Georgia Bulldogs: Eddie Lacy
But it only got worse a month later when he watched that same Alabama team crush a completely overmatched Notre Dame team in the Discover BCS National Championship.
“That hurt; I’m not gonna lie,” Marshall said. “I feel like we could have done the same thing. Everybody obviously watched the SEC championship -- that was the national championship. (The BCS title game) wasn’t even competition.”
What really shook Marshall was how dominant Alabama’s running game was against the Irish. Led by the dynamic duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, the Tide pounded away with 265 rushing yards.
With how well Georgia’s own rushing tandem of Marshall and Todd Gurley did in 2012, the two could only sulk when watching how easy Alabama’s backs had it.
“I was just looking and thinking that could have been us,” Gurley said. “We could have done the same thing.
“That might have hurt worse than losing (to Alabama in the SEC championship game), just to see how bad they did them and how bad they were running on them.”
And he’s probably right.
Gurley topped all SEC running backs with 1,385 rushing yards, while Marshall added another 759 yards in 2012. The two also combined for 25 rushing touchdowns.
Gurley did the smashing, while Marshall did more dashing. They complemented each other so well and never once complained about sharing the spotlight.
It’s an almost foreign concept to think about two players who stood alone as the stars of their high school teams being OK with sharing the limelight. It’s not hard to be selfish in this sport, but both say they embraced the idea of working together well before they even got on campus.
With Isaiah Crowell still on the roster while they were being recruited, they figured they’d have to take a backseat to him from the jump. But after he was dismissed from the team last summer, the pair took on the responsibility of being the feature backs.
Fresh out of high school and they were now running the show, and it was their unselfish nature that fueled their fire.
“I don’t think anybody wanted the spotlight to themselves,” Gurley said. “You have to share with somebody.”
For Marshall, he’s glad he and Gurley split time. Marshall carried the ball an average of eight times a game, while Gurley hovered around 15 carries. Sharing actually helped combat wear and tear.
“I probably wouldn’t have been as productive if I was getting 25 carries a game,” he said. “I think it’s the same for [Gurley].”
Instead of pouting, they pushed each other and became best of friends away from the field -- only making them stronger on it.
Either one could stand alone in just about any SEC backfield, but they prefer to work together.
They still compete with each other, but they strive for improvement more than anything.
“Obviously, you want to be the best in everything that you do. That’s just the part of being a competitive athlete, but I just try to do the best to my ability every day,” Marshall said. “I’m striving to be the best, but you just have to work as hard as you can. I’m not really focused on (Gurley). We’re competing, but we’re trying to help each other at the same time.”
However, that might be the case with Bulldogs junior Ramik Wilson, whose performance at one of the starting inside linebacker positions could have a big impact on how the rebuilding defense functions in the first several games.
Georgia signed four talented inside linebackers in its most recent recruiting class, but leaning too heavily on the youngsters might be a problem in the early going with the Bulldogs facing Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first month of the season. That leaves the onus on Wilson and fellow junior Amarlo Herrera -- the team’s top returning tackler with 70 stops a season ago -- to perform capably while the freshmen learn on the job.
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Perhaps it says something about LSU's offense in 2012 that among a record 13 players invited to the NFL combine from the Tigers, only two are offensive skill players who are generally considered, at this point, marginal talents. Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are the only skill players invited to Indianapolis, which is understandable when one considers LSU was 10th in the SEC in total offense. It's also a sign of youth. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, fullback J.C. Copeland, running back Jeremy Hill and all of LSU's primary threats at wide receiver will return in 2013.
So start casting those votes in our SportsNation poll, and we'll go over the results in the next few days.
Here are the five candidates:
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama: He looked like a crimson-and-white bulldozer running over Notre Dame defenders on his way to 140 rushing yards in Alabama's 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. His 20-yard touchdown romp three minutes into the game set the tone for what was an utter mismatch.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Johnny Football put on a post-Heisman Trophy show with a Cotton Bowl-record 516 yards of total offense in the Aggies' 41-13 demolition of Oklahoma. He accounted for four touchdowns and set an FBS bowl record with 229 rushing yards on 17 carries. Manziel joined Vince Young as the only two players in history to rush for more than 200 yards and pass for more than 200 yards in a bowl game.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: His start to the game was shaky, as Murray threw two interceptions in the first quarter. But he came roaring back to set Georgia bowl records with 427 passing yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 45-31 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. Murray was lights-out on third down and threw two of his touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to break a 31-31 tie.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron obviously likes the big stages. After winning Most Outstanding Offensive Player honors in last season's BCS National Championship, he followed up that performance with four touchdown passes against Notre Dame last week to lead the Tide to their second consecutive national title. He directed touchdown drives on each of Alabama's first three possessions and was 8-of-9 passing in those three drives.
Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: In what turned out to be Sanders' farewell to the Gamecocks, he scored three touchdowns in their 33-28 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. He had a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown and caught a pair of scoring passes. He also had a clutch fourth-down catch to keep South Carolina's game-winning drive alive and finished with nine receptions for 92 yards.
Well, Nick Saban and his gang of future NFL ballers proved to us once again that it is indeed Alabama's world, after claiming their second consecutive national title and third in four years Monday night. That ringing in your ears is just the sound of "Roll Tide" being repeated over and over in your head. I've learned there's nothing we can do about it.
But will 2013 bring college football a team that can really stop the Tide? I mean, REALLY stop Alabama from winning a third straight national championship? Well, ESPN's Mark Schlabach seems to believe that the road to Pasadena is paved in crimson and white, as he has Alabama No. 1 in his Way-Too-Early-Top 25 for 2013.
It's hard to blame him at this point. Sure, Alabama's offensive line won't be nearly as good with Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack leaving. And it will take even more of a hit if/when D.J. Fluker decides to turn pro. But with quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon (we're assuming Eddie Lacy and his sweet spin move are headed to the NFL), wide receiver Amari Cooper and a host of studs on the defense returning, Alabama will again be the team to beat.
But there are some quality teams in the SEC that will fight to dethrone Alabama, and Schlabach has four in his top 10. Texas A&M, which returns the Heisman-winning Johnny Football, ranks fifth, Georgia is sixth, South Carolina is seventh and Florida is 10th. The thing about all those teams is that they all return their starting quarterbacks, with Georgia's Aaron Murray being one of the best in the country alongside Johnny Manziel.
South Carolina will be one of the more balanced teams in the SEC next fall, and if Florida can actually find a passing game in 2013, watch out because that defense will still be fierce, even with a few junior defections.
LSU, checking in at No. 13, is the only other SEC team in Schlabach's top 25. The Tigers are expected to have a better offense, especially with Zach Mettenberger finally finding his comfort zone under center, but a poor offensive showing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl defeat to Clemson and the loss of junior running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware create an uneasy feeling around the offense. Plus, the defense just took a beating as a result of juniors departing for the NFL, especially up front. All-American punter Brad Wing also left.
The good news for LSU is that running back Jeremy Hill is returning, and he'll only be a sophomore.
It's a good list to start off with, but where in the world is Vanderbilt? The Commodores are coming off of a historic season in Nashville. There were nine wins that included a bowl victory, five conference wins and a seven-game winning streak. The quarterback and running back spots might be up for grabs, but Jordan Matthews is coming back, along with fellow receiver Chris Boyd. And most of the rest of the offense remains intact.
There was room for Vandy in there somewhere ...
1. Slow down Huskers' run: In the month since Georgia last played a game, one of the most heavily discussed weaknesses from the Bulldogs’ 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game was the 350 yards they allowed on the ground. That marked three straight games that Georgia’s opponent rushed for 300-plus yards, and that doesn’t bode well with Nebraska and its powerful running game ahead.
The Cornhuskers are eighth nationally in rushing at 254.5 yards per game, so the Bulldogs have their work cut out in trying to get a different result against Taylor Martinez (175 attempts, 973 yards, 10 TDs), Ameer Abdullah (219-1,089, 8 TDs) and Rex Burkhead (74-535, 4 TDs) than they did against Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
2. Generate big plays: Georgia has been one of the nation’s best big-play offenses this season -- the Bulldogs have 64 plays that covered at least 25 yards -- and that capability could come in handy against Nebraska. In the Cornhuskers’ three losses, they surrendered eight touchdowns that covered 30 yards or more: four against Ohio State, three against Wisconsin and one against UCLA.
Keep an eye on freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who have combined for 12 runs of 25-plus yards, including eight that went for touchdowns. Also, senior receiver Tavarres King -- who set a school record with 205 receiving yards in last season’s Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State -- is the FBS’ active career leader with 18.8 yards per catch.
