Preview: SEC Championship
TUSCALOOSA– There is no greater feeling in the world than that of victory, and Saturday evening, one team will get to feel that once again. As college football comes to an end, two SEC powerhouses will battle it out in Atlanta to crown themselves SEC champions. The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Missouri Tigers will meet to see who is the true powerhouse in one of the top conferences in college football.
The Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1 (7-1 SEC)) are coming off a comeback win in a memorable Iron Bowl against Auburn. While the Crimson Tide have looked dominate against the run, the Tide still have struggled against the pass in important games. Still, the number one team in the nation has a chance to close out their season with a victory and almost a for sure lock into the inaugural college football playoff.
The Missouri Tigers (10-2 (7-1 SEC)) just wrapped up their second consecutive SEC east title. Since joining the SEC, the Tigers have dominated in their division going 26-10 in three seasons. While Missouri has had issues with the State of Alabama in the past (0-2 including last year’s SEC championship), Mizzou has the talent and drive to knock the Tide out of the playoffs and prove they are the true powerhouse in the SEC.
So many things can happen on Saturday. Will Alabama force their way into the playoff? Can Missouri upset the number one team in the country? Let’s dive in and take a look at everything one needs to know for the SEC Championship game.
What to Know
When: Saturday, December 6th, 2014
Where: The Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Time: 4pm EST, 3pm CST
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network,
Vegas Line: Alabama by 14 1/2
KEYS TO VICTORY: ALABAMA
> Protect Blake Sims
At the beginning of the season, no one would have ever thought that Blake Sims would be leading Alabama to the SEC Championship game. Well, now since that’s become a reality, he will need to be protected if he wants to continue his success. Sims has the ability to run if he can’t find any recovers open, but he will have to have time to see if his receivers really have a chance at the ball. Missouri has some great talent in Markus Golden and Shane Ray at the Defensive End position, and if the Tide’s offensive line can’t protect Sims; he could be in some major trouble saturday afternoon.
> Look past Amari Cooper
Alabama may have won last Saturday thanks to Amari Cooper’s three touchdown performance, but he wasn’t the only play maker out there against Auburn. Receivers like Chris Black, DeAndrew White and Ardarius Stewart all have shown within the last three games that they can produce in the crunch time situations. Of course Sims is going to look for Cooper, but the Tigers are already preparing for that. Sims may want to go deep to Coop for the touchdowns, but when it comes to getting a first down, he may want to throw everyone off and hit a guy like Stewart in the slot position.
KEYS TO VICTORY: MISSOURI
> Pressure Blake Sims
Auburn almost had the Iron Bowl win in the bag after the second play of the third quarter, why? because they got Blake Sims to make mistakes. While that Tiger defense isn’t known for being the best pass rusher in the SEC, this Tiger defense may be a bit better. As mentioned before Missouri has made guys like Shane Ray and Markus Golden a real threat to pressure a quarterback into making careless errors. If they can do to Sims what Auburn did, there may not be a second chance at redemption for the Tide like there was in the Iron Bowl.
> Dismantle the Pass Defense
Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Missouri’s Matty Mauk are a lot alike when it comes down to passing; they’d much rather run it. Still Marshall was able to throw for a career record of 456 yards on the Tide’s defense Saturday night. Sure Marshall had receivers like Quan Bray and Sammie Coates, but 456 yards is way to many for a guy who isn’t known for passing. While Mauk may have lost his star target in Dorial Green-Beckham; he still has a chance to hit guys like Bud Sasser for a huge gain. If Mizzou wants any chance at wining, Mauk better be ready to pass.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: ALABAMA
> Nick Perry
In just one season, Nick Perry has gone from decent backup safety to possible future NFL draft pick. In the last two SEC games, Perry has had over 20 tackles and two interceptions at key moments in each game. Perry will have to continue the dominance on saturday if the Tide want to make a huge statement. While he might not be important in the run game, Perry will have to be lights out like he has been when the Tigers look to throw the ball for a big gain.
> TJ Yeldon
In what will most likely be his final game at the Atlanta dome, TJ Yeldon will have to be ready to take on a heavy load of carries against a very good Mizzou front four. Yeldon has had his ups and downs this season, but has really be nothing be an unstoppable machine against the last three SEC games. His fumbling issue has dropped tremendously and his yard per carry ratio has skyrocketed to almost an average of seven yards a carry. If he can get past the Tigers defensive line, they better watch out for a quick move up the field by this talent running back.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: MISSOURI
> Markus Golden
Either one of the defensive ends could end up as a player to watch, but lets go with Golden over Ray. Golden’s name has been mentioned multiple times already, so that really shows how sold people are on this kid’s talent. In just one season as a start he has over 20 tackles for losses and a total of 70 tackles. Not to mention he has the speed of an outside linebacker all the way down from a three point stance. If he can get past Austin Shepherd, Blake Sims might wanna make some adjustments to how long he holds onto the ball.
While he’s no Dorial Green-Beckham, Sasser still has a lot to offer to Missouri’s offense come Saturday. He’s not the biggest receiver out on the field, but he has some explosiveness for after the catch. This season he has nine touchdowns coming in crucial moments for the Tigers offense. Also he’s a senior who has worked harder into getting a starting role for Gary Pinkel’s offense. Sasser might not be the biggest name on the field, but he could be a big reason for the Tigers success against a weak Alabama secondary.
THE X-FACTOR: ALABAMA
> Blake Sims Consistency
While Blake Sims has done more then anyone could have expected from him this season, his job still isn’t over yet. Sims ranks second only behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota for passing efficiency this season with an average of 63 percent. Still, while he may be on target a lot, he also has been dealt with some pretty risky decisions this season. Sure he may have the ability to run as well as pass but he must know when he should do either. Sims won’t be able to get around Golden and Ray every play, so he must play consistent and smart if Alabama wants to win.
THE X-FACTOR: MISSOURI
> Shane Ray’s ability to get into the Backfield
His name has been mentioned so much, everyone should have guessed he was going to make it into his own segment. Ray now joins an elite group of talented Tiger pass rushers including Aldon Smith, Sean Weatherspoon and Kony Ealy. While all were high draft picks, Ray might have the chance tone the highest with his ability to swat and swim his way into the Quarterback’s zone. Ray with Golden has a combined 37 tackles for losses and over 100 tackles total. Not to mention he has 13.5 Sacks on the years against very similar offensive lines to Alabama. If Ray can do what he does best, Alabama might not stand a chance to get the ball off.
Missouri won’t lay down and die like many expect them too, they’re just not that kind of team. Throw out that embarrassing loss to Indiana and the Tigers are 11-1 with a good chance to go to the playoffs themselves. People may like to think that the SEC East isn’t a great conference, but Missouri is the youngest member and has made consecutive trips to Atlanta to represent them. Still, Missouri just isn’t the same team they were last year.
Take nothing away from their season, the Tigers really have proved themselves once again and deserve a shot at the SEC title, but that doesn’t always mean they’re going to get it. If it was last years team with DGB and L’Damian Washington, the Tigers would have a chance, but they don’t and since Mauk has no one to really pass to, it’s gonna be Alabama all the way. Expect big plays from both Ray and Golden but besides that it’ll be the Amari Cooper and Blake Sims show through most of the four quarters. Add a big touchdown run by TJ Yeldon and Alabama will be crowned the king of the SEC once again and most likely be the number one seed in the inaugural college football playoff.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Missouri 17
Cole Thompson is the Alabama Beat Writer for WVUA-FM. Follow him on twitter at @ColeThompson32