Today’s SEC championship game went from an dull defensive struggle to a legitimate game of the year candidate. The Alabama Crimson Tide survived a late push from the Georgia Bulldogs that fell short inside the Crimson Tide 10 yard-line. Both team’s quarterbacks made big plays and it was Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron‘s touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with around three minutes to play that was the game-winner. However, the bulk of the work that had both teams grasping at victory was done by the running games. In particular, both teams freshman sensation running backs came up huge. Those men were T.J. Yeldon of the Crimson Tide and Todd Gurley of the Bulldogs.
Yeldon made his presence felt in the second half when the Crimson Tide dedicated the great majority of their play-calling to the running game. Eddie Lacy had an even bigger game for the Crimson Tide than Yeldon, but Yeldon’s runs were more of the grind-it-out variety, helped create longer drives for the Crimson Tide, and were also big gains. Yeldon’s biggest contribution to the Crimson Tide’s win was his only touchdown of the game, one that came late in the third quarter. Yeldon followed this up by converting the two-point conversion attempt himself.
These two plays were immeasurably huge for the Crimson Tide. At the time, the Crimson Tide were down by double-digits after Bulldogs touchdowns coming on offense and special teams (blocked field-goal returned for touchdown). Yeldon’s eight points cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-18. Not only that, but it really did appear that the Bulldogs were going to start pulling away after the blocked field-goal return TD. That was the kind of play that can demoralize a team, especially when it puts their opponent up by two scores. And when this happens, teams tend to fold.
Gurley didn’t have quite as big a game as Lacy or Yeldon, but he had a big game nevertheless. Gurley’s contribution to this game was primarily his scoring plays. Make no mistake, Gurley had plenty of good runs and a few decently big ones, but his two biggest runs were his two touchdowns.
Both of Gurley’s touchdowns put the Bulldogs ahead at different points in the game. He helped the Bulldogs open the second half strong by finishing their first drive of the half with a short touchdown run. That score put the Bulldogs up 14-10. In the fourth quarter, Gurley scored from 10 yards while dragging a few Crimson Tide defensive players with him. That score put the Bulldogs up 28-25 with just under 13 minutes to play. Gurley was able to produce good runs when the Bulldogs needed them and put points on the board when the Bulldogs needed to continue to score when the game became a back-and-forth scoring affair. Not to mention, Keith Marshall was a non-factor in the game, so if any Bulldogs running back was going to come up big, it had to be Gurley.
With both of these running backs being freshman, it’s hard to imagine that neither of these men will be the future of their respective team’s running attacks. So I’ll instead choose to stick with reality and that reality is that SEC football fans and viewers will be seeing a lot (and I mean a lot) more of these two men. After the performances these two had today, those fans and viewers should be thankful that these two have a year or two or even three of SEC football ahead of them.
And to those who don’t believe that SEC football, with all of the emphasis on rushing and defense, can’t be exciting, I defy you to say that after this conference championship game. Truly one for the ages and it was thanks in a large way to Yeldon and Gurley playing big in the biggest game of each man’s young football career.