3. Force mistakes from Martinez: Nebraska’s quarterback has highlight-reel skills as a runner and passer, but he is prone to committing crucial errors as well. In Nebraska’s three losses, Martinez fumbled five times -- losing two -- and tossed six of his 10 total interceptions. In Nebraska’s 10 wins, he fumbled a total of 10 times.
The Cornhuskers are tied for the most fumbles in the FBS with 21 and have committed the sixth-most turnovers with 32. That seems to favor Georgia, whose defense generated 27 takeaways -- 21st nationally -- and ranked second nationally with 16 fumble recoveries. Martinez will have to keep a close watch on Georgia’s All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who leads the nation with seven forced fumbles in 11 games.
After surrendering 300-plus rushing yards in each of the last three games, Georgia (11-2) dropped to 77th nationally in run defense with an average of 177.8 yards per game. But while they can’t dispute that Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech and Alabama all topped the 300-yard mark, the Bulldogs insist that those numbers are somewhat deceptive.
Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, after all, typically run the ball on nearly every down in their option offensive sets. And Alabama also boasts a particularly powerful running game with a veteran offensive line and two star tailbacks in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. So some Georgia defenders are quick to discount any notion that the Bulldogs are weak against the run.
SEC drama: It doesn’t get much better than Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia last Saturday in the SEC championship game. And, really, the league needed a good game after duds each of the past two years. Both teams showed a lot of moxie and a lot of resolve, and the battle on the line of scrimmage epitomized what SEC football is all about. The interest around the country was already massive. The winner earned the right to play in the Discover BCS National Championship Game. But with the game coming down to the final play, it made for the kind of drama that brings the most reserved fan to the edge of his seat. It’s the first time since the 2008 SEC championship game when Florida played a flawless fourth quarter to outlast Alabama that the game was decided in the final quarter. Tickets certainly weren’t cheap. But if you paid $600 or $700 a pop, at least you got your money’s worth.
Notre Dame’s chances: Notre Dame might be unbeaten and ranked No. 1. But already, the prevailing sentiment in and around college football is that the Irish don’t stand much of a chance against Alabama. The Crimson Tide are favored by more than 10 points in some quarters. Think Brian Kelly loves being such a decided underdog when his team hasn’t lost a game this season? You bet he does.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin: He has done wonders for the Commodores’ program and has become a coaching commodity. Keeping him in Nashville long term will be difficult, but Vanderbilt has stepped up to the plate with a new deal for Franklin that will pay him more than $3 million per year and guarantee in writing upgrades to Vanderbilt Stadium and the football complex.
Georgia’s record in big games: Mark Richt was peeved at the question and understandably so. His team had just lost on the last play of the game and showed a lot of heart in driving right back down the field in that last minute and knocking on the door of Alabama’s end zone. But the fact is that Georgia hasn’t won a lot of marquee games over the past few years. The Bulldogs have lost nine of their past 12 games against nationally ranked opponents.
Alabama center Barrett Jones: The whole Alabama offensive line deserves some serious props. But for Jones to play most of that game essentially on one leg after injuring his foot in the first quarter -- and play the way he did against Georgia’s touted interior personnel -- tells you all you need to know about Jones and his deep sense of team. You win with great players in the SEC, but you also win with great people.
Coach search candor: With three SEC schools -- Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee -- still looking for head coaches, we’re reminded that the one true gospel as it relates to coach searches is that nobody ever tells the complete truth. The only thing more prevalent than the untruths floating around out there is the misinformation. No coach ever interviews for a job. No athletic director ever gets turned down by a coach. No agent ever leverages one school against another.
Georgia’s run defense: What Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo said prior to the SEC championship game was probably accurate. He went on ESPN Radio and said Georgia was more talented than Alabama. “We have better players at each position, across the board, especially on defense,” Rambo said. And when the NFL draft rolls around the next two years, he probably will be proved correct. But talent only matters when you play up to that talent, and the Bulldogs might as well have been playing with walk-ons Saturday when it came to stopping the run. Alabama lined up and hit Georgia in the mouth over and over again, and the Bulldogs wanted no part of it. The Crimson Tide finished with an SEC championship game-record 350 rushing yards. On one drive in the second half, they ran the same play five straight times. It was a total mismatch, and there’s no way it should have been. Echoing what Rambo said last week, there are probably six players on that Georgia defense who will play in the NFL. And, sure, Alabama is outstanding on the offensive line with its own collection of future NFL players, but there’s no excuse for getting pummeled the way the Bulldogs did in their run defense.
