Two Games to Glory: Alabama wins the SEC Championship

Sean Landry

ATLANTA | For the second time in three years, Alabama is the champion of the Southeastern Conference. For the sixth time since 2009, Alabama is the victor in the Georgia Dome.

The Crimson Tide opened the 2014 SEC Championship with a 68-yard, 10 play, three and a half minute drive to put the top-ranked team in the country up 7-0, giving No. 1 Alabama a lead it would carry from wire to wire, eventually beating No. 16 Missouri 42- 13. 

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been so anxious to want to win a game for a group of guys that did a phenomenal job all day long, are working to improve, overcoming adversity, did a great job with their competitive character in some really tough circumstances,” Alabama coach Nick Saban. “I’ve backed them when I needed to back them, and I booted them in the butt when we needed to boot them in the butt, but they’ve always responded the right way. I’ve never wanted a group to have a chance to be successful in a game as I did tonight in winning the SEC Championship. “

With his family looking on, Gainesville, Georgia native Blake Sims led the Crimson

Tide in an offensive rampage, racking up 504 yards at an average rate of 6.6 yards per play. On the first drive, Alabama picked up 10 first downs and didn’t face a third down. All told, Sims passed for 262 yards on 23-of-27 passing.

“It’s a great feeling. I did it for myself, for my family and I also did it for my friends in Gainesville and the teaching staff there and pretty much the whole city of Gainesville,” Sims said. “I did it for them and I’m glad to bring a championship home.”

Sims’ performance made him the Alabama all-time single-season leader in passing yards, passing AJ McCarron’s mark of 3,063, set in 2013. Sims also set records for consecutive completions in an SEC Championship at 10 and completion percentage at 85.2 percent.

“Blake was phenomenal, man,” receiver DeAndrew White said “He did a good job being a leader and stepping up when we needed him to.”

Receiver Amari Cooper’s performance also rewrote the record books, a regular occurrence at this stage for the Biletnikoff Award finalist. Cooper finished with 12 catches for 83 yards, giving him the SEC records for receptions in a season (115, breaking Jordan Matthews’ record of 112, set in 2013) and receptions in an SEC Championship Game (12, breaking Reidel Anthony’s record of 11, set in 1996).

“I wanted to do great things on the field. I think I could have gotten more out of my catches today,” Cooper said. “Overall, I’m just happy that we won this game and will be able to play and compete for a national championship.”

For weeks, defenses have treated Cooper like any other receiver, not making any concessions for the top wide receiver in the nation. Sims said Missouri paid special attention to Cooper, building its defense around him, which opened the field for strong performances from Christion Jones and White, who picked up a touchdown each.

“I was just glad I could put my team up by 14 points,” White said of his four-catch, 101-yard game. “I was just feeling it, feeling real healthy. I’ve been hurt all season, so I was feeling pretty healthy this game.”

Alabama’s running backs contributed four of the team’s six touchdowns, with two each going to T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Henry picked up 141 yards on 20 carries, setting a new career-high for yards and equalling his career high in touchdowns and carries.

““I think in the second half, we start really running the ball and opening up holes for T.J. and Derrick,” center Ryan Kelly said. “That’s the bread and butter of this offense, you know, run the ball downhill. If we can do that in the fourth quarter, that’s when we finish people off.”

Despite eventually falling by 29 points, Missouri was able to stay competitive until the third quarter, largely on the strength of its passing game. Quarterback Maty Mauk picked up 272 yards passing, including a handful of long, desperate completions thrown on the run.

“It’s very tough because you know as soon as he throws the ball in the air you could be out leveraged and you don’t know where the ball is at so you just try to come down with it and play the ball wherever it’s at,” safety Landon Collins said. “It’s the hardest thing to defend when the ball is just shot in the air.”

Missouri wasn’t able to gain much ground in the running game, accumulating only 41 yards on 23 carries. The Tigers’ offensive line was highly rated coming into the game, but Alabama was able to pick up six tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hurries.

“Coach challenged these guys up front this week,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “[Missouri] likes to run a lot of zone and they always back off a little bit on the run. We had to come out and be physical up front and we had to push. Coach put a challenge on them and they did the challenge. They did it very well.”

On the first day of January, Alabama will play in the inaugural College Football Playoff. For now, the Crimson Tide is celebrating another season on top of the most dominant conference in college football.

“It means everything,” Jones said. “We’re SEC Champions. We fought for this, even with the loss to Ole Miss. That’s tough, for you to have a loss in your conference and still be able to pull together and fight and be able to win.”

Alabama’s final playoff seed will be announced tomorrow on the College Football Playoff Selection Show at 11:45 a.m. on ESPN.