Revisiting three questions for second-ranked Alabama following its 32-28 win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Of AJ McCarron's 162 passing yards, Amari Cooper hauled in 127 yards worth.
Are these Dawgs capable of handling the moment?
TRips Friday: While making the sports talk and message board rounds this week, I had a Georgia fan ask me who I would take if I needed a score with less than two minutes remaining in the game: AJ McCarron or Aaron Murray?
It wasn't that the guy asked the question, because given the likelihood for a tight game in a championship setting, it's a potential scenario that may very well play out on the field Saturday.
Instead, it was the manner in which the question was was asked, as if Murray had been there and done that and McCarron was the guy looking to exorcise some big-game demons.
While I'm not among those who believe Murray will melt under the bright lights of the Georgia Dome on Saturday, I did take a second to fill the questioner in on McCarron's offensive most valuable player performance in the BCS National Championship Game.
I mean, it happened way back in January, so it's understandable how one might forget.
For anyone else who has been on an offshore rig since Halloween, McCarron also engineered a game-winning drive in Baton Rouge earlier in the month. And while it came in defeat, McCarron did pass for 201 yards in the fourth quarter of the Texas A&M game.
In other words, it's not like the guy has a track record of going fetal when oxygen becomes a precious commodity.
The way the question was posed was symbolic of a theme we've seen and heard from the UGA contingent since, oh, 2008 or so. Outwardly, at least, the Red and Black feel very good about their chances against Alabama.
And given that the Bulldogs head to Atlanta on the strength of four straight blowout wins, they're optimism is somewhat justified. But here's what I've yet to figure out: Is UGA really that confident or are they just trying to talk themselves into it?
If not for the time I spent on the field during the pregame of the 2008 Alabama-Georgia game in Athens, I'd probably lean toward the latter.
I still recall the distinct difference in how the two teams went about their business that night. The Bulldogs, full of the kind of swagger that comes standard with the nation's No. 3 ranking, seemed more interested in their highly-publicized black jerseys and playing to their fans.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the field, Alabama went through its paces with the efficiency and focus of Seal Team Six. Again, this was before the game even started, but considering that it was all over shortly after warmups, in retrospect, it was telling.
As for this week, expect more of the same, with UGA doing plenty of woofing during the early stages of the game. The key for Alabama will be to resist the urge to engage the Bulldogs in the kind of garbage that has become a staple of the Florida-Georgia rivalry.
For Alabama, the recipe remains the same: Play clean, take care of the football and find out just how confident the latest challenger to the throne really is.
After all, this won't be the first time the Crimson Tide has heard Georgia talk the talk. Now, with the stakes at a thirty-year high for Mark Richt's team, we'll find out if his Bulldogs are finally capable of walking the walk.
TRips Sunday: On one of the wildest evenings Atlanta's big top has ever seen, the final six minutes of the game just had to come down to the quarterbacks, right?
For McCarron, who took advantage of a UGA secondary whose assistance against an Alabama ground attack that broke its own championship game rushing record was required, it ended with another memorable fourth-quarter scoring pass in another memorable win.
While the game-winning 45-yarder to Amari Cooper had more to do with the play of five offensive linemen, two tight ends and a pair of running backs over a punishing span of four second-half series, give the passing game credit for capitalizing on an opportunity the running game teed up for McCooper.
For Murray, it ended with the junior five yards away from an SEC title; a spot in the BCS National Championship Game; and the kind of satisfaction that comes from being able to give your detractors the middle finger.
Undoubtedly, some Georgia fans will roast the junior in the coming days for not being able to get it done against Alabama. They'll harp on his interception late in the first half that led to a UA field goal and, after watching precious seconds slip away on the Dawgs' final drive, they'll question his clock management skills, although it appeared as if his desire to spike the ball was squelched by the UGA coaching staff.
That's the life of a starting quarterback in the SEC. And from that standpoint, Murray has done more living than even he would have liked.
While Murray and freshman running back Todd Gurley feasted at times on the UA defense, don't buy the "Alabama got outplayed" talk you'll likely hear in the coming days.
There's no arguing that the Crimson Tide was outplayed in the kicking game. But when one team rushes for 350 yards and the other goes for 113 yards, chances are the former is going to be the one shaking hands with Mike Slive at the trophy presentation.