Richt’s Georgia club allowed 350 rushing yards to Alabama’s punishing offensive line and tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon in a 32-28 loss in the SEC championship game. But Pelini’s Nebraska defense endured an even more humiliating experience in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, allowing the Badgers to rush for 539 yards -- the most ever allowed by a Cornhuskers defense -- and win 70-31.
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Dogs pull off fake puntThe score: 0-0
The situation: Georgia faced fourth-and-10 from the Alabama 36 on the first play of the second quarter.
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Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the final seconds ticked off the clock with Georgia 5 yards short of a game-winning touchdown -- the difference between playing for the BCS championship and not even reaching a BCS bowl game.
Here are the highs and lows of Saturday’s loss:
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John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsEddie Lacy ran for 181 yards for Alabama.
Alabama won its first SEC championship since 2009, handing Georgia an SEC championship game loss for the second straight season.
The Tide got it done on the ground. They ran for 350 rushing yards, the most in SEC championship game history.
Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon became the first teammates to each run for 100 yards in SEC championship game history. Lacy’s 181 rushing yards are the third-most in the history of the SEC title game.
The Tide were committed to the run, as they ran the ball 51 times, two shy of the SEC championship game record of 53.
Two tight ends, too much
Alabama ran 36 times for a season-high 298 yards with two or more tight ends in the formation. The Tide ran out of this personnel package on 26 of their 34 second-half plays, gaining 199 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama averaged a season-high 5.5 yards before contact out of this formation.
AJ McCarron completed 8 of 9 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown with two or more tight ends in the formation.
Getting it done inside the tackles
Alabama outrushed Georgia 304-72 inside the tackles. The Tide averaged 8.0 yards per carry on such runs, including a season-high 13 that gained 10 yards or more. Lacy (172) and Yeldon (125) led the way for Alabama, with both running backs gaining over 100 yards inside the tackles for the second time this season. They also did it against Missouri.
Strong run game leads to play action
McCarron completed 5 of 7 passes off play action for 116 yards and a touchdown. McCarron has 11 touchdown passes off a run fake this season, six more than he had all of last season. Eight of the 11 touchdowns have been on passes thrown 20 yards or longer, including Cooper’s 45-yard touchdown against Georgia.
Georgia’s defense allowed a season-high 512 total yards, just the second time the Bulldogs allowed 500 yards in the past seven seasons. For the first time since at least 2000, they’ve allowed 300 rushing yards in three straight games.
Alabama will most assuredly face Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game on January 7, as the SEC goes for its seventh straight BCS National Championship.
Two players barely a year out of high school football would decide the fate of Alabama’s 2012 season.
Boy did it pay off.
“Two big plays by freshmen there,” senior center Barrett Jones said.
Big doesn’t even begin to describe them. You need more hyperbole for this one, like mammoth or gargantuan.
The first play came on third-and-5 at the 50-yard line. Georgia held a 28-25 lead, and it appeared that the Tide were squandering their great field position. With about four minutes remaining, quarterback AJ McCarron stuck the ball in T.J. Yeldon’s gut, and the frosh cut to the right side and barreled his way past the first-down marker.
It was a play everyone inside the Georgia Dome or plastered to a TV set knew was coming.
Yet Georgia’s defense, which had been giving up rushing yards like men give up beads at Mardi Gras, couldn’t stop the force that was Yeldon.
“He went out there and just ran people over,” offensive lineman D.J. Fluker said of the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder. “You can’t find that too often.”
It was a simple post play to the left side, where it’s better if Amari Cooper releases on the inside. He cut outside and stopped momentarily as he looked for McCarron. Once he saw the play was coming, he left a helpless Damian Swann in his dust before hauling McCarron’s perfectly thrown pass and waltzing into the end zone to give Alabama the winning score in a 32-28 victory.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and I wanted to come out here and be a big-time player,” said Cooper, who finished with a game-high seven catches for 127 yards and the key score. “I envisioned it before it happened, and it came true.”
He probably envisioned it because it looked easy on film, as he and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier felt confident taking shots at the Dawgs.
“That’s what we want as receivers,” Cooper said. “We want to take those shots, and that’s what we did.”
