Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Roller-coaster season takes No. 8 Alabama to SEC championship against No. 1 Georgia

CW / Natalie Teat
Alabama running back Jase McClellan (#2) runs the ball against Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 25 in Auburn, Ala.

Tuscaloosa, the state of Alabama, and quite possibly the nation are still buzzing about fourth and 31, the “Gravedigger” and the Crimson Tide’s Iron Bowl victory. 

The Crimson Tide itself, though, is focused on what’s next: the SEC championship in Atlanta, where No. 8 Alabama will challenge the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs.  

“It’s over with,” quarterback Jalen Milroe said of the Iron Bowl. “That game is over with, and now it’s about refocusing and working on cleaning up some things from Auburn and then focusing on what the task is, which is today.” 

Head coach Nick Saban agrees, saying his team’s game against the Auburn Tigers showed a lot of room for improvement even though Alabama walked away with the win.  

“I think sometimes when you win and don’t play like you’d like to have played, players aren’t as interested in the why do we have to make these corrections, why is this so important,” Saban said. “You have to have a certain maturity about you as a competitor to understand that there’s lessons to be learned when you win as well as when you lose.” 

Thankfully, this has been in practice all season. Although Alabama has improved a lot since its one loss against Texas, the Crimson Tide has learned just as much from its victories. Close wins over South Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M left Saban searching for a Crimson Tide team that could play a full 60 minutes of football. 

Game-long effort was just one struggle Alabama faced this year. The team’s 11-1 record doesn’t reveal just what a roller coaster this season has been. Starting the season in the midst of a quarterback battle, begging the offensive line to defend whichever quarterback won the job, and staving off a multitude of penalties all plagued the Crimson Tide all year.  

The Alabama team facing off against Georgia in Atlanta this weekend is not the same team it was at the beginning of the season, maybe not even the same one it was a month ago. 

Saban says the offense being more confident, especially with the presence of Milroe, has been a huge factor. 

“The transformation of Jalen Milroe at quarterback, to be productive, has been huge in terms of elevating the confidence of the entire offensive team,” Saban said. “The improvement in the offensive line has helped us be able to have a little better balance in the game.” 

Despite not being the starting quarterback in August, Milroe’s growth as both QB1 and as a leader has transformed the team. His four rushing touchdowns against LSU set a school record, and his pinpoint passing accuracy to win the Iron Bowl laid many doubts to rest.  

To say it’s just him, though, would be an injustice. The Alabama offensive line has made huge strides since the beginning of the season. In the first six games of the season, it allowed an average of 4.33 sacks per game, with a season-high six against Texas A&M. In the second half of the season, the offensive line allowed half that, just 2.17 per game.  

Linebacker Deontae Lawson said he’s noticed the difference.  

“I think the communication got a lot better,” Lawson said. “That was a big thing for them with some new guys that we had that had to step up. I think that’s just the big thing for them, just being able to communicate, and they’re doing that at an elite level right now.” 

The offensive line and the rest of the offense will need to stay impressive. The Georgia defense ranks No. 9 in the country with an average of only 294 yards allowed per game. Defensive back Tykee Smith is at the top of the SEC with four interceptions on the season.  

As for the Bulldog offense, it’s just as intimidating. Quarterback Carson Beck is second in the SEC in passing yards with 3,495, just behind LSU’s Heisman contender Jayden Daniels.  

Saban said Beck will be tough to go up against.  

“He [Beck] doesn’t make very many bad reads,” Saban said. “He throws the ball in the right place. He’s very accurate with the ball. He throws it on time. He understands their offense very, very well. Executes the play that’s called and distributes the call correctly, almost flawlessly.” 

Behind Beck and the rest of the Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is hoping for his first SEC championship victory against Alabama and Saban. Right now, he’s 0-2, and the Bulldogs are 0-3 against the Crimson Tide when they compete for the SEC title.  

“They’re hard to win,” Smart said. “You better appreciate ’em. They’re really hard to do. So I have an appreciation for winning a conference championship. It’s hard.” 

Alabama and Georgia face off in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT. The game will broadcast on CBS.  

“We all know this is a big game,” Lawson said. “This is championship week. This is one of our goals that we had coming up for the season. This is something you dream of as a kid.” 

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