The NFL evaluation community smelled an upset brewing in the SEC title game, with Georgia boasting a star-studded roster featuring nearly as much talent as Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in the first clash between the SEC titans since 2008.
An opportunistic special-teams package that caught Alabama off-guard for three big plays, including a 55-yard blocked field-goal return by Alec Ogletree, combined with the explosive arm of QB Aaron Murray, who connected with Tavarres King on three big-play strikes, kept Georgia alive until the final play.
In a sensational second half that featured four lead changes, Murray took the field with 1:08 to play and 85 yards to go and drove downfield, setting up at the five-yard line for the game-winning TD. Instead, a pass intended for the endzone was tipped into the hands of Georgia WR Chris Conley, who couldn’t get out of bounds, and the Tide held on for a 32-28 win to earn another shot at the national title.
A powerful offensive line, led by senior OLG Chance Warmack and junior ORT D.J. Fluker, was the star of the game, paving the way for Alabama junior RB Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon. The bulldozing Lacy, who could be the third first-round runner the program has produced the past three drafts, plowed his way through a defense that knew what was coming and could not stop it.
Georgia standout OLB Jarvis Jones showed up big at the beginning of the game when he beat Fluker to the edge and stepped inside Lacy to strip-sack Tide junior QB AJ McCarron. When it came to defending the run, however, Jones could not handle the jumbo packages that Saban repeatedly used. Lacy (20-181-2) and Yeldon (25-153-1) gashed a soft run defense to the tune of 334 combined yards, breaking an SEC title-game record with the total.
McCarron made a costly game-changing error by forcing the ball into the endzone before the half. When the Tide needed a big play late in the fourth quarter, he connected with freshman Amari Cooper on very well-placed 45-yard TD strike that proved to be the difference in the game.
Alabama temporarily lost NG Jesse Williams to a knee injury after the half but he returned to the game and helped Saban control the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball as well.
• Florida State has been snake-bitten by injuries this season. First the Seminoles lost DE Brandon Jenkins in the season opener to a Lisfranc injury after a teammate stepped on his foot. His replacement, Tank Carradine, who collected 11 sacks, tore his ACL against Florida. FSU also lost speed back Chris Thompson to a torn ACL earlier in the year. The big, strong, explosive Carradine surged up draft boards with a stout senior showing and may be affected least by an injury that sources described as being clean. With a quick recovery, Carradine could potentially warrant late-first-round interest.
• Northern Illinois junior QB Jordan Lynch led the Huskies to their second consecutive MAC championship by rushing for 160 yards in a 44-37 double-overtime victory over Kent State. At a listed 6-0, 215 pounds, Lynch follows former MAC QBs Dan LeFevour and Chandler Harnish as resourceful system passers with limited pro traits.
• West Virginia junior WR Stedman Bailey is expected to declare for the NFL draft following the birth of his son, Stedman Bailey Jr. last month. He ran a limited route tree in college but consistently showed the ability to separate and has very natural hands — traits that could allow him to be drafted early.
• After being dismissed from LSU in August following multiple failed drug tests and an October arrest for possessing drug paraphernalia, former Tigers CB Tyrann Mathieu announced last week his intention to declare for the NFL draft. At a listed 5-9, 175 pounds, Mathieu possesses deficient size to hold up in the NFL. However, his instincts and feel for the game are exceptional and can allow him to become an impact nickel corner, a position that has become more important in the NFL with the proliferation of NFL passing games. He still could warrant looks as early as the second round, similar to Janoris Jenkins, given his playmaking skills.
• Wisconsin senior RB Montee Ball rushed 21-202-3 in the Big Ten title game to lead the Badgers to a 70-31 victory over Nebraska, He did it all, effectively taking the corner out of the “Wildcat” formation, running up the gut, spinning out of tackles and delivering a powerful stiff-arm to shuck Nebraska junior CB Ciante Evans to the ground on his second TD run as part of Wisconsin’s 539-yard rushing effort.
• Nursing a broken left (non-throwing) wrist and a noticeably sprained right ankle, Louisville sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater rallied the Cardinals to a 20-17 victory over Rutgers, after not starting the game. Bridgewater, who operated strictly out of the shotgun after barely being able to walk during the week, showed very good accuracy and touch in helping the Cardinals overcome an 11-point halftime deficit. He is one of the most underrated and toughest quarterbacking prospects in the country.