Every single year we learn that defense wins championships in the SEC. Not long ago I wrote an article about Georgia struggling on defense. They had no problems outscoring teams but eventually there was going to be a game in which the defense needed to take over. That game was Saturday, October 12th, 2013. The Missouri Tigers came to Athens, Georgia and the Bulldogs were decimated with injuries. Most of the skills players on offense were hurt and the team needed the defense to step up big. When playing in the SEC there are going to be games when the offense struggles. It is just the nature of the beast. Early in this game it was quite obvious that Georgia was going to be challenged by the Missouri Tigers.
Georgia vs Missouri 2013
Like many of the Georgia games in the early part of 2013 the Missouri game was high scoring. Unfortunately, the high scoring was in favor of the Tigers and not the Bulldogs. The Missouri Tigers were up 28-10 at halftime and Georgia QB Aaron Murray was struggling without his regular offensive weapons. As the second half opened the Georgia coaching staff recognized they needed to get on the scoreboard quickly. At one point in the second half Georgia had trimmed the lead to 28-26. They went for a two point conversation and ended up failing. Down just two points most Georgia fans felt good about the possibility of a win as Aaron Murray has been very good in the 4th quarter this year.
With less than seven minutes to go in the 4th quarter Georgia got the ball back down eight points. With this being a one possession game many fans expected Aaron Murray to lead his team down the field to score the final touchdown and two point conversion to tie the game. That did not happen. Murray was flushed from the pocket and threw an interception. This basically sealed the deal and Georgia went on to lose. Their top 10 ranking has been relinquished and their national title hopes are gone. Most feel as if they do not have a chance to win the SEC East either. That remains to be seen. What this Georgia vs Missouri game told us was that any team that wants to compete for an SEC championship needs a defense that can win games.
Running the Ball in the SEC
The Georgia Bulldogs also struggled to run the ball against the Missouri Tigers in their loss. Having the inability to run the ball and stop the other team is a recipe for disaster in the SEC. Most of the past champions were teams that were very physical. Even though they could throw the ball when they really needed they could still line up and get two yards when on the goal line. With the new age, fast paced offenses out there I have seen a few teams that can’t line up on third and one and run for the first down. This is something that just won’t fly in the SEC.
There are some conferences that can be won by throwing the ball all over the field, but that is not the SEC. Southern football is a little bit different. Stadiums in the SEC get very loud so the opposing teams struggle to call plays that involve lots of patterns and intricate passing routes. When a team is at home it is much easier because the crowd is silent when the home team has the ball. When you head on the road it is a much different atmosphere. Some teams try to simulate the loud stadiums with noise at practice but nothing compares to a Saturday night in Baton Rouge or other SEC university towns.
Over the last few decades most people that have watched SEC football on Saturday afternoon on CBS Sports know that running the ball is important. When they do the graphics at the beginning of the games one of the keys to the game is always controlling the line of scrimmage. Even though Texas A&M and Missouri have come into the conference and have thrown the ball they have yet to win a conference championship. Many people can put up the stats but when it comes to winning the SEC Championship you’d better be able to run the ball well. This is why I have always said that the best teams run the ball and stop the run. Even if their QB is having a bad day they can still win the game. This does not happen with teams like Texas A&M and Georgia.
Alabama Continues to Dominate
Week in and week out we hear about teams that could challenge Alabama for the SEC and BCS Championship. Alabama keeps winning and the contenders keep dropping. This past weekend it was Stanford and Georgia. There were experts that thought Stanford was physical enough to play with some of the SEC teams. Then they go out and lose to an unranked Utah team. That is no disrespect to Utah as they are a good team but they did lose to UCLA at home. It is not like Utah is the creme of the crop on the west coast. We all know what happened to Georgia which means they will not get to play Alabama in the SEC Championship game again this year.
Nick Saban has built a powerhouse in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It is amazing to see how consistent this team is. They can dominate the line of scrimmage which means they can win games ugly or they can win a shootout. This year they beat Texas A&M 49-42 and they beat Ole Miss 26-0. There are not many teams in the country that can play several different styles of football. Ultimately, Alabama would love to play physical football and beat their opponent into submission. This is what they have done in three of the last few national championship games. If teams from other conferences play Alabama in the BCS National Championship game they learn what the SEC is all about – physical football.
It is so very hard to win every week in college football. I have repeatedly said that college football has the best regular season as everything is on the line. With the pressure building there are many 18 to 22 year olds that would crack. Whatever Nick Saban is telling these kids is working. It is shocking to see them dominate the way they do. Once you are the best there is no way to go up. Keeping any young man grounded is difficult and Saban has to do it with individuals that have been the best their entire college career. Whatever psychology books he is reading I would strongly suggest other coaches check them out from their university’s library.
Defense Will Always Win SEC Championships
Many of my friends feel as if Oregon or Clemson could go into the SEC and win because of the different style offenses they run. I couldn’t disagree more. These teams have had the opportunity to play SEC opponents in big games and they have lost. I know that every year is different but to be the best you have to beat the best. When Oregon or Clemson can win a BCS bowl game against an SEC team they will have an argument to be made. Make a note that the ChickFilA Bowl does not count. It needs to be a big time bowl game in which the SEC will be prepared to play. Some of these lesser bowls are not all that important to an SEC team that could be vying for a national championship.
When looking at recruiting rankings the first position I look at is the defensive line. Almost every single year Alabama, LSU and Florida dominate defensive line recruiting. It comes as no surprise that these are the teams that end up winning the most SEC games by the end of the year. Every once in awhile a Texas A&M or South Carolina will sneak into the SEC Championship game but they are not consistent. If you want to know who is going to be in the top 10 in college football in the next few years just look at the defensive line recruiting rankings. There is a very good reason a defensive line can dominate a game.
Not only can the defensive line stop the run but they can completely disrupt the passing game of the opposition. Strong defensive tackles to go along with fast defensive ends works magic in college football. We have seen this from LSU for many years. The defensive ends get up the field while the defensive tackles clog up the middle. The quarterback of the opposition has to worry about getting hit on every play and he starts looking at the pass rush rather than looking downfield. This is exactly what happened to senior quarterback Aaron Murray in the Missouri at Georgia game and we saw the outcome. If you hope your favorite team has conference championship aspirations in the near future just check out the defensive linemen they are recruiting and developing.