For what it is worth, I would add the 1992 SEC title game to the short list (the first ever). It was decided by seven points, yes, but those seven were scored to break a 21-21 tie with around 3 minutes left, much like the other night. That game also sent Alabama to the title game with Miami and probably saved the championship game from being scrapped one game in. I would argue that the victory and Alabama's subsequent title ensured the game's future, which inevitably led to a huge SEC run and a playoff.
The best SEC Championship Game ever? Yeah, we think so. And if Saturday’s 32-28 Alabama win over Georgia wasn’t the single greatest SEC title bout in history, it has to rank awfully darn high.
There have only been two games closer in terms of the final score: Florida’s 24-23 win over Alabama in 1994 and Tennessee’s 30-29 win over Auburn in 1997. When it comes to national rankings, only the back-to-back #1 versus #2 matchups featuring Alabama and Florida in 2008 and 2009 have surpassed this year’s #2 versus #3 game.
So if you want to argue that the back-and-forth affair in Atlanta wasn’t the best SEC title contest in history, you’ve got a pretty short list of competitors to choose from.
With a playoff on the way season-after-next, we should be so lucky as to be treated to national semifinal games like the one the SEC staged on Saturday. There were questionable calls and momentum swings. There were emotional ebbs and flows. There career-defining performances and coaching decisions that will be talked about for ages.
And there were two teams on that field that could play with anyone in America on a given night.
Alabama was the winner, but Georgia was hardly a loser. We happen to believe that Notre Dame won’t be the pushover that many project when Bama arrives for January’s BCS Championship Game, but if we could dial up one more all-SEC rematch for the national crown, it’s hard to imagine too many folks saying, “Nah, I don’t want to see four more quarters of Alabama and Georgia beating the hell out of each other.”
It was riveting action. And it was a great way to wrap up the 2012 SEC regular season. Here’s our usual postgame, Monday breakdown…
Alabama 32, Georgia 28 in Atlanta – Video Highlights
Key Stat: 350 yards. That was Alabama’s rushing total for the night. After calling pass plays on 15 of its first 26 plays through its first five possessions, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier began to lean on the Tide’s run game. Smart move. Over the final 5:04 of the first half, Alabama ran for 109 yards on nine rushes (out of 11 total plays), scored a touchdown and added a field goal to grab a 10-7 halftime lead. To open the second half, Bama ran on 16 times of its first 22 snaps for 150 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion (also a running play).
As we wrote in our game preview on Friday, Georgia had to be stout against the run to win the game. For the year, the Bulldogs gave up about 45 more yards per game on the ground against league foes than Alabama had. That was a big gap. But UGA had improved down the stretch against Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn. To beat Bama, they were going to have to prove that their turnaround down the stretch was real and not just a product of playing teams with so-so offenses. Unfortunately for Georgia, 350 yards later and the Dawgs’ improvement against the run can be credited — at least in part — to their late-season SEC schedule.
* What does it say when Georgia freshman back Todd Gurley goes for 122 yards on 23 carries (a 5.3 yards-per-carry average) with two touchdowns… and he’s just the third best back on the field? TJ Yeldon carried 25 times for UA and tallied 153 yards and a score. But Eddie Lacy — oh, Eddie Lacy — did he ever pick the right time to have his best game? Lacy carried 20 times, gained 181 yards for a 9.1 yards-per-carry average, and tacked on two scores for good measure. Gurley and Yeldon deserve credit for having big nights. But Lacy had a night to tell his grandkids about someday.
* It’s time for Alabama to shore up its pass defense. Notre Dame is a team that leans on its defense. The Irish passing attack ranks just 75th in the nation (and those numbers didn’t come against SEC foes). But Brian Kelly got the Notre Dame job because the offense he put together at Cincinnati. Now he’ll have a month to break down tape and prepare for an Alabama secondary that’s hardly showing improvement. Tossing out the Crimson Tide’s games with Western Carolina (FCS foe) and Auburn (only 15 pass attempts), the last three true passers Bama has faced have had more success than any other passers who went against UA all year. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger had a passer rating of 147.67 against Bama. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel had a rating of 167.26. And Georgia’s Aaron Murray scored a 129.14 rating. No one else was over 106 for the entire season. With Bama’s defense, we’re picking nits to be sure. And Nick Saban will have a month to fix whatever weaknesses he thinks Kelly might try to attack. But if there’s an Alabama trouble spot it’s the pass defense. Had Georgia had another play or two on Saturday, that pass defense might’ve cost Bama a shot at back-to-back BCS titles.
* While the word “soft” no longer applies to Georgia after safety’s Shawn Williams fire-’em-up speech back in October, there’s no question the Bulldogs were more of the finesse team Saturday in the Georgia Dome. They wound up throwing the ball (34 times) more than they ran it (29 times). When Alabama started to lean on its ground game, UGA didn’t have an answer. Alabama ran the ball 51 times for 350 yards and owned the time of possession advantage 37:35 to 22:25. Georgia’s defense couldn’t get Bama off the field. Stuck on the field, the Dawgs defense wore down. The more it wore down, the more success UA had on the ground and the longer it stayed on the field. It was cycle the Bulldogs could not break. For that reason, from the mid-second quarter on, Georgia was the Titanic taking on water. Mark Richt’s team put up a valiant effort, but in the end, there was no way to stop the Crimson Tide that was pouring over and around UGA’s defensive bulkheads. And as is usually the case in SEC Championship Games, the tougher team with the harder edge won the game.