Alabama Offensive Line Allows Perfect Balance in SEC Championship Game
The Alabama Crimson Tide's offensive line found itself to be the subject of conversation often this season. And mostly, anything said about it was far from positive in 2021. It was seen as the teams weakest link, and negative comments were at an all time high after an Iron Bowl game where it allowed 7 sacks and the Tide had less than 100 rushing yards.
All week, it took criticism from all sides. It had allowed Bryce Young to be sacked a total of 33 times this season for a loss of 222 yards. It needed to give him more time in the pocket to throw and give the running backs more room to run the ball up the middle.
The O-line was set to face its biggest challenge in Georgia's defensive front. Evan Neal, Javion Cohen, Seth McLaughlin, Emil Ekiyor and Chris Owens knew what they had to prove against their fiercest opponent.
So, naturally, they came out looking like a completely different front in the SEC Championship game.
The biggest example of this change was on a third-and-1 when Alabama was up 24-17 in the second half. Alabama had passed on seven of its past eight third downs, but offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien trusted in his offensive line here to allow his running back to run up the middle and get not only the first down, but five additional yards.
Head coach Nick Saban noticed the change in his offensive front all week in practice, and he was proud of how it showed in the SEC title game.
"It still goes back to the offensive line did a very, very good job of allowing us to get the ball down the field and our receivers to be able to work in the passing game, which we knew was going to be something that was going to be really important in this game," Saban said. "So it really started up front," said Saban.
Georgia's defense was the No. 3 rushing defense in college football and it allowed just 3.7 yards per play on average in 2021. It allowed just 2.48 yards per rush through the regular season. Alabama's front five rose to this challenge, gave its quarterback more time to pass without intense pressure, and allowed the run game to be effective enough to create an offensive balance.
Behind the Alabama offensive line, Young, Brian Robinson, and Trey Sanders rushed for a combined 115 yards. It wasn't an overwhelming rushing attack, but it allowed the passing game to shine when it needed to and kept Georgia's front seven off balance. This was the most rushing yards Georgia had allowed in a single game all season, and other teams rushed for 79 yards on average per game.
The offensive line also didn't allow a single sack on quarterback Young in the SEC Championship game. Georgia came into the game second in the SEC in sacks, behind only Alabama's defense. Young passed for 421 yards behind this phenomenal performance and was much more comfortable in the pocket with the lack of pressure allowed by his line.
Young boasted about his line's effort against the Bulldogs after the game.
"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," said Young.
The story of the week was the mismatch Alabama's O-line had taking on the dominant Georgia defense which had only given up an average of 6.92 points per game. It looked like they may not be able to overcome the talent of Georgia's defensive front seven.
Instead, the story was flipped and this game was won up front where the Crimson Tide offensive line took the challenge head on and gave Heisman candidate quarterback Young time to shine. This led the Alabama Crimson Tide to a 41-27 victory over the Bulldogs.