The formula is simple, but at times this season has seemed too complicated for Alabama. It doomed the Crimson Tide during the team’s only regular season loss against Texas A&M. After rallying from a 20-point deficit, the Tide had four chances to score from the 6-yard line and elected to throw three times. The last pass was intercepted.
Saturday, though, facing an 11-point deficit with everything on the line, the formula clicked and Alabama went back to what it does best to set up a dramatic finish and a 32-28 win.
“We kind of had that, I-would-not-be-denied attitude out there today,” head coach Nick Saban said. “I’m not saying we played our best football game of the year in terms of execution, but the way we were able to run the ball, especially in the second half, was probably the difference in the game.”
To say Alabama ran the ball well in the second half would be an understatement. The Crimson Tide amassed 350 rushing yards total, with 223 coming in the second half. Starter Eddie Lacy was named game MVP, running a career-high 181 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman T.J. Yeldon was right behind him with 153 and a touchdown.
From the time Georgia returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown until Amari Cooper’s game-winning touchdown grab, Alabama called 20 runs and just five passes.
The stretch included 12 runs and just one pass – an incompletion that drew a pass interference penalty on the first scoring drive following the 11-point deficit – that saw Alabama score 15 points to take a four-point lead. The second of the two scoring drives featured seven runs exclusively, with Lacy and Yeldon sharing duties.
“We had that long drive, it about broke me it felt like,” guard Anthony Steen said. “I couldn’t breathe at one point. I looked at D.J., and he looked at me and we knew we weren’t going to give up. We were going to do whatever it took to pull off the win.”
It’s especially demoralizing for a defense to know exactly what’s coming and not be able to stop it. Alabama swapped out Lacy and Yeldon for much of the night, bringing in a fresh body every time the Bulldog defense seemed to have the other figured out.
“When you run the ball every single down in a drive, they might have thrown it once,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They had two drives; they might have thrown it once, scored a touchdown, so that was impressive by their people up front. We were just not able to stop it.”
It all led to the perfect setup, a play-action pass over the top to Cooper that put Alabama up for good. The constant grind of the Tide’s rushing attack caused the Bulldog secondary to creep closer and closer to the line of scrimmage. Cooper was left with one-on-one coverage on the outside and beat his man for the score.
“You knew it was coming eventually,” center Barrett Jones said.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier opened the game with the same look Alabama gave Auburn – three and four wide receiver sets at up-tempo, no-huddle speed.
Only this wasn’t Auburn.
On Alabama’s second drive of the game, Nussmeier dialed up two runs that went for 9 and 8 yards, respectively. His next three calls were passes – two incomplete passes and a sack – and Alabama was forced to punt.
Much of the first half and start of the third quarter went that way for Alabama. Fans began to clamor for the return of the run game – they had seen this movie before earlier in the year and knew what not trusting them could cost.
But it would not be so. It was as if Saban could was reading tweets from the field. Alabama went almost exclusively to the run, and no matter what Georgia did, when they knew exactly what was coming, it could not stop the punishing ground game of Alabama.
“It makes you proud to be able to block for two great running backs. They had that mindset that I will not be denied,” right tackle D.J. Fluker said. “You don’t put your head down just ‘cause you’re down a couple points. At the end of the day, the scoreboard don’t matter. It’s about how much heart you got. What are you willing to do for it.”