Position Breakdown: 2014 SEC Championship
ATLANTA Ga.– As the SEC Championship is right around the corner, talk has began flying that Alabama, a 15 point favored team, can lose. While anything can happen on a given Saturday afternoon, one would think that a statement like that would need to be backed up with facts. So, let’s break down position by position who has the edge in each category.
Both Maty Mauk and Blake Sims are in their first year as starting quarterbacks and both have led their teams to the highest honor in the SEC. While both may have succeeded, Sims has done almost the impossible in the eyes of many. Sims went from being a back up nothing to possible National Champion Quarterback. With almost 3000 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions (4 if you throw out last week), Sims made his mark in Alabama history. Mauk has played under expectation compared to Sims, but also keep in mind that Sims has probably the top receiver in the country in Amari Cooper. Still, got to give the edge to Sims in the long run.
> RUNNING BACK
At the beginning of the season, Alabama was set to have a three headed monster in TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake at the running back position. While Drake may have started the season hot (before breaking his leg and ending his season), Yeldon and Henry have picked up the work load and still dominated. Yeldon is able to make tacklers miss as he finds his way for the first down while Henry has been almost unstopable in the forth quarter. Mizzou’s Russell Hansbrough has been great for the Tigers, but besides him, no one really stands out in running. Just because of the extra boost coming from Henry, Alabama has it over Mizzou.
> WIDE RECEIVER
Just because this category is unfair with Amari Cooper, he won’t be in this group. Mizzou has a great receiver in Bud Sasser and he can be the x-factor tomorrow. However, DeAndrew White has been a great no.2 receiver for Blake Sims this year. Although he doesn’t have Cooper numbers, White has averaged 10.2 yards after the catch basically giving Alabama a first down every time he touches the ball. Sasser is great but overall, Alabama has multiple receivers that could run circles around Sasser when it comes to talent.
> TIGHT END
Both teams really have under used both their tight ends this season. OJ Howard and Brian Vogler have had a combined 239 yards and 1 touchdown. Sean Culkin doesn’t have it much better, in 12 games he has 168 yards and a touchdown in the game which the Tigers lost to Indiana. Still, everyone knows Sims will be looking mostly to his receivers rather then to Howard or Vogler. Mauk might have to find Culkin in case he has issues with his receivers. Because of that, the Tigers finally win a category.
> OFFENSIVE LINE
Alabama and Missouri both have done well this year protect their quarterbacks. While the Tigers have an experienced line, Alabama’s best linemen this season has been their rookie in Cam Robinson. The freshman beat out Leon Brown for the tackle position at the beginning of the year and has yet to relinquished that spot. While he has been injured probed, coach Saban has had a plan to replace and it seems like it will be in Alabama’s favor. Besides the fact of Robinson’s dominance, Alabama has only allowed Blake Sims sacked 8 times compared to Mauk’s 20. Not to mention the the Crimson Tide’s line has given Blake Sims a consistent amount of time to throw.
> DEFENSIVE LINE
Both defensive fronts have dominated this seson, but Alabama’s statically the better one here with being the best rush defense in the country. However, that doesn’t always mean they are the best overall. While the front seven for Alabama has dominated, Missouri has been nothing but perfect with their defensive line. Potential first rounders in Markus Golden and Shane Ray have been the anchors for this rebuilding defense. With over 130 tackles combined by both, Alabama’s offensive line should be worried to guard this dynamic duo. Take nothing away from Jonathon Allen and Brandon Ivory, but Gold and Ray are just too powerful not to win this one.
For most the year, both these linebacking core have been pretty evenly matched up. The reason why one of them will win this one is the replacement guys. Reggie Ragland has stepped into the role that CJ Mosley left behind and has dominated. With over 70 tackles, Ragland has been the best linebacker for the Crimson Tide. Kentrell Brothers has played exceptional but did have a horrible game against the Hoosiers. Overall, when a team is ranked No.1 in rush defense, they’re going to win the battle 9 out of 10 times.
Both teams have struggled all year at this position. Alabama has yet to have one elite corner and has been switching at least Eddie Jackson with Tony Brown…and Bradley Slyve…and Maurice Smith. While the Tigers have stuck with Kenya Dennis and Arion Penton all season, neither have impressed by any means. Just because of how decent Cyrus Jones has played, Alabama gets the edge. Then again, anything can happen tomorrow.
This decision was made at the beginning of the season. Landon Collins has proved to be the best safety in America this season. Not only has he taken over for Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, but he has dominated every game he has played. Also in the past several weeks, Nick Perry has stepped up and taken a huge leap into the free safety position. In three games, Perry has close to 30 tackles and two major interceptions. While Missouri isn’t bad here, Alabama is just far better.
> SPECIAL TEAMS
Alabama and Missouri both have had issues with the special teams, but honestly, Alabama has been close to bad. While they may dominate on kickoff, the struggle with the return on both kickoff and punts. Christion Jones has never gone back to his sophmore year form where he returned kicks and punts like it was no big deal. Also, ever since the famous “kick six”, Adam Griffith has been struggling in with kicking. He has been inconsistant every game and more then limey will be tomorrow. Since Griffith can’t be trusted, Mizzou is back on the board.
Gary Pinkel has a very impressive resume, the fact he has kept his job at Missouri for 14 years really should say that. While he has led Missouri to four total championships in his career, there’s one thing he is missing; a ring. Alabama has won three rings under coach Saban, but also has two coordinators in Kirby Smart and Lane Kiffin who could be head coaches in the NCAA. With that being said, three head coaches beats one.
Alabama wins this battle 8-3 against Missouri. Take nothing away from Missouri’s season but a loss to the worst team in the Big 10 really kind of sums up this battle. Missouri for sure will put up a fight throughout most of the game and give Alabama a run for their money but in the end, Alabama is just better on paper as well and on the field. Better luck next year Missouri.
Cole Thompson is the Alabama beat writer for WVUA-FM. Follow him on twitter at @ColeThompson32