did I say that Alabama’s running backs are big and fast?
A big part of the Alabama running game is 6’1” 248-pound senior FB Jalston Fowler. He’s in there to block. He’s the real sledgehammer! Once in a while, they throw him a bone. On the season, Fowler has 11 carries for 67 yards, and 8 receptions for 102 yards and 2 TDs. He’s more of a blocking and receiving threat than he is a running threat. But, he does appear to enjoy cracking heads.
About once a game, Alabama throws the ball to their tight end. The two that play are 6’7’ 263-pound senior Brian Vogler, and 6’6” 240-pound sophomore O.J. Howard. Howard appears to be the receiving tight end, with 13 receptions for 226 yards.
Sims also occasionally throws the football to one of two other wide receivers, including 6’0” 192-pound senior DeAndrew White (33 receptions, 338 yards, 3 TDs), and 5’11” 187-pound senior Christion Jones (16 receptions, 224 yards). Jones is also a dangerous return man.
“Alabama has done a good job offensively,” explained Coach Pinkel. “They throw the ball more now. They have a great receiver, and they get the ball down field more. So you see that they can make a lot of big plays in the passing game. Their running backs are big players. You know, they’re 220-pound running backs, so it takes a toll. And, they’ve got a big offensive line…………………………………. They’re second in the league in passing right now, behind Texas A&M. They’re not just pounding the ball all the time. They’re really being more aggressive on offense.”
Alabama has the best punter in the conference, in 6’4” 185-pound freshman J.K. Scott, who is averaging 47.2 yards/punt. Over half of his punts have landed inside the 20-yard line.
Defensively, Alabama’s base defense is a 3-4 alignment, but in practice, their Jack (I guess because he’ll jack you up) LB, 6’3” 268-pound senior Xzavier Dickson usually lines up on the line of scrimmage and rushes the passer. He leads Alabama with his 10.5 TFLs, and his 8 sacks, and 6 QB hurries. Dickson’s back-up, 6’2” 258-pound sophomore Ryan Anderson, suffered a shoulder sprain last week, and his status for this Saturday is uncertain. He’s also an effective pass-rusher for the Tide, so he would be missed if he’s unable to play, or if he’s hampered by his injury. But, it is Alabama, and depth of talent is not an issue. They’ll just have to plug in some other future NFL player. No team in college football has the quality and depth of talent all over the field that Alabama does.
Alabama’s 3 other starting defensive linemen are also very productive, including 6’4’ 315-pound junior DE Jarran Reed (48 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 5 PBUs), 6’4” 320-pound sophomore NG A’Shawn Robinson (38 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3 QBHs, 2 PBUs), and 6’3” 272-pound Jonathan Allen (31 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 6 QBHs, 1 PBU).
Alabama has not just 1, but 2 or 3 outstanding players at every position. There are numerous future NFL players just waiting to get on the field. That’s also true of their LB positions, which includes 6’2” 154-pound junior WLB Reggie Ragland, an athletic and very physical player who is always around the football, and who leads the Tide with 86 tackles, to go along with 8.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBUs, a QBH, 1 forced fumble, and 3 fumbles recoveries. Alongside Raglan is 6’2” 250-pound senior MLB Trey DePriest, who on the season has 78 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 QBH, 2 PBUs, and a forced fumble.
The unquestioned leader of the Alabama defense is 6’0” 222-pound junior safety Landon Collins. He’s as big as a LB, and he hits like a train. He really likes to come up and force the run, or go head-hunting on screens, slants, and crossing routes. The Thorpe Award semifinalist is also a ball hawk, with 3 interceptions on the season to go along with his 6 PBUs, and 84 tackles.
He’s joined in the backfield by several quality defensive backs, including 6’1” 211-pound senior safety Nick Perry (71 tackles, 2 INTs, 4 PBUs, 1 QBH), 6’0” 197-pound junior safety Geno Smith (45 tackles), and 5’11” 194-pound junior corner Cyrus Jones (43 tackles, 2 INTs, 9 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles), among others. Jones is also a dangerous return man.
Great secondary play has consistently been a characteristic of former defensive back Nick Saban’s Alabama teams.
Earlier this week, Coach Saban talked about his team.
“I think this team has shown a tremendous resiliency all year long to make plays in critical times in games,” said Coach Saban. “They've always been able to overcome adversity, do the things they needed to do to be able to come out on top. I think that speaks a lot of the competitive character that the group has. I think offensively, we've probably been a little more consistent in the last few ballgames. Defensively, we haven't been quite as consistent. We'd like to get back to playing a little better defensively, continuing to build on what we've been able to accomplish offensively here in the last few weeks.”