What we learned: Alabama's line had Bryce Young's back against Georgia
ATLANTA — Days after taking a beating during a taxing win at Auburn, Bryce Young spoke confidently of an Alabama offensive line facing criticism from seemingly every other direction. Despite taking seven sacks during the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide quarterback expressed belief in his blockers, stating he had “all the trust in the world” in them heading into a matchup against the nation’s top defense in Georgia.
Saturday, the offensive line responded by having Young’s back, keeping him clean while paving the way to No. 3 Alabama’s 41-24 upset over No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
On paper, Saturday’s matchup figured to be a long night for Young. Alabama’s line was coming off a dismal performance against Auburn in which it allowed Young to be sacked seven times and hurried on eight more occasions. The Tide went into the SEC Championship game, allowing an average of 2.92 sacks per game. That didn’t bode well in a matchup against a Georgia defense entering the day tied for fifth nationally with 41 sacks over 12 games.
However, Young shouldn’t be feeling too many aches when he gets out of bed Sunday morning. Alabama didn’t allow a single sack against Georgia, allowing its sophomore quarterback the time to set an SEC Championship Game record with 461 total yards and four combined touchdowns. Young also set the SEC Championship Game record for passing yards with 421 as he completed 26 of 44 passes and threw for three touchdowns without an interception.
“I think the offensive line really answered the challenge that we put to them in terms of them being more physical in this game,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said.. “They probably prepared a little better than I've ever seen them all season long in terms of studying the guys they had to block and the things they had to do.”
Young, who earned MVP honors following the game, was equally impressed, attributing his success to the blocking he receive up front.
“That was everything,” Young said. “Obviously, that's a great front, a great defense, and we knew that coming in. I [the offensive line] they just kept hearing it and hearing it. Like Coach said, they accepted the challenge, and they really stepped up to the plate in the biggest moment in the season. All the success that we have offensively, it always starts up front.
“People try to only say negative things about offensive lines in general and about our O-line, but you don't understand that every time there's a positive play, whether it's the run game, the pass game, whatever it is, nothing starts without our O-line. They did an amazing job today. They stepped up to the plate. And I'm happy to have the guys that I do.”
Young all but locked up the Heisman
Following his dominating performance, Young wasn’t asked once about the Heisman Trophy. To be fair, questions weren’t needed. The sophomore quarterback spent four quarters answering them on the field.
The Heisman will be awarded next weekend in New York City, but Young almost certainly already etched his name on the hardware during his record-setting performance in Atlanta.
After Alabama’s stalled on its first two drives of the game, Young ignited the offense with a 67-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jameson Williams. From there, he led the Tide to five straight scoring possessions as Alabama turned a 10-point deficit into a two-touchdown lead early in the third quarter.
After starting the game 4 of 10, Young completed nine straight passes during the second quarter. He ended the first half by capping off a nine-play, 75-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to put Alabama up 24-17 at the break. Young’s three passes came on throws of 67, 13 and 55 yards. He completed seven passes of 20 or more yards on the night. Georgia had allowed just 21 such completions over 12 previous games this season.
“I think we all stepped up, and we all answered the bell,” Young said. “We all understood what was at stake. We all understood that we needed to step up. So I'm blessed to have the teammates I do, that when our back's kind of against the wall, we understand we need to have the type of situation, and we kind of got our spark and started moving.”
Young entered Saturday as the odds-on favorite for this year’s Heisman Trophy award. The four finalists for the award will be announced Monday. That quartet will be invited to New York City for the award ceremony. The Heisman Trophy winner will be announced on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN.
Defense forces Bennett blunders
The scouting report on Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett heading into Saturday’s matchup centered around his efficiency. The former walk-on didn’t enter the game with eye-popping numbers but did rank second in the nation with a 188.5 passer rating while eliminating crucial mistakes throughout the season.
Bennett passed for a career-high 340 yards while completing 29 of 48 passes and tossing three touchdowns against Alabama. However, he also threw two interceptions and was just 2 of 8 on third downs throws and 1 of 3 on fourth downs passes. Alabama wasn’t able to capitalize on Bennett’s first interception, but safety Jordan Battle made him pay for his second pick, returning it 42 yards for a touchdown to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
“I think the main thing in this game was our disguises,” Battle said. “We put in a lot of disguises this week. That was the big thing. Just have his eyes wandering around before the play. I think we did a good job on the back end and linebackers stemming and disguising. So I think that was a big part of the game.
Added Saban: “I think that you try to change the picture as much as you can and make the quarterback try to make decisions after he gets the ball in his hand. Stetson Bennett to me is very instinctive, very good player. If he knows what the picture is — and a couple times tonight when he knew what the picture was, that's when he made plays, and several big plays.
So I think us changing the picture on him a little bit helped. We have to play the ball better in the deep part of the field. We've had a couple of those the last couple of weeks that are things that we need to do better, but all in all, I think that was probably the one thing that helped it the most.”