Offensive line paves the way for running game
ATLANTA | The tipping point came in the third quarter, sometime during the University of Alabama's seven-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that ended on the first play of the fourth. Either the second-ranked Crimson Tide was going to break the will of Georgia's defense or the Bulldogs were going to turn back Alabama and win the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
Right guard Anthony Steen looked tackle D.J. Fluker in the eye, and they knew.
"How bad," Steen asked his offensive line mate, "do you want to do it?"
Steen and Fluker joined center Barrett Jones, left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and left guard Chance Warmack to pave the way as UA got physical and wore out the Georgia Bulldogs. The pounding running attack set up the 45-yard AJ McCarron-to-Amari Cooper pass that proved to be the game-winner in Alabama's 32-28 victory.
Alabama's offensive line got mean and nasty against a strong, fast and hard-hitting Georgia defense. Alabama pounded out 350 yards on the ground, with Eddie Lacy rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 9.1 yards per carry, and T.J. Yeldon adding 153 yards and a score while gaining 6.1 yards per attempt.
The first sign of what Alabama's running game could do came in the second quarter, when Lacy sprinted 41 yards for a score, but it wasn't until Georgia went up 21-10 with 6:31 go to in the third period that the Crimson Tide turned the game over to the rushing attack.
Alabama had eight runs of 10 yards or more in the game's final 21 1/2 minutes of play. From the moment Steen and Fluker locked eyes, UA manhandled Georgia's 358-pound nose guard, John Jenkins, and star linebacker Jarvis Jones.
"We were just clicking," Steen said. "I guess Coach had decided to keep running until they stopped us. We had that long drive. It about broke me, it felt like. I couldn't breathe at one point, but we knew we weren't going to give up."
Fluker and Steen worked in tandem, double-teaming a defensive lineman before Steen would go looking for a linebacker to take out.
"D.J., all he had to do was hold them up and I'd come in there and hit them right in their side and we'd move them out 5 or 10 yards, and I'd move to the 'backer," Steen said. "Surprisingly, they didn't have an answer for it."
Nor did Georgia have an answer for UA tight end Michael Williams, who was able to slip to the second level of the Bulldogs' defense to seal block a linebacker or defensive back, allowing Lacy or Yeldon to get further downfield for big yards.
"We saw something on film," Williams said. "We felt like if we could get the right blocks on the back side we could crease them. We saw that they had a gap on the weak side and we felt like I could block the linebacker."
All that running, 19 rushing play calls out of 22 plays, set up the big strike on McCarron's pass to Cooper.
"I think it was a brilliant play," Kouandjio said. "I mean, we ran the ball for I don't know how many yards and then we decided to switch it up with the play action. They brought the safeties up and success came."
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.