It helps that Cooper, who goes by the nickname Hollywood because of his on-field skill, is an extraordinary athlete. Before his touchdown, his play of the night came when he went up top and snatched a 44-yard prayer from McCarron away from one of the most physical players in the game in safety Bacarri Rambo in the second quarter. After that, he spent the rest of the night sprinting past or cutting by Georgia defenders and bailing Alabama’s offense out in crucial situations.
“He’s able to do the things that you would think a normal freshman wouldn’t do,” Tide linebacker Nico Johnson said. “He’s making big plays in big games, like he did today.
“He takes it and runs with it and lives to that name. He’s something special.”
To Jones, Cooper just has a different gear than a lot of players. One moment he is side-by-side with a defender; the next, he’s gone -- with the ball.
“He’s one of the fastest people I’ve ever seen,” Jones said.
Cooper stretched the field and gave Alabama more running room, which helped free Yeldon, who entered the game with just three 100-yard performances but carried the ball a game-high 25 times for a backbreaking 153 yards and a touchdown. While giving Eddie Lacy the occasional breather, Yeldon helped Alabama register an SEC championship record 350 rushing yards Saturday.
“It’s like he’s been here three times himself,” Lacy said. “As a freshman, you can’t ask him to play any better than he did tonight.”
You can’t ask more from either. They did so much for Alabama in the biggest game of either's career. Yeldon had nine runs that resulted in first downs, while Cooper had three first-down plays. Together, they touched the ball 32 times for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson tells both Cooper and Yeldon before every game to play with purpose. On Saturday, they did that and then some. This is only the beginning for these fabulous freshmen.
“I’m glad they’re freshmen because they are going to be here for a while,” offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio said.
That has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
ATLANTA -- In what lacked the defense of a usual SEC game, No. 2 Alabama outlasted No. 3 Georgia 32-28 to claim the 2012 SEC championship. Alabama is now headed to Miami to face No. 1 Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7.
Alabama's game-winning score came on a 45-yard pass from AJ McCarron to a wide-open Amari Cooper with 3 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
It was over when: After driving down to Alabama's 8-yard line, Aaron Murray threw a pass to Chris Conley at the 5-yard line that was tipped. Conley came down with the ball with 5 seconds remaining, but time expired before Georgia could run one last play.
Game ball goes to: If you looked up the word "workhorse" in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon next to it. Lacy rushed for 181 yards on 20 carries and had two touchdowns. He registered 176 of those yards through the first three quarters, averaging 10.4 a carry during that time. Alabama's offense was at its best when Lacy touched the ball the majority of times on drives. Yeldon, only a freshman, carried the ball 25 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. His first-down run on third-and-5 on Alabama's final scoring drive set up the Tide's game-winning touchdown.
Stat of the game: Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC) outrushed Georgia 350-113 and averaged 6.9 yards per carry in the process -- a new rushing record for the SEC championship game. Georgia (11-2, 7-1) averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. That makes three consecutive games in which Georgia's defense surrendered 300-plus yards on the ground.
Best call: On the first play of the second quarter, Georgia coach Mark Richt stepped out of his shell and called a fake punt on fourth-and-10 at Alabama's 36-yard line. Tight end Arthur Lynch took the snap and zipped a pass to cornerback Sanders Commings for 16 yards. Two plays later, Murray threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jay Rome to give the Bulldogs the early 7-0 lead.
What it means for Alabama: The win assures the Tide of making their second straight national championship game and third in four years. Alabama, which is second in the BCS standings, will face top-ranked Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami.
What it means for Georgia: The Bulldogs will miss out on a BCS bowl game and could be headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl to take on a Big 12 opponent. The last time Georgia was in the Cotton Bowl was 1983, when the Bulldogs beat Texas 10-9.
Alabama: It's hard to believe AJ McCarron is only a junior starting in his first SEC Championship. It seems like so long ago that he took over the reins from Greg McElroy and became the first underclassman to start and win the BCS National Championship Game. He learned how to treat big games like any other. The let-it-rip attitude has paid off this season as he ranks No. 2 in the country in passing efficiency while setting a school record for touchdown passes in a season.
Georgia: Junior Aaron Murray has already put together one of the best seasons in school history. Last week he became the first player in SEC history to pass for 3,000-plus yards in three straight seasons and tied Peyton Manning for second in career touchdown passes with 89. The national leader in passing efficiency (177.15), he has thrown 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The big question against Alabama, however, is whether Murray can play loose enough to be effective. He struggled against South Carolina and Florida, with one touchdown and four interceptions.
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