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Initial Impressions from the SEC Championship Game

Alabama is back where they belong in the conference pecking order.

NCAA Football: SEC Football Championship-Georgia at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Three weeks into the 2023 college football season, Alabama had suffered a loss at home to Texas and played an atrocious game on the road against a mediocre-at-best South Florida squad. The entire country had written them off, including many in their own fanbase. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was most commonly blamed for the calamity that the 2023 season would surely become. QB Jalen Milroe was said to be in over his head, and in fact would be a primary reason that Alabama couldn’t achieve its goals. Saban’s best defense in several years would go to waste thanks to an offense that could generously be described as inept.

That seems so long ago, doesn’t it?

That game yesterday started about as poorly as it could for Alabama fans. Georgia deferred and sandwiched two stops around a dominant looking touchdown drive, and at that point the game had the feeling of a coronation. Say what you will about this Alabama squad, but they simply do not quit. The defense stepped up to keep the Tide in the game while the offense found its way, and when all was said and done it was Alabama on the podium for the SEC Championship Celebration.

Many of Jalen Milroe’s warts showed up in this one. He took a couple of awful sacks due to holding the ball too long in one spot. His first pass of the game was tipped because he didn’t feel the rush and step up to throw the deep ball, and he had quite a few passes that missed the target, seemingly because he wasn’t fully trusting what he saw. The Georgia defense is stout, and that likely shook his confidence a bit. You can bet that Saban had drilled into him the importance of protecting the football in this one. It wasn’t his best game by far, but he did enough to be named MVP. He is the unquestioned leader of this team, and his attitude is infections.

Isaiah Bond, who happens to hail from Buford, GA which is less than an hour from Athens, is quickly becoming a breakout star. With no offense intended to Milroe, the main difference between Bond and former Alabama star Jaylen Waddle is the pinpoint passing ability of Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. That isn’t to say that Milroe is a terrible passer and he obviously offers the run threat that those two didn’t, but it just isn’t an offense that is conducive to a slot receiver putting up video game numbers. Still, Bond caught 5 balls for 79 of Milroe’s 192 passing yards on the afternoon. Four of those came on a critical touchdown drive to put the Tide up by two scores.

Alabama was able to find some room on the ground in this one. Roydell Williams was solid if unspectacular, finishing with 64 yards on 16 carries. Jamarion Miller didn’t have a great average, owing in large part to a big loss on a sweep, but he looked quite shifty out there and found the end zone on a gorgeous 28-yard wheel route. Milroe’s average also looks bad because the aforementioned sacks come out of his rushing number, but he made some critical plays with his legs including a long one on the final drive to convert a first down and all but salt the game away.

On the other side of the ball, I don’t know what was said after that opening drive from Georgia, but Saban needs to bottle it. The defense went from impotent to impenetrable in short order, and held Georgia down sufficiently for the offense to grab a 17-7 lead in the game. The run defense was stout, holding Georgia’s running backs to 80 yards on 23 carries, and that was the key in the game. Georgia usually dominates teams by getting the ground game going and setting up play action. Georgia had some success for sure, but they were held a full two yards below their season average of 7.25 yards per play.

Deontae Lawson and Dallas Turner were the stars of the front seven. Turner smoked Georgia left tackle Earnest Greene for a critical second half sack that you can expect to see on his NFL Draft reels in the spring. Turner made quite a few critical stops in the run game. After the first series, the Alabama defensive line managed to stand up the vaunted Georgia offensive line with regularity, even when Tim Keenan and Jaheim Oatis came out of the game.

Alabama’s secondary played an outstanding game as well, albeit against a banged up Georgia receiving corps. Kool Aid McKinstry left the game in concussion protocol, and Georgia went right after replacement Trey Amos. To his credit, Amos stepped up and gave up nothing. Caleb Downs continues to be the leader of the secondary and looks nothing like a freshman. He will be a joy to watch for the next two seasons.

Congratulations to Will Reichard for setting the all time NCAA scoring record. It was Georgia’s kicker who missed a long field goal attempt this time while Alabama’s kicker was nails. You have spoiled us, Will.

What will the committee do? Who knows?

This has been one of the most enjoyable seasons of the Saban era, no matter what. If they choose to put in a team with a 55th ranked strength of schedule, that has managed less than 450 yards in two games since starting QB Jordan Travis went down, over a team with the most top 15 and top 25 wins in the nation and the 5th toughest SOS, so be it. Alabama will likely face Ohio State in that instance, and we’ll be watching.

What a night. SEC Champions, folks.

Roll Tide.