Ultimately, beating Georgia required Alabama overcoming itself as much as anything else. While the box score showed two turnovers for the Crimson Tide, factor in a successful UA punt fake that was negated by a delay of game penalty; a successful UGA punt fake (against a punt safe defense following a timeout, no less); and a blocked field goal attempt that went the other way for a Georgia score and the number felt more like five.
To its credit, the Crimson Tide did what champions do; it overcame everything itself and its opponent put in front of it. Alabama wasn't the best team in the country this week, but it was just good enough that it will now get to find out if it might be.
Which offense will win the balancing act?
TRips Friday: Given that Georgia's offensive chain of command consists of two former quarterbacks (Richt and Mike Bobo) playing the game through Murray, the Bulldogs' renewed commitment to the running game has been fascinating to watch.
Of course, it's easier to dial up runs when a couple of dynamic freshmen -- Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- actually live up to the hype, something a long list of previous UGA backs failed to do.
Still, some coaches, like some players, aren't immune to the big-game adrenaline rush. Will Bobo stick with the run if it isn't there early or will he revert to his pass-happy ways, asking Murray to shoulder the load while working behind an average offensive line and without two of his most productive receivers?
For Alabama, the question isn't so much if the Crimson Tide will stick with the run as it is how it will go about establishing it. Pass early to run late or the other way around?
Given the scores of its last two games, it seems appropriate that 49-0 is the key stat for the Crimson Tide this week. In addition to serving as the final score for the Western Carolina and Auburn games, should the Crimson Tide get a win while rushing for 150 yards or more this week it would represent its record under Nick Saban since 2008 when rushing for a hundred and a half.
In winning those 48 games, Alabama reached the magic number in a variety of ways. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how the Crimson Tide running game gets there just so long as it does.
TRips Sunday: For a while there, it looked as if 48-0 was on its way to becoming 48-1. Alabama was self-destructive enough for two and a half quarters that it nearly accomplished the unthinkable: rushing for 350 yards in a loss.
Oddly enough, it took falling behind 21-10 in the third quarter to convince Alabama's offensive brain trust that putting the ball in the hands of the running game might be the way to go.
After Alec Ogletree returned Cade Foster's blocked field goal attempt 55 yards for a touchdown, the Crimson Tide responded by giving the Dawgs a strong dose of its twin 1,000-yard rushers, Lacy and Yeldon.
On the two UA drives that followed Ogletree's score, the Alabama offense ran the ball 10 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Just when we thought the Crimson Tide had exchanged vows with the quarterback-centric, three wides approach we'd seen a good bit of in Doug Nussmeier's first season on the job, back came the two-tights look that has contributed significantly to Alabama's dynastic run since 2008.
At that point, a game that had a 2010 feel to it for far too long took on a 2008 flavor. And because of that (and Saban's successful gamble on a two-point conversion in the third quarter), the Crimson Tide will have a chance to do what it did in 2009 and 2011.
TRips Friday: A trip to Florida, although the drop off between the game that will be played in Miami Gardens and those contested in Orlando and Tampa couldn't be more precipitous.
But first there's business to tend to in Atlanta, a city that has been very good to Alabama football in recent years. From kick-starting the Saban era with a beatdown of Clemson to all but ending the Urban Meyer era at Florida with a thumping of the Gators, it could be said that everything the Crimson Tide has achieved since 2008 goes back to the ATL.
And don't discount the prestige that comes with winning an SEC Championship. We tend to forget that UA has won just three of those since 1992. In winning three national titles during that same span, it could be argued that Alabama has had a harder time winning the league than it has winning it all.
A win Saturday wouldn't just solidify Alabama's status as one of college football's top two teams this season, it would further cement the Crimson Tide's place as college football's premier program.
And that's more than just talk.
TRips Sunday: Let the hype begin.
Two of the most recognizable helmets in college football history will meet for the game's biggest prize in five weeks time. That gives you roughly 35 days to come up with financing for tickets.
As for the players, the next week or so will be about healing, final exams and the awards circuit. Where Barrett Jones, Dee Milliner, McCarron and a few others are concerned, they'll attempt to do all three simultaneously.
The time to prepare for the Irish will come soon enough. Right now, this team deserves more than 24 hours worth of enjoyment from an SEC title game win that challenged UA more than any postseason contest it has participated in since 2009.
Friday's prediction: Alabama 27, Georgia 20.
Saturday's score: Alabama 32, Georgia 28.
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